By Poulomi Das Jul. 14, 2017
Urban Dictionary defines flirting as “you dinking around with the opposite sex”, but for clueless Indian bros, the definition seemingly transcends to “block-worthy behaviour that will elicit at least five eye-rolls”.
“Going to Big Bazaar, want me to pick up anything?”
My phone screen buzzed, brightening up an otherwise dreary Friday night. Something about that line seemed familiar.
It didn’t take me long to figure out the source. Master of None. First Date. In the brilliant fourth episode from the show’s second season, Aziz Ansari was forced to navigate the tricky swipe-istan of dating apps. To stand out amid the hordes of love-hungry bros hopelessly fighting for a single woman’s uninterrupted interest, Ansari’s Dev came up with a unique opening line: “Going to Whole Foods, want me to pick up anything?”
I’d read about Ansari’s opening line swiftly percolating down to real-life screens of the app-dating jungle. Now, confronted with an Indianised version from a dude I matched with two days back, my interest piqued. The next day, I wasted no time in steering our conversation toward his opening parley.
But I should have known better than setting up my expectations. When have great flirtatious opening lines ever followed through on their promise?
My dreams of having a heady discussion about our shared love for Master of None fell flat on my face the moment he opened his mouth. As it turned out, my date had probably just Googled “best pick-up lines for Tinder” and didn’t give a hoot about the show. After all – and he told me this with great confidence – didn’t women want men to flirt with them using templates from movies and TV shows, anyway?
I swapped the story with a girlfriend a few days later, and she told me about the time she met a male version of Kate Hudson from How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days. Just the way Kate Hudson leaves her purse with tickets to a Knicks game at Matthew McConaughey’s house on purpose, her date left his wallet. The wallet was packed with notes waxing eloquent on her beauty. Among these lay a note whose contents were intended to transform her into a puddle of melting goodness, except… it had the exact opposite effect. “Mere dil, jigar, liver mein ho tum… waqt bewaqt aaye woh fever ho tum… ab toh meri life mein forever ho tum,” it said. Even as my friend rolled her eyes at the desperately filmy tactic, came the last straw in a text from him. It contained the two words neither a single girl nor Pahlaj Nihalani wants to hear: “Send Nudes”.
Maybe the problem lies in the fact that for most Indian men, flirting is merely a precursor to sex – a formality, just like foreplay that needs to be dispensed with hurriedly.
I’ve often wondered whether people the world over are hopeless at flirting, or whether this is a special affliction that we, in the subcontinent, suffer from. Unfortunately, the way our societal networks are structured, an unfair part of the burden of initiating a relationship or a casual dalliance through harmless flirting, falls on the men. Who fail at it quite spectacularly – not with a bang, but a whimper.
Urban Dictionary defines flirting as “you dinking around with the opposite sex”, but for clueless Indian bros, the definition seemingly transcends to “block-worthy behaviour that will elicit at least five eye-rolls”. For Indian men uncoached in the art of flirting, recreating moves from the pop culture that they consume appears to be the only option. Growing up on a steady diet of their mother’s validation, a fairly warped understanding of the opposite sex, and stilted interactions with them have ensured that our men know as much about flirting as Donald Trump knows about running a country. And then there is Bollywood that has been peddling a narrative where men get away with cringey lines: “Kya aap believe karte hai love at first sight mein… ya main dobaara ghoom ke aau?”
GIF / EROS
GIF / EROS
As a result, we’re left with dudes who classify sitting through the length of an entire date without consciously making eye contact with the girl, as flirting. Or bros who think it involves relentless winking. Or those who randomly slip in risqué sexual innuendos mid-conversation and take their date’s awkward response as a green signal. Or the dudebros, in whose imagination flirting is akin to the way Akash Ambani probably says Hello, i.e., rattling off the details of his father’s numerous bank accounts.
Recently, a Twitter thread that asked men how they determined that a woman was interested in or flirting with them garnered downright scary, hilarious and, heartbreakingly sad responses. One terrified guy’s strategy was to “play dumb and wait until she got fed up and kissed me”; while another was of the unwavering belief that asking out a colleague for lunch in the office cafeteria sealed the deal. Yet another fell back on the “hasee toh phasee” stratagem of cracking bad jokes.
Most saddening and alarming of all, the thread also illuminated that most men misinterpreted general friendliness for flirtation. One responder said that he could “sense” that a woman was interested if she kept moving the objects between them during a conversation, while another was certain that a woman “feigning interest” in his hobbies was a clear giveaway. But, the best telltale sign is succinctly summed up in a Quora thread, which advised men that until a woman addressed them as “bhaiyya”, anything she did could be considered flirting, such as breathing or existing in a man’s vicinity.
Maybe the problem lies in the fact that for most Indian men, flirting is merely a precursor to sex – a formality, just like foreplay that needs to be dispensed with hurriedly. For India’s straight women, this comes with massive baggage, and the need to self-filter every conversation, every touch, and action in our heads. It also renders what’s essentially a pit stop between thirst and love, a joyless exercise for both the parties. Between the blushing and the racing hearts, a satisfying round of to-and-fro can set the mood more effectively than any number of candlelight dinners.
Numerous dates and stories later, all I’m asking for is a guy to not treat the art of flirting the same way Donald Trump responds to global warming. No one likes getting court-side seats to a Roger Federer match… only to watch Arbaaz Khan, instead.
When not obsessing over TV shows, planning unaffordable vacations, or stuffing her face with french fries, Poulomi likes believing that some day her sense of humour will be darker than her under-eye circles.