Despite Indo-Pak animosity, youngsters in Amritsar and Lahore have been using apps like Tinder and Grindr to virtually date people across the border.
Sidharth*, 21, and Ali*, 27, met each other on gay dating app Grindr, in June 2016. Since then, they have talked about films, chatted with each other over long video calls, and occasionally, sexted.
But there is a hitch: they are separated by the India-Pakistan border.
Despite all the animosity between India and Pakistan, youngsters in conservative Amritsar and urban Lahore have been using apps like Tinder and Grindr—which connect people based on location— to virtually date people across the border. And even though it is hard to meet in person, the desire and curiosity for like-minded people across the frontier has spurred these relationships.
“All of the men I matched with from Pakistan were definitely really attractive,” said Shivani*, a 23-year-old Tinder user in Amritsar. “The intrigue factor was definitely there.”
However, while this forbidden love might be thrilling, it does not always have a fairytale ending.
A Veer-Zaara fantasy
The ‘Veer-Zaara’ like fantasy of a love story between an Indian and a Pakistani has a charm, and each person spoken to admits that it’s tempting to occupy oneself with such a dream.
“It’s just the excitement of meeting someone across the border,” said Sidharth, who has matched with six people in Pakistan.
Most of the people ThePrint spoke to saw a high percentage of Pakistani users on dating apps, possibly because a cosmopolitan city like Lahore has more Tinder adopters than Gurdaspur district and its neighbouring areas.
“It’s quite exciting to hear that people are willing and actively seeking cross-border friendships and relationships. It reminds us more than ever that lines of control do not decide our lives or relationships,” says Shilpa Phadke, who co-authored the book ‘Why Loiter?’
When approached for comment, Tinder spokesperson told ThePrint that “At Tinder, we support inclusivity, acceptance and equality. If a user is based close to another country, and their distance preferences include a radius that crosses a border, they will be shown all potential matches that meet their criteria – regardless of whether a potential match is located in another country.”
Swipe, match, chat (but not about politics)
One would assume that the atmosphere of hostility between both the countries would affect personal relations. On the contrary, the elephant in the room – politics – isn’t discussed much.
“We did talk about politics, but not very critically. I remember Hindutva coming up in conversation a few times,” said Utsav Maheshwari, a Grindr user.
Another Tinder user, Manjeet*, said that the people he spoke to weren’t too interested in the political atmosphere in India.
“We started talking around the time that Nawaz Sharif visited India, so I remember we had a detailed conversation on where his wife went shopping and things like that,” said Manjeet, 26.
“I didn’t want to break this fragile, special relationship I was forging with someone. I didn’t want to talk about anything negative,” Shivani admitted.
Instead, conversations revolve around common themes, like how Bollywood films are better than Pakistani ones, but Pakistani television shows are better.
“We once fought over the definition of ‘desi’,” said Utsav. “I learned Urdu just to talk to him.”
“Comparison is the wrong word. It’s more about our similarities,” said 27-year-old Hassan Sheikh, a Tinder user who lives in Lahore. “Hum andar se ek hain. Our culture is the same, our location is the same, our language is the same. Our roots are the same.”
I wish, I wish, I wish…
While the romance of a cross-border love story is extremely compelling, something that everyone attests to is that these virtual conversations are always punctuated with regret and resentment.
“There’s lots of saying ‘I wish, I wish, I wish’,” said Sidharth, who is planning to meet Ali in Thailand. “Everyone I speak to says we wish our leaders didn’t divide our country, and things like ‘if there were no borders, it wouldn’t have been difficult to meet you’.”
Tinder and Grindr have come to be known as ‘hookup’ apps, allowing people to comfortably get in touch with and meet each other for casual sex or just companionship.
However, in this situation, it’s not easy to meet each other – just like the foreign secretaries.
“We reached a stalemate when we realised we can’t really meet,” agreed Utsav, who is 19. He’d even considered applying to one of Pakistan’s best institutions, the Lahore University of Management Sciences, before his mother shot him down for being impractical.
Practicality is the biggest stumbling block, and users have made plans to meet in neutral locations like Dubai and Thailand.
“We’ve joked about meeting at the Wagah border,” Manjeet said. “It’s just never worked out.”
The border is very much a reality to all these users, even if it is blurred in the virtual world.
Manjeet revealed that after his first interaction with a woman across the border, he had a conversation with his grandfather about the house he had in Pakistan, before moving to India after the Partition in 1947. He asked him to describe the area, and the neighbours they used to have. Then he relayed this information to his friend across the border.
“She told me that the next time she goes to Rawalpindi, she will travel to the address I gave her and send me pictures of our house,” he said. “I hope she does.”
Is it worth waiting for a ‘someday’ when a relationship might not actually materialise?
“You know they can’t do you any harm, so why not be loved for a while?” Sidharth asked poignantly.
Note: Names with an asterix (*) have been changed on request.