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Speed Dating Makes Inroads in India


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

India is changing fast, but it's still a fundamentally conservative society. Most marriages are arranged. Western-style dating is unthinkable for most, which is why it's surprising to learn that the phenomenon of speed dating has made its way to the capital, New Delhi. Here's reporter Mandy Cunningham.


In the art of courtship, this is the equivalent of fast food. You get just three minutes to exhibit your charms before moving on to the next date. Speed dating was begun six years ago by a rabbi in Los Angeles as a way to help young Jewish singles find romance. Now it's reached India.

(Soundbite of nightclub festivities)

CUNNINGHAM: In New Delhi's Agni nightclub(ph), suitors are beginning to arrive. They include 29-year-old Mohit Sharma.

Mr. MOHIT SHARMA: I am software engineer working in US for last five years. I just came to know about this from the newspaper, so I thought let's give it a try. And here I'm here looking for something serious--that is, marriage.

CUNNINGHAM: Mohit knows that his chances of finding a bride are slim. He says his potential partner should be well-educated and from his own Brahman caste. She must also be prepared to marry in November and return with him to the United States.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CUNNINGHAM: Madhvi Arora, a bank executive, is also looking for a long-term partner. She's 31 and came here on the advice of her father.

Ms. MADHVI ARORA: To be honest with you, I don't think my dad when he saw it really realized it was essentially a dating site. He possibly believed that it was a marriage site because he was looking out for somebody for me and I mean, of course, I was too, so he said anyways, so it doesn't make much of a difference. It's a different way to meeting people, so I said, `Yeah, let me try it.'

CUNNINGHAM: Each person has been interviewed by the organizers beforehand, and they pay between 20 and $40 to attend, no small amount in India. As other women wait to come inside, it's clear that not all are looking for husbands.

Unidentified Woman #1: No, not marriage right now.

CUNNINGHAM: Pooja and Pooneer, both in their early 20s, are studying fashion design. They believe Delhi's young professionals are too busy to find friends and partners, so they hope that speed dating's the answer.

Unidentified Woman #1: There's an advantage. Speed dating because you don't have to sit through a boring date and wait for the waiter to bring in the check. That's the best thing.

CUNNINGHAM: And do your parents know what you're doing?

Unidentified Woman #2: Not really.

Unidentified Woman #1: Not at all.

Unidentified Woman #2: Not allowed in India, all right?

CUNNINGHAM: Social taboos still abound in India, which is why Gary Delal, who works for the company London Nights, which runs the event, says speed dating has a useful role to play.

Mr. GARY DELAL (London Nights): Our social scene is very, very, very different in India. You can't just walk up to a girl in the bar and just be like, `Hi. What's up? Can I buy you a drink?' So a social, secure scene like that where participants are actually screened, you're being watched, very classy places where they can meet--I think that's what the Indian audience is looking for.

Unidentified Man #1: I want you to see this. Yes. The rules are you cannot ask each other's numbers. You can look at each other, mention as much as you want, all right? One, two, three. I'm going to start counting. You're close enough.

CUNNINGHAM: Finally, about an hour and a half late, the first dates begin.

(Soundbite of evening activity)

CUNNINGHAM: As the evening wears on, the atmosphere becomes increasingly relaxed. The couples seem to chat naturally.

Mr. DELAL: All right. All right. All right. ...(Unintelligible).

CUNNINGHAM: But after more than a dozen high-speed dates, Mohit, the man looking for a bride to take back to America, is disappointed.

Mr. SHARMA: I'm not really satisfied here because they were not the type of girls I was looking for, and they were just--well, I would say if you want to have fun, that's fine. Otherwise, I mean, most are not very serious.

CUNNINGHAM: Mohit was unlucky in love, but other speed daters seemed happy. The organizers say they've had thousands of inquiries since first opening in Delhi. They're convinced India's young are ready for speed dating and that even in this conservative society the concept will catch on. For NPR News, I'm Mandy Cunningham in New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mandy Cunningham