Love and longing in Vienna

'100 Indian Tinder Tales' series creator Indu Harikumar sketches her own experience on the popular dating app for 'Lounge'

In 2015, Mumbai-based graphic artist Indu Harikumar decided to conduct a social experiment. She invited people to send her their dating stories on the popular dating app Tinder, which she would then render as a graphic. As the stories started coming in from around India, and Indians around the world, Harikumar was flummoxed—people from Melbourne (Australia) to Mumbai, Uppsala (Sweden) to Bhubaneswar, wanted to share their tales, and what’s more, their stories registered a range of experiences which revealed that online dating was certainly not as simple as it’s made to seem. Harikumar captured emotions like anxiety, joy, frustration and heartbreak in clean, simple strokes, and these went up on her Facebook page, Induviduality. The 36-year-old wasn’t even sure that her project would take off, but, two years on, her work has been covered by major national and international publications, including the BBC. Here, she shares a story that’s “frightfully special to her". It was story No.9 in the series, and Harikumar has created new artwork for Mint Lounge to illustrate it.

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The graphic below depicts her experience on the Tinder app in Vienna, where she had gone for an art residency from March to June 2015. A Tinder newbie, Harikumar installed the app at the insistence of her Russian flatmate, who was part of the same residency. All alone in a German-speaking country, Harikumar was apprehensive, but decided to give it a shot. What followed was a Before Sunrise-esque meeting which ended with a line that eventually became the title of Harikumar’s 2015 adult colouring book, Beauty Needs Space. “This strange and incredible connection makes me feel that love is in fleeting moments, and in several places and people. It finds us when we are open to it," says Harikumar.

As I woke up in Vienna at 4am day after day with nothing to do, I decided to give in. Like an anxious noob, I read everything before I right-swiped. Picture, bio, age, there were scrupulous checks. B had no bio and kept gushing over me being “exotic". Just as I was about to write him off, he asked, “What would you like to see in Vienna?" “Gustav Klimt’s Kiss, I’ve loved it from the time I was 17," I replied. “Did you know he lived in our neighbourhood?"

He had my undivided attention. When I mentioned my love for Rainer Maria Rilke, he wrote out a few lines by the poet-novelist in German. Unlike other men on Tinder who wanted to meet in bars, B asked me out on a walk. A walk seemed safe, so I promptly agreed.

B was an art history major and told me stories about Klimt and his underage lovers as we walked towards Klimt’s house. He was warm, open, funny and very engaging. It almost felt like we were old friends, and since I was visiting his city for the first time, he had to show me all of it. We walked past his house, his workplace, his favourite park and restaurant. We walked in and out of museums, parks, palaces and churches. He told me about the novel he was working on, and about inbreeding among the Habsburgs, Mozart’s loose ways and the Viennese waltz. He was curious about me too. Thankfully, his questions were not about the Kama Sutra, Indian food or why Indians don’t kiss on screen.

After our 5-hour walk we ended up in a café, where I refused to eat cake, saying Europe was making me fat. He quickly quipped, “But beauty needs space." I smiled and dug into my cake and ate his too. With cake, we exchanged stories of our former relationships and bonded over pain.

After an hour at the coffee shop, he walked me home. We stood outside the door and talked for a long time. It was awkward to say bye, I couldn’t bring myself to kiss him, so we shook hands and exchanged numbers. We picked another date to meet for butter chicken.

The evening of the date, I cooked a big meal: butter chicken, Malabar parathas and payasam, all while texting with him. I was just about to finish up when my phone rang. It was B. He said he’d have to cancel as his ex-girlfriend found out about him using Tinder. He said he was confused and didn’t want me to be part of the confusion.

I felt sad, lonely, cheated, and very angry. I wanted to cry. I wasn’t looking for love but this guy came my way, drew me out and then, when I was interested, he just vanished with one phone call, leaving me to eat butter chicken for a whole week. But this was Europe and I had many things to do—work, cook, travel, meet people. I was like an egg yolk in a sea of egg whites.

The day I was supposed to leave Vienna, I woke up to a very warm message from B.

I came back to India and life went on. One day, many months later, I saw him on my WhatsApp contact list. In his shirtless summer avatar, he looked incredible. I messaged him. He replied. We got talking. We still text from time to time and it is always deep, scary, very personal things or silly, stupid things. Things we wouldn’t discuss with our closest friends. Being 6,000km apart helps.

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