I’m No 73. Nope, I’m not referring to numbers assigned in prison or at a reservation counter. I’m simply the 73rd date in the 365-dates photo project that fashion photographer and actor Sunder Ramu has started the year 2015 with. He set out to complete 365 dates with women of all ages and backgrounds for his passion of forging connections. “This experiment brings together the two things I love most — women and food,” he says.
Ramu’s experiment is the answer to woes faced by many among us. It’s surprising, even to him, that no one has thought of this before. “I’ve been eating out for the last 20 years, and I kept wishing I had new company to share a meal with. But, I realised it’s quite difficult to ask someone to have a meal with you in this country without it being perceived wrongly. Men and women both face this dilemma and are left with technology to reach out to people. I decided to get to the bottom of the matter.” Given the heated debate about women’s safety, he thinks this experiment will also shine a light on what we’re doing wrong, and how we can appreciate the company of the opposite gender better.
With a resolution to never say no to anyone, he lets the women take him out or cook for him, while he brings the company, he informs me cheekily. The location or cuisine doesn’t matter. So far, he has been treated to a range of experiences — from haute cuisine at gourmet restaurants to sharing a home-cooked meal with a local garbage collector on top of a sewage tank. Having been the gentleman on dates before, he thinks it’s time the women pampered him.
(Above: Sunder Ramu on his different dates)
When I asked him out for this story, he accepted happily, and an evening was slotted in my name. Poet Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.” May I be audacious enough to add that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they take to fishing? Our date was set at the Thiruporur Game Fishing Farm, in Chennai, for some inland angling and quiet time. He’s never been fishing before, but that didn’t stop us from having a good time. Run by Prithviraj and Prathap Manivelu, the farm is spread over several acres with two huge ponds stocked with sea bass and tarp, among other fish. Ramu took an instant liking to the in-house Rottweiler named Grad. We were both taught to fish barramundi side-by-side, as also the catch-and-release method of angling. It was fun to watch him get the hang of it, catch his first barramundi and let it go.
Over a plate of delicious Mangalorean fish fry at the side of the pond, we began exchanging notes on our lives. Simple and straight-forward, Ramu plays football every day and backpacks for three months, mostly to Europe, at least once a year. “I wake up feeling great every day, because I have a date and a new experience waiting for me. And, all the women have been so wonderful. What more could I ask for?” The money he saves as a result of ladies sponsoring his meals is being used to sponsor meals for underprivileged children and women from different NGOs.
Our dinner that followed had a homey touch — idli, chicken curry and stew. We did have a lot of quiet time together, a rarity with a near-stranger, as we stood taking in the serenity of our surroundings. I asked him about his next date, and he told me there is a child who is suffering from eye cancer in Bengaluru, who he’s going to have a meal with. My preconceived notions about him and the date were left unfounded and thankfully so. That, in essence, is the beauty of the 365-dates project — to discover and be amazed. If I’ve taken anything away from this experience, it’s this: I am no number; “I’m a beautiful encounter.” In the strange times we live in, it’s possible to look for and find magic in everything. And, if we’re lucky, even love.