OkCupid: Serial Dater Sunder Ramu is 30 Dates Away to Meet his Target of 365 Dates

  • The Chennai-based actor, dancer and photographer, launched the ‘365 Dates’ project to raise awareness about women's rights in India.

Some of Ramu’s dates include his 105-year-old grandmother, a woman who collects trash from his apartment block, an Irish nun in her 90s, an actress, models, a yoga teacher, activists, politicians, and many others.

Apart from being an actor, dancer and photographer, Sunder Ramu has another sobriquet — “serial dater.” The Chennai-based 48-year-old has gone on several dates for the past few years, 335, to be exact. However, he’s still 30 dates short of his target of 365 dates. 

In an interview with BBC, Ramu described himself as an “absolute romantic,” who is “seeking love every day.” Yet, the idea behind dating is “not to find women.” Instead, Ramu wants to raise awareness about women’s rights in India. And to achieve that, he launched the ‘365 Dates’ project on Facebook in December 2014.

Speaking on the genesis of the project, Ramu told BBC that it was December 2012 gang-rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi, that triggered the idea. “The incident churned my stomach,” he told BBC. “I couldn’t sleep for so many nights.” He said it also “rankled,” when during holidays abroad, people would ask him, “why do Indians treat women so badly”?  

That’s when began to think of ways he can make a difference. “I grew up in a family where women were respected and treated well,” he said. “And I went to a school where there was no gender discrimination and boys and girls weren’t considered different. But when I stepped out into the world, I realized how deeply embedded gender differences were and it was a big culture shock to me.”

As per Ramu’s ‘365 Dates’ rulebook, the women have to ask him out, “plan, pick a place and pay for — or cook — the meal.” At the end of each month, he said he would use the money he’d saved on meals to buy food for lesser-known charities.

And within minutes, Ramu snagged his first date. A friend, Poongkothai Chandrahasan, invited him for a lunch date on New Year’s Day. “What a super interesting lunch,” Ramu writes on his Facebook page. “Healthy, delicious, home-cooked meal at her new flat on a gorgeous winter day. Accompanied by her 2 adopted dogs we shared a great afternoon and started the year with so much laughter and joy. Ended the meal with a nice walk with Bambi n Ronaldo (her doggies). Good start.”

On the fourth day of his challenge, he dated psychology graduate, singer, songwriter and actor, Andrea Jeremiah. He wrote: “Very passionate about her arts and a very compassionate girl. Great sense of humor and quite a foodie, with a particular weakness for chocolate-based food.”

“I come from a very privileged space but to think that I can change a country and society so deeply rooted in patriarchy, I’d be kidding myself.”

Ramu has taken photographs of each of his dates, the food they eat and the places they visit and publishes it on his Facebook page. He also writes about his conversations with his dates. He told BBC that he shared those details as he wanted to tell people to themselves in the shoes of the other gender and walk a bit, “and you’ll understand their problems a bit more.” He continued: “Men too have to be made a part of the solution. They have lots of misconceptions when they go dating, but women are not just legs and curves, each person is different from another.” 

His first dozen dates were with known people. By the 10th date, the local press picked up his story and it spread, bringing in many more invitations. Since then, he has dated women from several countries and met his dates in different Indian cities, as well as in Vietnam, Spain, France, U.S., Thailand and Sri Lanka.

But along with praise, there’s been criticism as well. He told BBC that his friends wondered if he was trying to show off that he knew lots of women. They called him a playboy. Ramu said he told him that his idea was “to start a conversation, ask questions, get another person’s perspective.” 

One of the aims of the ‘365 Dates’ project, Ramu told BCC was to achieve gender equality. But unfortunately, since the start of his project from 2015 until date, he’s not been able to achieve that. “I come from a very privileged space but to think that I can change a country and society so deeply rooted in patriarchy, I’d be kidding myself,” he told BBC. “But I believe you have to make a start somewhere. It’s not going to happen overnight, there’s no quick fix solution. It will probably take a couple of generations, but we have to start in our lifetime and keep at it.”

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Some of Ramu’s dates include his 105-year-old grandmother, a woman who collects trash from his apartment block, an Irish nun in her 90s, an actress, models, a yoga teacher, activists, politicians, and many others. 

About his meal with Sister Loreto, an Irish nun at a convent in Chennai, Ramu wrote: “She is very in tune with the times and with the world. She is active on Facebook, enjoys an occasional Irish coffee at Pubs and is great with conversation and anecdotes. She has been a teacher in Chennai and also for 5 years with tribals in Bihar. It is amazing to see anyone make a commitment at 16 years of age and stick it out for her entire lifetime with love and energy to see children get educated.”

On November 18, 2015, he wrote: “Poornima is a very close friend to a few of my friends but despite having met her a bunch of times over 10 years at different times at events at our common friend’s homes and running into each other on a regular basis during our evening jogs, I have never really gotten to have a proper conversation with her. Every minute we spoke I discovered something new about her. All I knew of her was that she seemed like a shy and quiet person who had a calm smile on her face every time we had met, but I found out that she is pushing personal and professional boundaries. For someone who has jumped into fitness with gusto she is now competing and completing duathlons, looks like a fit teen, is a national award winner for her styling for films, and as her friends would vouch for, is a pillar of strength to those in her life.”

Ramu’s 103rd meal was with a security guard, Valarmathi, at Savera dining hall, where she worked. “Every time I’ve gone to the Brew Room at Savera I’ve been greeted by a cheerful Valarmathi,” he wrote. “It is not a very common sight to see a woman patrolling the parking lot as a security guard. She is very thorough and energetic and never once has she hovered around my car expecting a tip. When I asked her if she would share a meal with me she readily agreed but I had to go through a lot of protocol before I got the go-ahead from a very helpful team at the hotel,” he wrote. “Valarmathi was the cynosure of everyone there that afternoon and she started talking in a soft voice totally mismatched to her demeanor. But as she narrated her journey I was gripped by her adventure.”

But Ramu told BBC that his “most magical” date was with his grandma, who passed away two years ago, aged 109. Having grown up hearing that his grandma has always wanted to ride in a Mercedes, Ramu bought a “Merc” and went and picked her up from her home in the Kullanchavadi village. “She hadn’t stepped out for 22 years, except to vote, since the death of my grandfather,” Ramu says on his Facebook page. They went to the local temple and then drove to a lake to watch the sunset. “She was a little bent with age, but all her faculties were in order. We wore matching aviators and she joked that if she were a bit younger, she’d give all my young dates a run for their money.”

Ramu went on a date every day until November 2015 and then took a break when the devastating floods in November 2015 that submerged many parts of Chennai forced him to stop. He told BBC that although he resumed the following year, he decided to pace it. “I’ve had lots of free meals with lots of beautiful women, and now it’s become a lifelong project. The idea is to keep the conversation going.”

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