Chennai with its intriguing mosaic of people from all over the world is dizzy with sassy contemporary love stories. Stories of long-distance relationships, unconventional families and accommodating technology. The MetroPlus team picks its favourites:
Modern love is refreshingly candid. There are fewer red rose-strewn candle-lit dinners perhaps, as couples ditch stereotypical ideas of romance to set their own rules. A good thing, in retrospect. This city, after all, has changed.
Shannon Lee Zirkle-Prabhakar (photographer) and Rohan Prabhakar (businessman)
“We met in a sheesha bar. I saw him and thought, ‘Oooh. He’s cute.’ So I went to the bathroom and re-did my hair,” Shannon laughs. “She had on this funny denim jacket with fake fur on it. But I asked her out dancing in spite of that,” grins Rohan. So they went to a “pretty shady” club nearby with their friends. “In my defence it was technically not a ‘date.’ We had just met,” says Rohan.
“We danced all night. I finally left at 4 a.m. I was so tired by then that I fell asleep at the wheel while driving home, and hit a pole. My car did a 360 degree turn,” says Shannon, adding “It was the perfect excuse for Rohan to call me the next day, to check if I was alright.” She pauses and looks at him. “Would you have called me otherwise?” Rohan says, “Hmm. I don’t know. Not that day probably. Maybe a couple of days later.” “Oh yeah,” says Shannon, rolling her eyes, “You were trying to be cool.”
With both their families based in Maryland, they dated for three months before Shannon relocated to start college. “He drove me to college the first time. It was 12 hours away by car.” For the next five years, the couple studied and worked in different parts of the U.S., SMSing through the day and taking flights on weekends to visit each other.”
Rohan did his schooling in Chennai before moving to the U.S., and his family runs a business here. “At one point, he asked me, ‘Are you interested in moving to India?’ So I said, on two conditions. One, we get married. Two, we bring my three cats,” says Shannon. “They are huge cats,” says Rohan, “More like dogs, really. They come when you call and nibble on you.”
They moved to India exactly two weeks after their wedding. “It’s been almost three years,” says Shannon, “And I’ve realised visiting India is so different from living here. When I first visited with Rohan in 2005, it was almost overwhelming. Living here is so much easier.” She adds proudly, “I just made my first batch of idli batter today. It’s in the fridge and I’m making the idlis tonight. I’m also going to make chutney. I love coconut chutney!”
Lydia Telgarska (quality analyst, Amazon) and Rudra Krishna (author)
“When I met him, I really didn’t like him,” laughs Lydia. Here from Slovakia on a brief internship at AIESEC, she never imagined that she’d eventually fall in love with the young author, marry him and make Chennai her home. Their second meeting a few months later sealed the deal. “We sat and talked for almost five hours,” recalls Rudra who sheepishly admits to being a tad stand-offish during their first meeting. “At the end of it, we both knew we were in love, though of course, we didn’t say that to each other right away.”
They’re poles apart — Lydia is low-key, meticulous and a stickler for time, while Rudra gets his thrills from being on stage as a musician or dabbling in mixed martial arts. “We complement each other” says Rudra who dedicated his debut novel The Onus of Karma to her and his mother for being the defining women in his life.
For Lydia who had actually advanced her return ticket to Slovakia (before she met Rudra and ended up staying), it was a whole new world. “My life changed,” she says, adding that she didn’t over-think it despite the magnitude of the decision. “At that moment, it felt right. And I went with my gut feeling.”
A dog-lover who had never had pets before she married Rudra (he volunteers with the Blue Cross — an organisation that his father and grandfather founded), she is now the proud companion of four rescued dogs. One of them is a mongrel named Rocky whom Rudra says was the litmus test of his relationships during his dating days. “My dogs always had to approve of the person. And Lydia was the first girlfriend of mine that Rocky absolutely loved,” he says. Four years into marital bliss, he says —“I’d say we’re a perfect fit, rather than a perfect match.”
Monisha (owner, Monza’s Fashion Studio) and Ashvin Vignesh (clients and markets, Deloitte India)
It began with Yahoo chat. “I am a Tamilian but I lived in the North. I wanted to make a few Tamil friends so I joined a Chennai group chat in 2007. That’s where I met Ashvin. Even though I had made quite a few friends, when I started chatting with him I felt something special. I had a crush on him,” says 25-year-old Monisha between giggles. She was 18 and had just finished with her 12th grade while Ashvin was 22 and working.
Exactly five days later she was in Chennai for her college admission. “She met me the day she reached Chennai. But she brought her grandfather along. So it was more like a date with her grandfather than with her,” laughs Ashvin. Soon online chats were replaced by long phone conversations. “I remember I once ran up a bill of Rs.13,000. And during one such long phone call, she made me confess I love her,” he says. Monisha laughs, “We had been dating for six long years. I finally said, ‘Tell me, what’s going on in your head?’”
Monisha is bubbly, Ashvin is serious. But they say their dramatic height difference is what friends laugh at. “I am 5.1 and he’s 6 feet tall,” she says.
Throughout the conversation Monisha backs up each milestone in their relationship with dates. They apparently have many special days — Day they met on chat, Day they met in person, Day he proposed, Day they got engaged, Day they got married. “I am a totally filmy type and mushy. He’s not. I am always springing surprises.” Her biggest victory yet? “One birthday my gift brought tears to his eyes.”
Ahalya (jewellery designer, Rasvihar) and Ajit Shetty (founder, Score Gym)
“I’ve always been fit,” says Ahalya, “And I was constantly on the lookout for the perfect gym.” Ajit meanwhile was working in Mumbai, doing personal training for corporates. “A friend wanted to open a gym in Chennai and asked me to come in as a consultant,” he says. That’s how they met: 10 years ago at Fitness One.
“After I began training with Ajit, I realised I was getting a lot fitter,” says Ahalya. “She’s a dream student,” he adds. “Very focused. Very motivated. It’s a joy to train her.”
It was after they got married that both Ajit and Ahalya’s careers really took off. Psychology student-turned- jewellery designer, she decided to open Rasvihar, a contemporary jewellery boutique, to showcase her work. “I know he doesn’t look the type, but Ajit’s actually very fond of ornaments,” laughs Ahalya. “Hey! I started my career in diamonds,” he counters. “I was in diamond sorting for eight years.”
A trainer to filmstars and models, Ajit finally decided to put all his expertise into his own gym. “After I resigned from Fitness One, Ahalya did not let me rest for even a day. She took me to her office and said, ‘You are starting work today.’ So our first office was Rasvihar!” says Ajit. “I thought of the name: Score,” beams Ahalya, “It has a nice ring to it, reminding you of winning. But it’s also cheeky.”
Ahalya is now addicted to boxing with a personal trainer at Score. “I finally found her a personal trainer who can keep up with her,” says Ajit. “This way he gets to work out without me whining ‘train me’ in the background,” she says.
They’re both disciplined about food at home. “Well, Ajit more than me,” Ahalya confesses, “I love triple chocolate muffins.” He rolls his eyes, “What about caramel popcorn?” She sighs, “Yes. And I don’t even like movies.” Ajit chuckles, “We pick it up from the theatre and take it home.”
(By Shonali Muthalaly, Priyadarshini Paitandy and Sriya Narayanan)