Back in 2008, Rashmi Bansal posed a tongue-in-cheek question on her blog: "Are IITians really inhabiting Girlfriendville right now, or only in their imagination?" The responses were more earnest, offering a variety of reasons why the once-disdained nerd was now A-grade boyfriend material.
"IITians are the best gals can EVER get," wrote one avid fan, "Be it money,looks,intelligence or anything !!! And There's nothing wrong in a gal being attracted towards such a 'divine' species."
Divine indeed! Thanks to the combined efforts of Chetan Bhagat and Aamir Khan, surely Indian girls have finally been convinced that the average IIT-ian is – as another commenter put it – a "heroic combination of Peter Parker (the quintessential geek), Bruce Wayne (shits money) and The Incredible Hulk ('Amma says make him angry just before bedtime')."
Flash forward four years, and voila! We have DateIITians.com, a new social dating website premised on this much-vaunted desirability of the IIT/IIM suitor. "Many Girls think that they must have IITians, IIMites, Businessman, Industrialists as their life partner and they want to meet them where they get the chance, isn't true? I think so it is true," declares its founder Layak Singh, an IIT-Kharagpur grad.
True it may well be in a country infatuated with all things IIT – be it degrees, husbands, or sperm.
And yet... why then does the site that sells itself as "a new world of social dating" appear to marketed by and for the boys.
The home page, for instance, is littered with photos of pretty young things – and many look like stock photos of models as opposed to real members. Some have been posed with little flirty little lines, as in "Will you be my date?" and "What's up buddy?" My favourite is a screen with photos of three girls with the caption, 'Meet your soulmate', and accompanied by this mysterious bit of insight: "You may admire a curvy girl on the first introduction, but the second meeting shows up some new angles."
No less mystifying is the "About' section which claims that DateIITians is "based on the philosophy of a beautiful relationship which begins with buddy-ship (friendship) and results in developing and maintaining a meaningful relation, of course with the modern world definitions." But right after comes an inadvertent confession: "It is an endeavour to make it easier for the geeks out there in finding their perfect life partner."
More demoralising – to any IIT guy – is the media coverage which reaffirms the age-old stereotype of the desperate dude:
So you are stuck attending your mechanical engineering lectures for the better half of the day and the girls in your class are more interested in quantum physics than you. You need to brush up on your pick-up lines and you are tired of hugging your pillow. If you ended up nodding in agreement while empathising with the situation, then dateIITians might be the brainchild that will rescue your love life from doom.
And then there is this damning (and charmingly self-deprecating) quote from Rachit Gupta, general secretary of the student council affairs at IIT Delhi: "I'm interested in it, 'coz yahaan par IIT/IIM se baahar ki ladkiyaan bhi toh aa sakti hain, like those who're interested in dating an engineer. Otherwise, in our normal life, people have this sad image of us, ki IIT ke ladkey super-geeks aur gadhey hote hain... only hooked on books. If this portal helps us shed that image, it would be great."
Three years after Aamir Khan immortalised the sexy geek on the silver screen, a great number of IIT boys seem to be still desperately seeking the ladies. And it speaks volumes about how little has changed for a certain kind of Indian male in new India – the kind primed from day one to focus on academics to the exclusion of all else.
"The academic slog for them is long and disproportionate," says 'Malini', a friend who dated a "perfectly nice" IIT guy. The result, she says, is a type of arrested development which expresses itself as a lingering discomfort in the company of the opposite sex. The lack of experience or "socialisation" with girls is exacerbated when they hit college. The IIT-bound boy remains – in the midst of changing sexual and social mores – mostly chained to his textbooks, only to end up in college campuses where women are a tiny minority.
A minority that is often disdained. "They call them 'non-boys'," she says, "They talk about them in a certain way, don't treat them as equals."
The greatest resistance to the site comes from men unwilling to date IIT girls, like "Dheeraj," who says: "I'd rather not look for an IITian to date; she can be boring and unbearably geeky. Look, most of my friends in IIT have girlfriends from Delhi University, who are not into professional courses at all. That's how the preferences vary."
Okay, so IIT boys think their "unbearable" geekiness is no bar to their desirability, but is a big turn-off when it comes to their female peers? The double standard aside, that kind of attitude is hardly going to endear any man, IIT or otherwise, to a woman.
The problem is not that these IIT boys don't have girlfriends, but that they lack experience with girls as friends. This is why DatingIITians often reads like a socialisation manual: "Moreover, everybody knows that good relationships begin with friendship only, so when you first become friends and then gradually start liking each other, then only you can say that your relationship is developing and getting meaningful."
And it also explains why its creators – two of whom are IIT students – offer these arrows to shoot at a romantic target: "I give my smile to everyone. But I think, to you, I give my heart"; "You are the first person who has been able to make my heart beat slower and faster at the same time"; "Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I pass by again?"
Modern relationships between men and women are based on an ease and familiarity with the opposite sex. We no longer view each other as an alien species, to be courted with trite pickup lines, or appeased by giggling at the right moments. Perhaps this is why Malini argues IIT grads truly come into their own after they leave the monk-like confines of campus, after they've gone abroad for graduate school, worked in different environments, and grown more comfortable in their own skin.
"At 35, he is much more well rounded, where his geekiness is just one part of his life," she says. Her message: date IITians, later.