Sudarshana Mitra, 33, like any other bored homemaker, never misses Friends. Not the soap, silly. A member of the Friends Meet-up Group in Mumbai, she’s a regular at its weekly outings.
You may not catch Sonja, 25, swinging with her chums or boyfriend at nightclubs, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t heavily into Mumbai’s Night Life. That’s a meet-up group, too.
Hundreds of Mumbaikars are living dangerously.
Dotting the city of the Valentine Day-hating Shiv Sena are a medley of small bands of men and women who meet under the cloak of anonymity, and discuss their most intimate secrets with strangers without inhibition or fear of being judged.
Take Deepak Rathod, for instance. Every week, the 24-year-old call centre executive drops in at the meetings of Sex and the City Meet-up Group.
“I have joined these local meet-ups because I want to live life to the fullest and have loads of fun,” he says. “I have no one special in my life, hopefully this will help me get someone.”
Groups like the Mumbai Cuddlers, the Mumbai Desperate Housewives and the Mumbai Sex and the City have as many as 45 to 50 members each. All one has to do is sign up and receive “alerts” on meetings on one’s personal email account.
From self-styled “sexy men” to young housewives, from investment bankers to qualified doctors, the mosaic of members reflects the variety of Mumbai’s society. No such diversity typifies their reason for joining up, though.
Young or not-so-young, married or single, most just come to have “fun”.
“I want these local meet-ups because I want to spend some good time on weekends or evenings with a lovely person,” says Rajiv, while his mate at Act For Love Meet-up Group, Rahul, puts it more bluntly, “I go to these local groups because I want sex every day.”
But if you have a taste for sophisticated “Platonic” touchy-feely, the Cuddlers are among whom you want to be. At least, so suggests the group’s agenda, posted on its message board.
“Meet other locals interested in getting together for a purely Platonic round of cuddling,” it reads. “Gather with others to talk about and explore what our needs are as adults when it comes to affection, intimacy and welcomed touch. This is a purely friendly activity, clothes stay on.”
Or do they' Here’s a sample of what group members really want.
“I joined the Cuddlers because I love to make new friends for fun and pleasure. To know somebody new is great, and to have sex and fun at the same time would be all the more great. Be happy and make others happy,” says a 35-year-old who doesn’t want to be named.
Crass pleasure-seeking without the niceties and subtlety of courtship or the romance of a Valentine Day card' The symptoms of a licentious age' Talk to the members and one stark reality emerges.
Too busy to have a conventional social life and feeling trapped in the stress and rush of everyday living, more and more Mumbaikars are craving to be part of a peer group that would give them a sense of belonging with minimal commitment.
“I have a fast-paced life with no time to make friends. This seemed like a great idea, so I joined in,” says 27-year-old Mahesh, a member of the Sex and the City group.
This means a rollicking time at one of the many pubs in the city, with strangers he will perhaps never see again, and sometimes the bonus of taking a girl home.
But every group has its misfit.
Akash (name changed), 25, was in for a shock when he posted his name and number on the Night Life group’s message board.
“I was flooded with calls. What I thought would be a chance to interact with like-minded people willing to discuss issues turned out to be a nightmare. Around 25-30 people called me regularly, most asking me to arrange meetings with girls for sex. There were women, too. A 22-year-old woman and a 27-year-old housewife called me to arrange for men. That was the last straw. I decided to forget about being in groups.”
But the craze is catching on with the groups mushrooming by the week. The Mumbai Married Women came into being on January 5 this year, but were beaten to the post by, appropriately, the Mumbai Desperate Housewives who got cracking on January 3.
City psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty sees the trend as a reaction to the atomic life city people live today. “Neighbourhoods and communities don’t meet. People find it harder to belong to the society at large, so the need for smaller groups who find their own space with one another.”
Shetty doesn’t see anything unnatural in sex being the recurrent subject of discussion among almost all group members. “Every individual needs acceptance and a sense of belonging. It all starts with the basic need to love. Wanting sex is a natural extension of that need,” he says.