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Winter dalliances

Many older women in their sixties come every winter to Delhi for a month. They make friends with young Indian men and celebrate life

Winter is freezing in northern Europe and most part of continental Russia, covered with a thick blanket of snow. People yearn for sunshine, a scarce commodity in those parts of the world at this time of the year. Tropical countries are the preferred destination. But for the older women, in their sixties, who have arrived in life, all their existential challenges have been taken care of, look for some new, adventurous.

“When life becomes predictable, daily life repetitive, there’s a need to get …messy,” says Louise G from Saint Petersburg, “I come to India every winter for a month or so (she has been doing that since 2016) to dirty my hands,” she adds in her accented English.

Let’s try to understand what ‘dirty my hands’ means. She ‘hunts’ for young Indian men as a partner, they invariably have a prolific affair for a week or two, she takes her partner to various romantic destinations. Udaipur and Jaisalmer are her preferred places as she ‘likes colours’. And then the last week is when disenchantment happens. She withdraws into herself, leaving the young Indian partner puzzled, who describes the time spent with her “my best ever” and goes back to the familiarity of the home city –St Petersburg.

And she would return the next year, avoid her last year’s partner, look for someone else, and repeat the cycle. There’s no exchange of money, apart from the fact that she foots the bill of their travels. She is not the only one. There are many from Scandinavian countries and Russia, it’s a trend. This story talks about three of them. Louise hates to call it “sex tourism,” she prefers “adventure” and “youthful engagement” instead.

Louise is a retired government servant. Her husband is dead, she has a boyfriend who was a dear friend of her husband. Her 35-year-old son is a gay who’s settled in Moscow and she gets to meet him once a year in summers when she pays him a visit for a week or two. She doesn’t feel lonely, but sort of underutilized — her life force is weak.  Her stay in India rejuvenates her, makes her feel young and desirable.

But here’s the catch: things that allure her about India — that despite being over the hill she gets so much attention —after a while exhausts her. She craves for the calm, solitude, sedate pace of life, my usual self. And that’s when she escapes back home.

Ebba is 64 years old, a native of Stockholm. She’s big, nearly six feet, weighs over a hundred kilos, looks younger than her age. A retired school teacher, she has been coming to India since she was a college student, “when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister,” she tells over a coffee in Connaught Place. Delhi and Goa being her preferred destination, and lately the purpose of her visit is for broadly the same reasons as Louise.

She plans to hang out with her latest Indian boyfriend, a 32-year-old travel agent from Kashmir, in Connaught Place on Sunday evening. There seems to be a carnival happening, with hundreds of people out on the streets merrymaking — while just 10 km away Delhi was burning, Jamia students were agitating against the violent clampdown by the Delhi Police after the latter barged into the university campus.

Ebba travelled to India in the early eighties and had a yoga teacher in Rishikesh who used to feed street dogs. She got married to a colleague, a high school teacher, in the mid-1980s. Three decades passed like a ‘weekend’, job, children, kept her busy. She bought a beautiful house in Stockholm with a wild rose creeper canopying the entrance door.  Her two children, both girls, are settled in the US and her husband, Roger, died 10 years ago due to colon cancer. She’s big but healthy. She feels that though her image in the mirror has altered beyond recognition, she feels as young as ever and craves experiences.

“People in my country are lonely,” she says, “especially the older people. They do their things, keep themselves busy, but being busy is not a solution for not being lonely,” she explains. She has a partner, 10 years younger to her, and it’s an ‘open relationship’. He’s a photographer, explorer, yoga teacher, and is travelling a good part of the year.

Ebba’s time in India is her own. She speaks perfect English and talked in great detail about Greta Thunberg, an exceptional teenage environmental activist from her country who was declared the person of the year by Time magazine, “She has certainly inspired the youth all over the world.” But she has no qualms to admit that inspiration in her life is ebbing away. “I come to India, it’s not difficult to find a young man who’d make me feel so special. It’s a good pastime.”

“Charges your existential batteries?” I ask, clarifying repeatedly, “I’m not judging you. I’m trying to understand what’s happening?”  She finds many Indian men suffering from “mansplaining”. “I’d call it a dose of delusion to deal with the reality of life. Things change. Sometimes it’s hard to accept,” she says pensively. Her boyfriend, a lanky fellow, who joined us but didn’t utter a word, has a “good spread of body hair. I like hairy men.”

Anna Maria is from Finland. She turned 60 on 14 November, a trip to India is her annual birthday gift. She has friends in Delhi but prefers to stay in a hotel. She’s currently lodged in a guest house near Karol Bagh — a locality in Delhi she’s familiar with.  She never married, worked in the corporate sector for two decades, is now a consultant, makes more money than she needs, and lives alone in a decent-sized apartment in Helsinki. She’s “a bit of a maverick” a “music buff” “unsure and lost.”

She has had a string of affairs with both men and women, sometimes concurrently. She has many close friends, but likes her solitude, wears many anklets and lockets, and her body is a canvas for an elaborate tattoo artwork.  She has suffered a lot, lost and depressed for many years, even contemplated suicide more than once. Despite the tumultuous past, she has fairly relaxed existence. “I was trying to be something that I’m not. Why do we have to be something? Perhaps I’m a b***h,” she laughs, two of her metal teeth glitter.

Anna Maria’s body is lean and toned, though face betrays her age. Her teary blue eyes are very expressive. She met her current boyfriend, a college dropout from a reasonably well-off business family in Karol Bagh, at a bar in Hauz Khas Village. He dropped her to his guest house and stayed the night. “My desire for younger men is neither carnal nor motherly, it’s …I empathise with them. For in some measure they are sexually repressed and have all sorts of notions about what it means to be with someone. I help them be themselves.”

And that’s the reason why they fall in love with her. A lawyer, Sikh, wears a big blue turban on a conical face, 27 years of age, was with him last year, is still madly in love with her.  He even introduced her to some of his family members. They were, predictably so, horrified by his choice. They called me an “old junkie” she narrates in a level tone. They still meet, but don’t sleep together. “I’m helping him disengage with me. He’s too young to understand things stop making sense after a while. It’s painful for him.” But that’s life.