Modern love may be a swipe away, but it’s still messy. Ask Mumbai-based illustrator Indu Harikumar. When she started 100 Indian Tinder Tales in 2016, it was through the prism of her own experience. As the circle expanded, out came stories of gay men finding love, extra-marital affairs, fleeting encounters, couples tying the knot, rather funny tales involving hair dressers and bad breath, and even that of a woman hand-holding a man who had lost his virginity!
“I didn’t expect it to go beyond eight or nine stories,” says the artist, who cleverly stitched together the subtle shades of grey, admissions, love, and longing with her illustrations. After years of illustrating children’s books, it was the urge to try something new that gave birth to the project. “I was on a residency in Vienna when I first used Tinder,” says Harikumar. “It was scary. I didn’t know anybody there, didn’t know the language, didn’t even know whom to call if there was a problem. But the date went wonderfully. We went for a walk for six hours, saw local art, and a connection was made.”
The story, which is ninth in the series, has been the subject of podcasts and detailed illustrations. The “Vienna guy” is also the inspiration behind Harikumar’s self-published colouring book, Beauty Needs Space. But the beauty of 100 Indian Tinder Tales lies in the varied voices it brought out, closeted until then. Giving space to female desires and male anxiety, it flipped the coin on convention to an extent, exhibiting the good, bad and ugly nature of relationships. “The series took shape based on the stories that came in. After a point, people’s reactions were that these are all sad stories, give us love stories!” says the artist, who finds inspiration in the works of Rainer Rilke and Gustav Klimt.
The project, which ran for eight months, marked personal growth for Harikumar too. “Listening to [other] people’s stories, I learned that we look for love in all sorts of places. The project made it easier for me to lean in, be vulnerable, to accept my flaws and be more at peace with myself. It became a platform for people to connect, to feel less isolated,” she says.
Since then, Harikumar has gone on to illustrate physical and social prejudices through Body of Stories, which in turn paved the way for some interesting collaborations. From teaching sex ed to students to being part of an AIDS awareness project, the following years, she says, helped “make a lot of feminist theories accessible to me and other people.” Her latest endeavour, Girlisthan, is about getting women to talk about what they love about themselves – putting the focus on “female gaze”. “I don’t get affected by Valentine’s Day, but a lot of younger people feel the strain. This is an attempt to get women to celebrate themselves, talk about what they love about their bodies,” she says.
Clearly, this is one artist exploring all the shades of love – be it the tangled mess of self-love or the perpetual search for that “ideal mate.”
A shorter version of this story was published on The City Story