UP UNTIL NOVEMBER 2010, Aditya Verma had never asked a girl out. The younger of two sons of a landowning family from the district of Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Aditya, now 27, had been living at home until after college. Life in Gorakhpur, he says, was uneventful, with few ways to break the monotony. “Can you believe that I have never been to a cinema hall to watch a movie? It’s considered a reckless thing to do,” he said. Shy and soft-spoken with deep and expressive eyes, Aditya spent most of his time writing poetry, none of which he showed anybody. For him, writing was the only relief from the tedium, the only hope for beauty. “I would also write love letters for friends in college. They looked to me to give words to their feelings,” he said in an earthy Hindi. Although a seasoned Cyrano, Aditya didn’t try his luck with any girl: “I liked girls, but I never spoke to any.” Girls and guys in his town would meet from time to time, and on a few occasions even got into relationships—but he refused to take that risk. “Gorakhpur has a small and close-knit society, and I did not want to jeopardise my family’s reputation.”
In 2008, Aditya found a job in the IT support end of a big real estate company in Noida. He was thrilled about the opportunity, but even more by the move—and the distance it offered from his family’s farm in eastern UP. The time had come, he thought, to meet new people and take in the big city. But it wasn’t long before he realised that it wouldn’t be that easy. Someone as shy as he was needed a helping hand—a friend who would lead him past the barricades. While he waited for his phantom guide, his life fell into a familiar pattern: he would work from 9 to 5, and then walk back to his flat to spend the evening recording in his diary the events and emotions of the day. His routine was interrupted only on weekends, when he went to local malls with friends from his hometown. Aditya was satisfied with the course of this life, so despite continual pressure to return to UP and take care of the farm, he decided never to go back.
But one other unresolved matter stood between him and the family—one that he couldn’t shirk: his marriage. He was already past the “right” age, his family told him, and he shouldn’t delay it any further. “A few couples had love marriages back home,” Aditya said, “but they had to leave the village to save their families’ image.” On this issue, too, he refused to yield. He believed love should lead to marriage, not the other way around. “I have to slowly change their [the family’s] mindset,” he remembers thinking to himself.