A date for dinner: Heart Searching: Amid changing attitudes in the Asian community, Dolly Dhingra tries to find a first-class male

The ad sounded ambitious: dinner parties with at least eight suitable partners each evening - I hadn't met that many in 27 years. The annual registration fee seemed minimal at pounds 10; what had I got to lose?

I had decided to subscribe to Eastern Eye - a badly written rag for Asians, full of movie gossip and problems of suicidal brides-to-be living in the Midlands - after discovering that the lonely hearts column in Time Out only had an average of two Asian males a week.

I came across the Asian Dinner Dating Company ad in the Connections and Matrimonial columns. It included a detailed personal questionnaire, and a chance to describe your ideal partner. In the hope of finding a first-class male, I eagerly sent my cheque by first-class mail.

Returning to work, I was too busy to dream about the man who might father my children. It was early one Saturday morning when a chirpy voice on the phone said: 'I'm sorry, did I wake you up?'

'Depends who it is,' I replied.

'The Asian Dinner Dating Co,' the voice answered.

'Oh no, of course you didn't. I've been up since the crack of dawn.'

She explained that, due to a cancellation, a place had become available at a meeting tomorrow. This gave me no time to be nervous, so I agreed to attend. The venue, rather than being a local curry house as I had imagined, turned out to be one of my favourite Indian restaurants, The Red Fort.

Approaching the restaurant, I passed an Asian man who crashed his rather ostentatious car while attempting to park - frightened that I might be sitting next to him all evening, I pretended not to notice. I looked around for an Indian equivalent of Cilla Black, and was surprised to be welcomed by two finely dressed women, probably younger than myself. There were four tables of eight, two each for the Muslims and Hindus. I was the only Sikh that evening and made my way to a table with two Hindus who had already arrived. I sat next to a lively nurse from Harrow and a rather desperate-looking accountant.

Within 15 minutes we were all present and familiar with each other's occupations and postal districts, and discovered that we were all of a type - left home to go to college and now in professional jobs, we seemed to have lost touch with our Asian community. We complained that there were few or no Asians at work and that it was becoming increasingly difficult to make contact with any, let alone like-minded, Indians.

The nurse confessed: 'My parents are finding it very difficult to find a decent match for me. I am not after the traditional Indian male. I am intelligent and earn a decent salary. I don't want to spend my married life being a submissive daughter-in-law.'

Sanjay, a 29-year-old financial adviser, explained that he was looking for a partner with some creative flair and was not interested in the young, pretty, domesticated women that his parents had been recently introducing to him. There were heated debates on how arranged marriages were perhaps a way of satisfying all members of an extended family, rather than just two individuals, whether we planned to live with in-laws, and if we could ever envisage settling in India.

Halfway through the evening, the eight of us had all become rather cosy when Sabina, the organiser, came to tell the men it was time to change tables in order to meet the other four women. We were introduced to the next set of males, a mathematician, a businessman, a computer analyst and a social worker. It took a while to warm up again, but as the evening progressed people began to relax, and as always there seemed to be a direct relationship between units of alcohol consumed and confessions per minute.

Neelam, a researcher, spoke frankly of how she dreaded the old idea of viewing brides: 'I hate the idea of a prospective husband coming to my parents' house and me having to dress up in a sari so he and his family can have a good look. I would much prefer wearing jeans and having a conversation about how bad Bollywood or Bust is.'

As coffee was served the organisers sought some feedback. Sabina, who is now married, set up the service because she had once experienced the disillusionment that we were going through - 'I thought I'd never find an Indian man that I wanted to marry.' Genuinely concerned that the organisation should cater for a particular class of person, she said: 'Some women call me and say that they won't consider a man who earns less than pounds 25k a year, from a well-established background. I suggest to them tactfully that maybe they would be better off with the old arranged marriage system. We are only concerned with providing a service for intelligent, aware individuals.'

By the end of the evening, although some members exchanged phone numbers, there was little romance in the air. It had been an evening of shared experience, fine food and a lot of giggles. At pounds 45 it's a lot cheaper than a dowry.

The Asian Dinner Dating Co, 40 Wessex Street, London E2 0LB. Tel: 081-503 6194 or 0956 230414.

(Photograph omitted)

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