Connect to share and comment

Love in the time of texting

Indian teens use mobile phones to thwart taboos, tradition and, of course, their parents.

A rickshaw driver talks on his mobile phone as he rides past a billboard outside a railway station in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh May 26, 2009. (Ajay Verma/Reuters)

BANGALORE — Bangalore schoolgirl Nitisha Jaykumar's latest acquisition is a Nokia cell phone, which her protective parents gave her when she turned 16 a few months ago. But now, unbeknownst to them, she is on the verge of acquiring a not-so-common schoolgirl possession here — a boyfriend.

Making full use of the curtain of privacy that cell phone communication grants her, Nitisha is bold and flirtatious in her messages with male classmates. Lest her parents suspect her nightly preoccupation with romancing by text, she puts the phone on silent and suppresses the daytime yawns.

As cell phones become the coveted teenage possession in newly prosperous India, text messaging is the new-fangled route to romance for the country’s urban young, much to the disapproval and infuriation of older Indians.

“Cell phones have become the way to circumnavigate a variety of parental controls,” said Ashish Patil, a vice president with MTV India, which researches youth trends. With cell phones, communication is private and individual, he said. He quoted an Indian teenager as saying, “On the landline, mom would answer my calls. But boys can call now on the mobile phone, and we talk 'til late at night.”

In crowded, populous India — where dating is still taboo and public display of affection is a big no-no — the cell phone is extending the possibilities of romance for a whole cloistered generation. It is becoming a symbol of freedom from parental power and a rite of passage in urban India.

And it's changing the way new India approaches romantic relationships, from deepening friendships with the opposite sex to the exchange of sexually explicit messages.

Fifteen-year-old Meera Rajesh’s parents bought her a cell phone after much pleading and begging. They hoped that the gadget would be a safety device, as well as helping her to coordinate studies with her classmates.

Now, Rajesh’s cell phone blinks surreptitiously at all hours of the night with text messages. Ironically, this "safety device" helped her form a bond with a teenager of the opposite sex through conversations that her parents cannot check.