Journalist Dave Besseling spent eight weeks following Sid Malhotra, self-styled Number One Pickup Artist in India, to tell his story in his new book, Laid in India. Once a nobody in a small town in Andhra Pradesh, Sid now claims to have the power to seduce any woman, 'anytime, anywhere'. As he goes from bar to bar spreading his charm, Besseling documents his adventures with a mix of fascination, irony and scathing wit. Edited excerpts:
To be in Delhi as a woman, any woman, is to always be planning ahead, planning against the possibility of the rub-against, the grab-and-run, the casual rape. Not getting raped is a strategy in New Delhi. What chance does even the best pickup artist have?
'Delhi's a tough one,' I say, circling my wine as Sid swirls his ice coffee. 'Because whenever you go, to any clubs or whatever, women are usually out with their presidential cordon of hirsute Punjabis. And you can't blame them for rolling like that.'
'In any city, the clubs are a waste of time,' scoffs Sid. 'Everyone's on their guard. It's too much hard work. I'm more into day-game, like at a mall.' ...
'But at a mall there are always brigades of V-browed aunties lurking around,' I say, 'or the girls are with their parents.'
Sid rolls his eyes. Parents just don't understand. It's the one approach he admits 'is very tough', but if you can get a digit-close off an Indian chick out with her olds at Baskin Robbins and get her on to your charpoy later, that's when you can start giving yourself superlative, el jefe kinds of titles, like Sid's.
You can't blow too hard about making waves when the talent pool doesn't lap above your ankles, homeboy. There's an apocryphal story about a newly married couple who went to the doctor to ask why they weren't getting pregnant; the doctor asked them how they'd been doing it, and turns out the guy'd been inching up the out-hole, expecting to conceive by clagging at her colon the whole time. While that level of sexual ignorance is frightening in a country that bans sex education in schools, it does somewhat deflate Sid's self-regard as a modern Seduction Master.
And even for healthy couples that understand genital compatibility in its various forms and purposes, it's often not a matter of how, but where to close that F. Last year a bunch of consenting young adults in Madh Island near Bombay had their hotel doors kicked down by the police, their encounters in a paid private room earning them the antimonious charge of 'public indecency'—'We're going to call your parents' being the strongest threat cops need to buckle knees and conjure tears from ducts. That's how much kids talk to their parents about sex. People commit suicide over this shit.
Sid, without any serious competition, plus the benefit of his own Bandra apartment—and the lack of any 'pickup book' alerting India's female population to him and his ilk—has been able to dive in and thrive, undetected and unabashed.
'So what's this universal opening line, then?' I ask.
'It's very simple,' chuckles Sid, 'and I will tell you. But the most powerful seduction technique,' he insists, 'isn't your value or attraction level. It's your willingness to walk away.' He nods a few times and looks over his glasses at me. 'When you say, "Okay, I've got to go," and then don't ask for her number, it's so powerful it's scary. Because it's hard to be able to tell yourself to walk away when you don't want to. But there have been girls pulling me in, like literally pulling at me while I'm just trying to leave with my friends. The first time that happened I saw that power.'
'Is there a name for this technique?' I ask.
'No,' says Sid, 'it's just walking away. But trust me, [the girl] will always stop you.'
Walking away, in this case, becomes the ultimate form of the pickup term you may have heard of as 'negging', where the man supposedly disarms a woman by making disparaging comments, supposedly part of a reverse psychology that leaves her wanting to prove herself to him all the more.
Sid's favourite negging story is how he picked up a one-hit-wonder Bollywood actress at a crowded Juhu nightclub. He got her attention on the crowded dance floor by telling her what a shitty dancer she was.
'She was the big thing at the time,' says Sid. 'She wasn't used to hearing negative things.'
'So did you f*** her?'
'I'll tell you, but when I sent her that text the next day about "How's the salsa dancing going?" she knew exactly who it was. That made me unique.'
Excerpted with permission from Penguin Books.