BY ARCHITH SESHADRI
Photos by Vinod Devlia
Atlanta, GA, January 9, 2019: Most Indians are passionate about four things: cricket, cinema, religion and politics. A lot of dinner party conversations will revolve around these topics in some way shape or form. If you ask most Americans about Indians, they’ll probably refer to arranged marriages, Bollywood dancing and perhaps a reference or two to Slumdog Millionaire. While for many Americans, the concept of dating is ingrained in their culture, it is not usually spoken about openly with Indian American families. Imagine a dinner table conversation where children are openly discussing their dating lives with their parents — sure it may happen, but it’s usually something that’s not talked about. However, while some Indian parents may not openly encourage dating or casual relationships, when it comes to weddings, there’s no shortage of opinions or awkward jabs: “Beta, when are you going to give us the good news?”
Parents, extended relatives, family friends love to chime in about marriages — whether it’s arranged or love. But for most Indian Americans, it is not as simple as meeting someone for the first time and agreeing to a big Bollywood style wedding. In fact, for most Indian Americans, unless they meet someone in high school or college, finding a potential partner can be quite challenging. Similarly, parents in the US sometimes find it challenging to communicate or help their children find a suitable partner.
As they say with every problem, there’s a solution. In November of 2017, Atlanta-based entrepreneur Aparna Basker quit her full-time consulting job to address this issue. She has spent the last 18 years in Atlanta, has two daughters of her own and felt that there was a void in the community. “First generation Indian Americans in theUSstruggle to find the proper balance of involvement with their children’s lives around dating and marriage,” said Basker. She co-founded a social networking startup called “BanyanWay” to help both parents and singles find a match. Basker said she observed the struggles of Indian American parents especially the first generation who were missing the family and community involvement that they were used to inIndia. It is open to all Indians regardless of religion, caste, language or past marital status and open to those living in the United States. While parents may be aggressively searching on matrimonial sites, singles are swiping on dating apps . But Basker felt that a better approach would be to combine technology with in person events. That’s how BanyanWay was formed — to combine traditional matchmaking with modern dating. On December 8th, BanyanWay hosted a sold-out app launch party at ROAM in Buckhead choosing to focus on a “Bollywood Night” theme. The event featured Bollywood trivia giving singles a chance to mix and mingle with new participants while brushing up on old filmi facts. The soft blue lighting added to the ambiance with DJ Mike spinning the beats for an open dance floor. BanyanWay’s Brand Ambassador, Archith Seshadri, and Karishma Kothari emceed the evening and periodically drawing out raffle tickets for prize giveaways. Basker, and fellow co-founder Greg Watson gave a presentation on how the startup has evolved and what plans the company will expand upon in 2019. They both addressed common questions about the startup, its brand differentiation, costs and who will have access to it for security. The full app will be released in early 2019 where singles, parents and connectors/delegates (those who can refer other profiles) can all work together to help find a match. District Events provided a scrumptious selection of fusion appetizers including paneer tacos and holiday chaat crostinis while IceCream Walla provided tasty desserts. PITA Alpharetta provided a generous serving of lebaneh, hummus and baba ganoush. BanyanWay also gave all attendees a special “Blue Tonic” cocktail to a raise a glass and celebrate the accomplishments in just one year. This year, BanyanWay picked Pratham as its charity of choice to raise money to help education programs inIndiawith a brief video presentation by Pratham volunteers. Local Atlanta-based artist, Movina Nagarajan, closed out the night with her latest single performance, Call Me Baddie.
Other notable sponsors for the event included Subziwalla, Million Dreams Entertainment, KisCubed Events and Azure Analytica.
After networking, food, drinks, games and prizes, the app launch party wrapped up after nearly 4 hours with a special gift bag for all participants, media sponsors and social media influencers. “It was wonderful seeing local singles connecting with each other face to face and this reaffirmed our commitment to provide a platform for them to do this through our upcoming App” said Anu Ganesh, from the BanyanWay Team.
Banyan Way hosts two types of in person events: Hello! and Milan. Hello! events are for singles and provide a comfortable platform for Indian Americans to meet and get to know each other. So far, events have ranged from cooking demonstrations, bowling mixers, wine and cheese happy hours to escape game rooms. Most networking events are about 3 hours long and include icebreakers and opportunities for participants to meet others and share their challenges and struggles in the dating process. So far, BanyanWay has hosted 5 events in Atlanta and one event in New Jersey and San Jose respectively. Meanwhile,Milan events focus solely on the parents where they can talk about their children, discuss similar issues with other parents and help connect potential singles. It was a first of its kind events for parents in Atlanta. The events are open to anyone of Indian origin and have drawn people from several states including Texas,Massachusetts,Indiana and Georgia.
BanyanWay has organized Milan events in Atlanta,New Jersey and San Francisco. Parents were thrilled to find others in a similar situation and some were even proactive to print out resume like bio datas of their single children. Parents said they liked the small groups, and a chance to discuss these topics face to face. Parents traveled from several states to attend the most recent event in New Jersey including from Iowa and Georgia. For 2019, Basker hopes to expand the startups’ presence in other cities across the US with major Indian American populations including New York,Chicago,Dallas,Washington D.C.and so on. The core team is based in Atlanta, Ga and is actively looking at hiring people interested in growing the startup from around the country as well as key sponsors who would benefit from this unique approach to matchmaking.