Last year, Gurki Basra became the first South Asian woman I had ever seen on an American reality dating show. She entered the limelight via Netflix’s Dating Around, in which participants go on five blind dates before selecting one person to see again on a second date. Basra stood out as a confident, chatty and independent fashion buyer; she distinguished herself even more at her episode’s end by declining to choose any of her dates. Instead, she walked off on her own, carrying a bundle of shopping bags and with a radiant smile.
“You don’t have to settle and have a guy because people want you to,” Basra, 38, told the Indian SCENE. The daughter of Sikh Punjabi immigrants, she spoke frankly about dating in New York City as a divorced Indian woman in her 30s, and about challenging stereotypes while on Dating Around.
Basra said she dragged her feet for weeks before agreeing to do the show. Once she made her decision, she knew remaining authentic in her appearance on Dating Around was crucial. “I spent a lot of time in an unhappy relationship for other people,” said Basra. “Once I started living life and being happy, [I realized] I can’t compromise, lie, exaggerate.” For Basra, that meant honesty about her divorce.
“If I’m going to go on the show, I’m going to be 100 percent myself and be okay with the repercussions,” said Basra. She wanted audiences to see an empowered divorced woman, not someone who was damaged. “I’m not ashamed of being divorced.”
Basra’s candor on Dating Around earned her an outpouring of support from around the world, and from closer to home, too. Basra’s mother, who first only noticed Basra’s use of profanity on the show, has recently revisited the show and shared more heartfelt feelings with her daughter.
“[She said,] ‘I want you to know I’m proud of you,’” said Basra. “With all the craziness, the uncertainty, my parents are trying to get to know me better.”
Growing up, Basra internalized pressure to do what her parents wanted, and felt as though they didn’t understand her. But over time, she’s reflected more on why she never explained to her parents what makes her happy and why.
“I think a lot of us, me especially growing up, are scared to have conversations with parents,” said Basra. “If we spend time talking to them more and explain why we want to do what we want to do, [I think] a lot of Indian-Americans would be surprised. I have been.”
She has begun opening up more of her life to her parents and family, a process that has been tested and shaped by her divorce. Staying strong and confident while rebuilding her life “showed my family that the choices were right for me,” said Basra. “If they’re not supportive, that’s OK, I’m still going to make my decisions.”
Since the divorce, she said that her family has seen her come into her own and thrive. “I’ve made life decisions based on what I thought would make me happy, and I’ve been happier,” said Basra. “I’m very lucky that my family does want the best for me.”
Feeling burnt out, Basra left New York for Los Angeles shortly after the first season of Dating Around aired. She plans to relocate to her hometown Houston, and recently launched her own website, Team Gurki, which draws its name from the hashtag that trended after a particularly aggressive and rude date of Basra’s went viral. She hopes the site — home to recommendations for jewelry and blog posts on fashion, beauty, and empowerment — will encourage women to break outdated social norms and set new standards for themselves.
“I know that I’m looked at as an expert in being a woman who is confident in spite of circumstances,” said Basra. “I’ve lived this brown Sex and the City life.”
Basra has decided the space of self-exploration and self-empowerment is where she wants to be and how she wants to help people. She has been in touch with the women who appeared in Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking, contestants Nadia Jagessar and Aparna Shewakramani, with the hopes of discussing what it means to be a South Asian woman with this sort of platform. Basra admitted to being disappointed, overall, with the first season of Indian Matchmaking, which she felt presented women as picky and difficult.
And while Basra sees some value in processes like writing down a list of what’s important to you, she says she would have done it differently than Indian Matchmaking’s central character, matchmaker Sima Taparia, whose clients rattle off desired traits in a partner. Basra would like to go a step further; she thinks it’s far more important to be guided through the process and to do serious self-reflection on goals and desires.
“It goes back to understanding who you are,” said Basra, who hopes to be able to help others think through these questions. “You might be surprised at what you want and why.”