Anita Jain: An interview

Finding your perfect match was never easy, was it? And it rings true even if you happen to be a Harvard-educated, globe-trotting, “fair and slim” scribe. Anita Jain, an Indian-American financial journalist, who has had a hard time looking for her Mr Right, bares it all in her book Marrying Anita: A Quest For Love in the New India. Published by Penguin Books, it was released in Mumbai on Tuesday.
Marrying Anita chronicles a modern woman’s singlehood and her (desperate?) search for a life partner. And that is the stuff chick lit is made of right? Wrong. As for Anita, while searching for a life partner was the imperative for the book, it was not the only imperative. “To me, a major imperative was to describe the rapidly changing urban landscape. I wanted to write about the new India. It was important to me. There is a middle class revolution in India and people from small towns are reaping the dividends of globalisation. A man I date comes from Gorakhpur. That is new India,” says the 35-year-old author, adding that she does not quite like chick lit.
“Mine is a memoir and an honest one at that. I wanted to make it provoking and
entertaining at the same time. If I had just one imperative, I would not have been able to make it entertaining,” Anita elaborates. The idea for the book started with an article Anita wrote for the New York Magazine, “Is arranged marriage really any worse than craigslist?”, in 2005. It was a “widely popular” piece. And the publishing community approached her to write the book.
“I decided to base it in India as the real story was unfolding here, with more than half the country under 30. By doing so, I knew I would be able to make it far more interesting than any story based in New York,” says Anita, who believes there is something “deeply, heart-wrenchingly wrong” with the Western dating system.
In New York, Anita was witness to the unlikely balance between free-for-all dating and arranged marriage. She had a first-hand experience of New York’s “vulturous culture of dating and its formidable argot” – JDate, bootycalls and f***buddies. Despite all this, she was “willing to wade into this morass to see what I could find”. To no avail. “For a decidedly unmystical society that seems to have the answer for everything else – the best medical care, cutting-edge technology, super highways and space shuttles – it seems odd that people are left to their own resources, casting around for another lonely soul, for what is arguably the best decision of their life,” she wondered.
And it was then that she decided to make a passage to India and search for her
significant someone. But this was preceded by the numerous, though fruitless, attempts of her parents to find a suitable boy for her. While she was in London and Singapore, she would agree to meetings with her “suitors” at her parents’ behest, who had put an ad in the matrimonial columns: “Match for a Jain girl. Harvard-educated journalist, fair, slim”. However, it was more out of a “desire to silence my parents than a hope that anything would come of them” as she found it “retrograde” to allow her parents to find someone for her while it had always been up to her who she dated.
Before her pilgrimage to India to find love, Anita was all praise for the “clarity of intent” of Indian men. “I don’t think I’m ready for a relationship right now” was a line she had never heard from an Indian man, or at least the ones whom she met on shaadi.com. Also, she was struck by India’s honesty. “In India, people are far more honest. That is one major difference between the US and India,” she holds.
When Anita moved to New Delhi in 2005 she was 32. It was at the same age that her
father had left India for a better future. “Our parallel journey forms a big part of the book,” says Anita. The India her father left behind was very bleak. It was mired in socialist imperative. There were almost no private companies. Everything was in the government sector. Jobs were few, opportunities sparse.
Anita comes back to the new India where private companies have proliferated. There are loads of opportunities for Indians who are integrating in the global economy. “These are two completely different scenarios. And I wanted to compare and juxtapose the two,” says Anita, who has found a sense of home, a sense of belonging in India and is planing to settle down “in Mumbai, if not in Delhi”.
Anita’s idea of a perfect partner is somebody who is on the same emotional, intellectual and sexual tangent as she is, somebody who has the same exposure to the world that she had.
“One of the criticisms of the book is that I don’t try very hard to get married,” she says. But that is not true as she has been looking. She has been looking all her life. And her honest and insouciant memoir only captures her romantic quests in excruciating detail. While staying in India (New Delhi) – “Everything is new here and it’s an exciting place to be” – Anita has found a sense of community which she also describes in the book. “I’ve found like-minded people who have spent some time abroad and also lived here. I am all for the idea of importing the West. India in the big city is westernised and modernised and I don’t have to hide the way I live,” says Anita.
As for marriage, it might be made in heaven, but it’s on the earth where it has to be ceremonised. And Anita is not asking for the moon.

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