In The Armchair

Anita Jain

Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on August 25, 2008

So I just got done reading Anita Jain’s Marrying Anita.

I’d heard about Marrying Anita at the Ultrabrown blog. It’s an interesting book about the author’s attempts to find the right guy to marry in both New York and Delhi. It’s been described as chick lit, and after reading it, I agree — its main subject matter is the heroine/author’s dating/romance sentiments. It’s just that this book is a lot more than just chick-lit. Anita Jain does something I find very interesting: she writes about trends, patterns in society that she observes. While I don’t think all of the social patterns she puts forth in her book are 100% representative or factual (not all Indians omit articles from their English), many of them are a good succinct precis of what seems to actually be happening. I’d go so far as to describe this book as a sort of romantic Maximum City Lite. It does talk mostly about the author’s emotional ride through New York and Delhi, but you actually learn a but about Delhi during the reading of it.

I recently heard an interview of Anita Jain at NPR. It was interesting, but it was also quite amazing how the host, Jane Clayson, seemed to completely miss the point of what Anita kept saying. She also didn’t seem to have read the book. She seemed fixated on her opinion that Anita had been trying the arranged marriage route. Excerpts like this one dominated the mood of the interview:

The pressure on me to find a husband started very early. A few days after my 1st birthday, within months of my family’s arrival in the U.S., I fell out the window of a three-story building in Baltimore. My father recalls my mother’s greatest concern, after learning that I hadn’t been gravely injured: “What boy will marry her when he finds out?” she cried, begging my father to never mention my broken arm—from which I’ve enjoyed a full recovery—to prospective suitors out of fear my dowry would be prohibitively higher.

Though you’d never guess it from this interview, the book is really 95% about Anita’s love life, not so much about the high-shock-value nitty-gritties of arranged marriage.

To be fair to Jane Clayson, I get the feeling Anita herself provides these anecdotes as a publicity element to shock her American readers, who expect to hear precisely such things in connection with arranged marriage. They can conveniently gasp at the delicious backwardness of certain parts of the world, be reassured that their stereotypes about India hold good, and get on with life, safe in the notion that their worldview needs no adjusting. Anita’s dad’s hours spent on are probably no different than what thousands of Americans do on, but if you throw in the words “Arranged Marriage”, it suddenly becomes shocking.

Another surprise was in store when I read the comments on the interview webpage. There were a lot of listener complaints about her articulation or lack thereof. It’s true that Anita seems to punctuate every sentence with “Umms” and “Aahs”, but it didn’t annoy me nearly as much as it did some of the commenters. The predictable Harvard-envy type comments really bothered me though. You have all these people who would love to hate Harvard students simply because they went to Harvard, wait for any mistakes made by Harvard graduates, and then pounce. “What do the folks at Harvard teach their students,” one might hear them grouse, “Even my 5-th graders speak more articulately.” Harvard-bashing is pretty popular, even though Harvard is much more egalitarian these days.

The book is a very courageous one. I’m surprised all of Anita’s various, um, acquaintances in Delhi acquiesced to have their names in it. They might have had their names changed. Either that, or this brave new India is more daring than I imagined. It must also have taken something out of Anita herself; the first question that sprang to my (admittedly parochial) Indian mind is how her parents reacted to her exploits. It’s interesting that she lays her own thoughts out so openly; I’m not sure most people could do that!

So, I’m curious about two things: how did Anita’s parents react to the book? And how is her new love life after publication of her book?

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