Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Marrying Anita: A Quest For Love in the New India

  • Hardcover: 320 pages

  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (July 22, 2008)

  • Genre: Memoir, Travel, Cultural

When Anita Jain, a 30-something, Harvard-educated, American-born Indian woman fails to find love followed by commitment in all the usual places in America, she decides to try her luck in her parents' homeland (India).

She chose India, not just because her parents hail from there but because, from what she has seen and heard, marriage or "shaadi" is very important to an Indian..."to an Indian, marriage is a matter of karmic destiny. There are many happy unions in the pantheon of Hindu gods...Shiva and Parvati, Krishna and Radha, Ram and Sita. Marriage is even enshrined in Hinduism as one of the four life stages" Yes, as a good Hindu one is expected to get married! Also, there are more men in India than women, 930 women to every 1000 men and our author figures her options were simply more plentiful in India!

So sure is she of being able to find a life partner there that she gives up her job with a respected NewYork daily and takes up one in Delhi, India. What she hasn't bargained for however, is that in the 3 decades since her parents got married, India has leapfrogged into modernity. According to Anita, young people in Indian cities are currently in the throes of a sexual revolution very similar to the one the U.S. experienced in the sixties with drunken hook-ups and friends-with-benefits being two rampant trends.

Also, young urbanites aren't really doing the shaadi.com ( similar to e-harmony but with a distinctly traditional Indian flavor), they’re meeting in clubs or online sites like Orkut or Facebook. However, despite these frequent social interactions with the opposite sex, young, single Indian women are not having much better luck on the marriage market either.
Does this mean that arranged marriages may just be the answer to an unwedded person's woes? The author goes on to explore whether an organized system for marriage may actually work better than making young men and women responsible for finding their own life partners.

OK, so traveling 10,000 miles to find her "Mr. Wonderful" seems like a great premise for the chick-lit genre, but I think the candor with which Anita Jain describes her dalliances,her insecurities, suitor rejections and the astute observations she makes on how class, caste and economics play a huge role in the Indian marriage game elevates this book to more of a social commentary on modern India.

Let me hasten to add that the young people that the author speaks about in this book come from the urban demographic...people living in the metropolises like Delhi, Bombay etc. For the rest of India,
dating and premarital sex is still frowned upon and 95 per cent of all marriages are still arranged -- alliances that are almost always determined by religion, caste and class considerations.

If you grew up in India in the '80's and live elsewhere now and have not visited India in a while, this book might shock the socks off you, don't say you weren't warned!

I'd love to hear from young people in India on this one....what are your thoughts on arranged marriages, dating etc.? Talk to me!


Auntie, aka cagny said...

Hello Lotus,
I am neither young nor Indian. But I remember my mother (who is old-world Japanese) used to tell me that SHE was going to pick out my future husband. This terrified me when I was a teenager. I can only imagine how this might terrify some teens.
Now that I am 50 and divorced, I somtimes wonder whether young people do need more guidance from their parents...

Anonymous said...

Looks like a really interesting book. One more on my list!

Breeze said...

I'll put this one on my list!

Thank you.


jenclair said...

This does sound like an interesting commentary on modern India. Very interesting that an American-born, Harvard-educated woman would take such a step. I'm very curious about her general observations and about her how her personal quest turns out.

Hollydolly said...

Thanks for yet another super review. I have this on order at the library, can't wait to read it.
I am reading a really good book at the moment, "Limping To The Centre Of The World" by Timeri Murari. I really like this author.
He recently sent me from India, (free of charge) an autographed copy of his book, "My Temporary Son
This to me is a must read for every one, it made me happy,sad, and brought me to tears. I should review them both, as they are both books that should be read.

Lotus Reads said...

@Cagny~ I'm always happy to have your input! I believe that when you marry, you don't simply marry the person but, you are infact marrying the family...so it's imperative you feel comfortable with the family before you rush into a wedding. With an arranged marriage, all that is taken care of because family backgrounds and reputations are all checked and double-checked...all you need to do is concentrate on getting to know your "intended" better, so yeah, I am an advocate of arranged marriages!

@Breeze and Kanmuri ~ Hope you enjoy the read!

Lotus Reads said...

@Jenclair ~ Hello! I was born and brought up in India and ever since I left in 1990 I may have been in a time warp with regard to the country...this book sure opened my eyes! Reading the author's experiences made India almost unrecognizable to me. Is this what globalization is going to do to us...make all of us homogenized? I hope not!

Lotus Reads said...

@Sylvia ~ Hello! Lovely to see you here! Yes, I am familiar with Murari and his beautiful adoption memoir...infact...I think I have reviewed it here on my blog. I wasn't aware that he had written another book...I look forward to your review!

apu said...

I don't know actually...I'm as Indian as they come - born, brought up and living in India - and I can't recognise some of the stuff she is talking about!"Urban India" is a vast universe - perhaps she hunkered down in some elite South Mumbai or posh Delhi colony and made that the basis for her observations? Contrary to what she says, arranged marriages are still extremely popular, even in urban area, with the difference that parents act as facilitators now in many cases, not decision-makers.

Also, sites like shaadi.com are very popular, precisely because many young Indians while wanting to make their own choices, still don't want to give up the comfort of marrying someone from a similiar linguistic and caste background...

And I don't know what she means by saying that young, single Indian women are not having much luck on the marriage market. Contrary to the ridiculous Western myth where its women who hanker after marriage and men who withdraw it, in India, both sexes see marriage pretty much as a given. So, I'd say she doesn't seem to know what she is talking about!

paddy said...

firstly thnx for the review,

being a young Indian from Bombay I need to disagree that "95% marriages are arranged". There is a lot more of love marriages happening around here these days. Still, pre-marital sex is still a big no for most of us (which ofcrse is changing). I strongly feel that there is nothing wrong in arranged marriage.

1)You get more than one perspective about a person(with who you have to live rest of your life). Around here, marriage is b/w two families not b/w two people.

2) Emotional influence in making a choice is less.

3) Most love birds find spouses from classrooms, offices and parties. Well, in arrangd ur spouse may not be from ur world. So lots of surprise.

4) Compromise is the first word in the dictionary of arranged marriage. I have seen many of my frndz say after luv marriage, she/he was not like this before.

5) my parents made lot of choices for me in my life. They should have a say in who i am gonna live my life with(But they should not be the decision makers).

6) Finally in India, marriage is supposedly for eternity. For all lives of ur soul. If its arranged or luv marriage, its just about finding the pair. hahahaha! melodramatic bull sh***

Also, abt the caste stuff, people have their traditions and all, they may want it to continue, change is not gonna happen in one day. Don't tell me that u tell ur dad "i luv this guy(/gal)" and he is not gonna ask u what his/her religion is!

Saying all this, I am open to Luv marriages also personally. I just said all these bcz, i have seen in all blogs, forums and Social Networking sites people romanticising luv marraiges and wanted to give arranged marraige a fair chance.

All I wanna say is "it doesn't make a difference".

Lotus Reads said...

Well said, Apu! I'm so relieved to see that the India I left is still alive and thriving! I was beginning to think that India had done a complete 180 on me!

The author mostly hung out in Gurgaon and the Nizamuddin areas of Delhi....not being a Delhiite myself I couldn't tell you if they are considered the ultra mod areas, but I would wager a guess that they were upper middle class.

An old expression says, birds of a feather flock together...my guess is that she just attracted those Indians that might have had the same ideals as herself and that is why she was unsuccessful in making a long term commitment.

The book itself is fun to read; the observations will make you think and endearingly, the author finds it easy to poke fun at herself, still, you want to give her a good shake every now and again and say, "stop that...get your act together, grow up"! But probably that's just the mom in me talking! :)

Lotus Reads said...

@Paddy ~ Many, many thanks for your input! It's great to hear that even amongst the urban youth, arranged marriages are still very popular and thanks also for confirming that our ridiculous obsession with caste and religion is still alive and well! I guess so much of that is ingrained in us and it will take more than just a few generations to make us see people for what they are rather than for what caste they belong to, no?

EclecticEffluence said...

I'm not Indian, but I do think this topic is very interesting and your review of the book is as well.

That's something I might put on my Book list. However, I don't know if I can keep up with you.

You might be interested in my most recent blog post. It comes from a completely different perspective, but it discusses something you're likely very familiar with.

Auntie, aka cagny said...

Hi Lotus,
I'm back to tell you what my book club will be reading next: In The Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta Ahmed . I had read your review of it earlier (Dec. 9), and excitedly shared your review with my colleagues.
We are eagerly awaiting Amazon.com to deliver our copies!

Juhi said...

Hi Lotus, I am a biblipiophile and I love your blog.

Yes, I am a young Indian living in Bombay and I believe the scenario is kind of hopeless for urban, upper class singles...their expectations are often too high for arranged marriages, yet they often end up having to settle for arranged marriage, because unless college relationships work out or perhaps an office romance, there is no way for them to meet and date people of the opposite sex.

They are kind of stuck between two worlds, trying to figure it out.

Forgetful Librarian said...

I found your site about a month ago and have really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for the great reviews and beautiful layout!

Musings in KL said...

Hi Lotus, must say that I'd like to read this book; just to get a perspective of how an Indian-American views the Indian society. Also for the fact that she did it after "trying her luck" in US. My situation was similar. I'm highly educated & my parents left me alone for a while to allow me to choose a partner. But when they saw I was still single at 29, they found one for me. I must say I am very happily married for the past 9 years.
As for arranged marriages, I'd say they are pretty much thriving & happily so. I see so many happy "arranged" marriages & just as many happy "love" marriages. Whether it was arranged or not, in my opinion, marriage is a relationship that just starts at the wedding - you have the rest of your life to make it work or not make it work. In some societies we see it working (most of the time); and in others it doesn't.

And why are we so hung up on casteism? There are always dividing factors in every society. In India, you bring home a guy from another religion, your parents will take time to come around (if at all they do). In other societies, it could be the very fact that the guy is Indian or Catholic or Jew or poor or rich or black or whatever. Fact is, when confronted with the unusual, people tend to resist. Some come around, other sever ties and live with that for the rest of their lives.

Guess we should not try to generalize the author's experience as one that represents India. India is just too vast for us to claim that our experiences are the truly representative ones...

ccna said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

Lotus Reads said...

@EE ~ Thanks a bunch for visiting and for letting me know about your blog post...I will definitely visit before the w/end is up!

@Cagny~ Thanks so much for letting me know...you and your book club are in for a treat! You know, when I was reading "Invisible Women" I reconnected with an old friend who lives in Saudi Arabia and I ran everything I read by her. Some things are still as is, but because the author is recalling things that happened to her nearly 10 years ago, some things may have changed. Either way, it's one of those books that will open a window onto something new and different. Tell me more about your book club...do you read all genres, or is it mostly non-fiction?

Lotus Reads said...

@Juhi ~ Hello and welcome! I so appreciate your input! I grew up in Bombay too, but that was quite a while back! :)

Hmmm@ high expectations, I think you may have hit the nail on the head with that observation. The author also observes that today's urban Indian woman is no longer prepared to put up with a run-of-the mill romance, a partner who does not stimulate her intellectually or even one that is mediocre in bed for that matter. Because women are as qualified as the men these days and earning just as much too, it's true, their expectations have gotten higher.

Sooo, where do we go from here I wonder? Does the Indian male have to pull up his socks and does the Indian woman have to lower her expectations slightly?

And how does society treat an unmarried lady in her 30's? I know when I lived in India and if you were unmarried at 30 people, especially older aunts, would pass snide remarks about the lack of a husband...does that still happen?

Thanks for being patient with all my questions! :)

Lotus Reads said...

@Musings in KL ~ Thanks so much for sharing and congratulations on nine years of marriage!

Whether it was arranged or not, in my opinion, marriage is a relationship that just starts at the wedding - you have the rest of your life to make it work or not make it work. In some societies we see it working (most of the time); and in others it doesn't.

True! Which leads me to wonder if Indians in unhappy marriages stay married (low divorce rate) because society more or less demands that? If arranged marriages (in particular, a family's involvement in picking out a partner for their child/children) happen to go out of style in India, would we also see a spike in divorces?

Fact is, when confronted with the unusual, people tend to resist. Some come around, other sever ties and live with that for the rest of their lives.

Right again! Which makes me wonder...what do Indian parents fear more...their child marrying into a different caste or an interracial marriage?

Lotus Reads said...

@Forgetful Librarian ~ THank you, how nice of you to drop by..appreciate it!

@ccna ~ Thank you, merci beaucoup!

Sanjay said...

Hey Lotus, How are you? Ready for spring I am sure. :)
I truly enjoyed reading your post and the informative comments by your readers and your responses which always add more to the reviews.
It is really interesting that Anita Jain felt the need to go to India to find a groom. Just curious.. does she talk about her dating experience in the US at all? Was she restricting herself to guys who were ethnically similar?
I am a bit surprised that she said that the notion of marriage is karmic. But I suppose it also is due to how society and cultural norms there work?
I am somewhat agnostic about the lifestyles of some of the folks that she talks about. And as some of the readers mentioned, Indian society is not as simple as she makes it sound.
Being an American and presumably better off than most Indians, she likely moved in different circles?
There are many different economic/social strata in India and the lifestyles that come with them are different?
I have to say that the interpretation this commentary is mostly of young urban Indians is also bit simplistic. Not every young urban Indian has that lifestyle. And I am glad some of the folks who live in India now pointed that out.
As for marriages, arranged marriages do work, but the notion does not appeal to me. I prefer to take my chances with the mate I chose for myself. Not to knock the benefits of knowing the family, checking out the background etc that goes with the arranged way.
True! Which leads me to wonder if Indians in unhappy marriages stay married (low divorce rate) because society more or less demands that? If arranged marriages (in particular, a family's involvement in picking out a partner for their child/children) happen to go out of style in India, would we also see a spike in divorces?
I partly disagree with your comment. In addition to societal pressures, economic necessity can also make it hard to separate?
I would not link divorce rates entirely to love marriages. As some one pointed out, to make a relationship work is after all up to the two parties.
One other factor to consider the empowerment that comes from women being able to work and the financial independence that comes from it.
As for the author, does she say what happened to her? Did she find her match?
Thank you for another great review. Enjoy the weekend.

Angela in Europe said...

95 percent of marriages are still arranged? I had no idea the number was so high. You know, when I was younger (in school) I used to think arranged marriages were terrible and outdated. Now that I am older and oh so tired of dating, I can see the wisdom in the custom.

Lotus Reads said...

Hellloo Sanjay!

Yes, the comments are always the most interesting part of the post!

Yes, Anita Jain does discuss many of her New York dates and because most involve getting drunk, lighting joints and hopping into bed with each other, I am not surprised that nothing substantial came out of these dates! I don't mean to sound like a prude, but c'mon, if you're stoned or drunk or worse still, both, how do you really get to make a good impression with another person? And to answer the second part of that question, no, she dated all kinds of men, including a Lebanese diplomat who had no qualms groping her but balked at a kiss because it was "too intimate" (obviously he's been unduly influenced by "Pretty Woman", lol)

Yes, there is no doubt she moved in different circles...namely the upwardly mobile Indians and the nouveau riche. She did make a couple of visits to her parents' hometowns, but that was not to look for a match, but just to visit relatives. I did like reading about her time in Meerut and her interaction with her first cousins who were married and confined to their inlaws' homes and needed special permission from the ma-in-law to go see her.

Agreed, financial need may also be the reason why some unhappy couples don't divorce, but by and large, if you knew society wouldn't haul you over the coals would you be more likely to consider divorce if the marriage was unhappy and finance wasn't an issue? I definitely think many people would.

Nah, don't thank me for the review...I should thank you all for your very interesting input...it's the interaction that makes all of this so interesting!

Lotus Reads said...

Yeah, Angela, that is the statistic I received...staggering,isn't it? You make a great point...I am all for finding your own match, but should that fail to happen in an acceptable period of time it is nice to think that we can fall back on some sort of organized system of matchmaking. Remember Yentl the matchmaker in "Fiddler on the Roof"? :))

Good luck, hope you find your Prince Charming soon!

Jims Varkey said...

I am an Indian, and call me a semi-urban guy. I completely agree to what Appu says. I am from a christian family, but even here arranged marriages are the norm. Almost 95% marriages are arranged.

There are a few 'love' marriages that occur ones in a blue moon, thanks to some campus romance. Pre-marital sex is a strict taboo.

And what was it all about marriages being Karmic blah blah.

Zibilee said...

This sounds like a really interesting book. I love to read Indian literature, and haven't really come across an Indian version of chicklit before, but it sounds lie it's much more than that. I am putting this one on my list. Thanks!

Sanjay said...

Agreed, financial need may also be the reason why some unhappy couples don't divorce, but by and large, if you knew society wouldn't haul you over the coals would you be more likely to consider divorce if the marriage was unhappy and finance wasn't an issue? I definitely think many people would.
I agree that divorce would be more likelier if finances and the taboo was not an issue.
Thank you for so patiently answering my comment.
Did she really find her match at the end?

Id it is said...

Sounds like an interesting read, chiclit or otherwise. Somehow this novel reminded me of Harvardite Kavya Vishwanathan's maiden novel that shot her into notoriety.

Smita said...

1st time here :-)

Have read this book and enjoyed it!!!

For me it was a contemporary view of Indian Marriage scenario....loved the feel of the book :-)

Anonymous said...


I would have a mixed opinion on this. Love/dating and marriage are not always the same things in India today.Many people I know were more open to date people from different class, caste etc but had a different standard for marriage. So the same people did 'love' or date, but went for 'arranged marriage' in the end.

I realized this more acutely when I, after a short 4 year stay in the US, went back. I found things very different from how they were in the 90s. People still marry the arranged way(majority), but they are more open to date/drink/go clubbing, even in a city like Pune. The crowd is more sexually liberated too. Also, more girls live away from home and remain unmarried longer to pursue their careers. This would definitely give more opportunity for opposite sexes to mingle.

If you consider the impact of Internet/Media/IT-ITES, it is much easier and acceptable for people to express themselves, so the inhibition is definitely lower than before(in the middle to upper-middle college-educated crowd).

But then again, things vary a lot depending on who you hang out with. My guess is that the author, having grown up abroad, would have been treated slightly differently by junta, hence her experiences might really be what she has written. Besides,she was meeting others with a purpose on her mind. She would possibly have missed out on meeting people who were not at the marriageable stage yet.


Lotus Reads said...

@Sparsh ~ Thanks a bunch for stopping by and for contributing your thoughts to this discussion. What you say makes a lot of sense...people in India are experimenting with dating but just not gutsy enough or ready to take that into the marriage arena and with good reason too.

My mom always said, men will flirt with roses but marry the lilly (pure). Ofcourse, this can be applied to women too.