I don’t know what it is about New York City, but it seems to turn women into half-crazed maneaters. Yes, there are happy, well-adapted, single women. But they all seem to keep their mouths shut most of the time. The other half, inspired by Carrie Bradshaw’s endless whining about not finding a good man, loudly declare how impossible it is to find love in New York City, over and over and over again.
Anita Jain is one of them.
Jain, an intelligent, successful woman by most standards, feels unsuccessful in one large area of her life: At the age of 32, she’s unmarried. It probably doesn’t help to have Indian parents harping on the lack of a son-in-law. Despite a Harvard education and a decade of travelling the world as a journalist, Jain feels inadequate.
A breezy story about being single in NYC and arranged marriage in Delhi
So, in March 2005, like any good writer, Jain decides to air her grievances in a long article for New York magazine about how, after trying for a love match for 18 years, she is beginning to change her mind about arranged marriages. The article is a hit —probably with all those other unmarried, unhappy women in New York. A book deal is offered promptly and accepted and, shortly thereafter, Jain lands in Delhi, hoping it would get her closer to finding a match.
The result of that sojourn is her book, Marrying Anita, a lighter-than-air, 320-page look at the burning question: “Why can’t Anita find a husband?”
While the reader may come up with a few suitable answers to that question, there is absolutely no question that Jain can write, and write well. Her prose cruises along, with keen observations, humorous characterizations and self-deprecating jokes. It’s what she writes about that is the problem.
First, she writes for a Western audience, spending most of her time explaining the “New Indian Youth” she meets in Delhi: People still look down on divorce! Women drink alcohol! Some people still have arranged marriages! She makes a lot of generalizations pretty quickly—much to the chagrin of readers familiar with India.
To verify her claims, she freely spills the secrets of her friends in Delhi. Sure, she changes people’s names, but she’s an apt observer, and it’s very easy to know whom she’s talking about if you’re in the small circle of journalists and expatriates in the Capital.
If you do know that circle, it’s a bit voyeuristic reading the book: I felt slightly ashamed reading about a colleague’s break-up; an acquaintance’s reticence about sex; and a friend slyly creeping into Jain’s bed after a long night of partying.
But more than dwelling on my shame, I wondered how it must feel to be those people, with their secrets spread across these pages. I don’t consider myself a prude, and I appreciate honest writing, but there is something to be said about providing far too much information.
Also, when will women stop belittling themselves for being single? Why must we still feel unprepared for life without a man by our side? Why do we feel like love is an emotion we have to control and conquer before we turn 30? Why does marriage equal success for women, but a good, steady job equal success for a man? It’s disturbing to see female friends fall victim to these feelings—it’s even worse to read an entire book about it.
I’m tempted to give away the ending, because the book never really is about Jain’s search for a husband. She may enjoy the company of men—extensively, as you find out—but she doesn’t actually try for an arranged marriage (except, of course, when her parents are in town), and rather spends her time pursuing guys very similar to the ones she probably dated in New York: an already married man, a guy too young and too wild for anything other than a good time, and an uninterested friend.
In the original New York magazine article, she wrote that she took her first arranged date “mainly with an eye towards turning it into a story for friends”. It seems she had the same idea for the book—rather than search for love, she just wanted to write a funny story. I wish she had just kept it for her friends.