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Marrying Anita by Anita Jain

Marion Winik
Newsday (MCT)

A delightful chronicle of search for love in modern Delhi, a wildly fermenting Petri dish of old and new.

Marrying Anita

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Subtitle: A Quest for Love in the New India
Author: Anita Jain
Price: $24.99
Length: 320
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781596911857
US publication date: 2008-07

The collisions of traditional Indian arranged marriage with modern western lifestyles are proving fertile literary territory. In addition to fascinating treatment in the work of Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri, well-received novels on the topic also came this year from Anne Cherian (A Good Indian Wife) and V.V. Ganeshananthan (Love Marriage).

On the nonfiction front, we now have a memoir by journalist Anita Jain, the daughter of Indian immigrants. In a 2005 article in New York magazine, Jain posed the question "Is Arranged Marriage Really Any Worse Than Craigslist?" The author was in her early 30s, and she and her family were obsessed with the quest for Mr. Right.

Though she found her father's old-school efforts on her behalf more than a little amusing, she got so fed up with the New York singles scene that she decided to go to India to try her luck there. Marrying Anita is the delightful chronicle of that experiment.

Jain had reason to think well of the Indian system. "My parents wed in an arranged marriage four decades ago and are among the happiest couples I've ever known. ...chatter away to each other incessantly, from the moment they awake until they sleep, gossiping about friends and relatives alike and teasing each other about their respective foibles." Such conviviality is hard to achieve in the West, which paradoxically idolizes both romance and self-sufficiency, promoting the idea that you have to be happy with yourself before you can be happy with someone else but providing no bridge between the two states.

A totally different view is offered by Indian culture, which presumes that adult life without marriage is miserable. Once you partner up with someone reasonably suited (caste, education and religion are the key elements), you can expect nothing less than a lifetime of ever-increasing happiness. Jain explains that newspaper ads have been used to find mates for decades, an approach that has burst into bloom on the Internet.

While a western matchmaking site would not likely feature posts like "Looking for spouse ASAP", the Indians cut right to the chase. One of the foremost sites is shaadi.com -- "shaadi" means marriage -- which claims 815,026 weddings on its home page. Even after Jain returns to India, shaadi.com is a main source of prospects.

I'm not going to spoil the book by revealing how things turn out for the author, but I will say that romantic developments, ultimately, are not the main draw of the book. Outshining them are Jain's observations of modern Delhi, a wildly fermenting Petri dish of old and new, East and West. For example, not much more than a decade ago, the rare McDonald's might be greeted by irate farmers protesting by setting themselves on fire in front of it. Today there are Korean, Russian and Lebanese restaurants, Thai-themed spas, and discos that rock 'til dawn. However, it's hard to say where a young lady can go when she's done partying because most landlords won't rent to a single woman.

"I marvel at the incongruities and ironies that abound in this country each day. I'm able to install Wi-Fi, allowing me to check e-mail from bed, but my cook, Amma ... extracts the utterly baffling Third World rate of $18.20 a month. That same amount also buys me exactly two double vodka-sodas in a place like Soho or Capitol." Also riveting is Jain's description of the bizarre culture that flourishes around the outsourced US call-center industry.

This is a fun book and a smart, funny woman. Her author photo is extremely fetching. I know I'm the wrong gender, the wrong religion and the wrong caste, but I think any fool would marry Anita Jain.


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