Summary of Bahrain Mukherjee. Miss New India. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.
A novel called Miss New India looks at changing roles of young women. Anjali Bose, 19, is a business college student in the state of Bihar in North East India. Her parents are typically obsessed with the search—including Internet sites–to find her a good husband from similar Kayastha caste and Bengali background, despite not having much of a dowry to offer a suitor. Thy’re traditional, eating with fingers and bathing in a sari, sleeping next to her mother. “Marriage equated to servitude, like her mother’s and sister’s. But if not in marriage, how did a woman in Bangalore live?”[i] Her American English teacher urges her, as one of his best students with a special “spark,” to go to Bangalore in the south to find a job in a call center. He hopes she’ll avoid early marriage to someone her parents select and a repetition of her parents’ squabbling and unhappiness.
Suitors like to do home visits where they can assess “the mother’s modesty, the father’s authority, the spontaneous hospitality, the obsequiousness of the staff, the absence of ostentation.”[ii] She agrees to meet an attractive man who her family allows her to spend six hours with him in his red rental car after finding him suitable. He rapes her in the car. That night, while her parents sleep, she leaves for Bangalore in jeans and T-shirt, suffering groping and fear while traveling alone. She leaves her parents a note saying “I am ready to take my place in the world.” Her teacher found a boarding house and lent her money to get her established, taking a course on how to do service calls for Americans, learning about TV shows, chain store names, and sport metaphors.
As an attractive woman, Anjali is befriended by a man she calls Mr. GG whose wife refused to leave the US. He comments about his wife, “I find American-raised Indian girls too independent. They lack true family feeling.”[iii] Anjali agrees to have sex with him once, but doesn’t accept his offer to travel with him outside of India. She decided, “If I’m to give myself away, it might as well be to a well-established man who saved me and performed favors and kindnesses. A well-connected man who would owe me.” She gets caught in the midst of a terrorist plot, and Mr. GG rescues her. After being in jail, the police offer asks her why she didn’t let him know she had connections.
Her English teacher told her that historically India isn’t structured around networking and contacts, but around family and community, which falls apart in a big city like Bangalore with people from all over India. She makes her own network; her new connection with Mr. GG gets her a job as a telephone debt collector and she finds a wealthy family who takes her in like a daughter. Could she have made these connections without being a tall green-eyed woman? She tells her new friends they’re party of a social revolution and someone asks, “Are we riding a tiger, have we started something we can’t control?” Mr. GG writes in a newspaper column “The New Miss Indias” will transform our country. Dynamo is inflamed by the new species of tyger-lamb” [sic].
[i] Bahrain Mukherjee. Miss New India. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011, p. 258.
[ii] Bahrain Mukherjee. Miss New India. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011, p. 24.
[iii] Ibid, p. 101.