Like most teenagers who are eager to break out on their own and experience some adventure, Anjali Bose wants nothing more than to leave her quiet home town of Gauripur, India. She has the skills and connections to do so: she was one of the smartest girls in her class and has been taking private lessons with her American expat teacher, Peter, to refine her English. Peter has been urging her to make the move to Bangalore, which is at the forefront of the global economy.
The main thing holding Anjali back is her traditional family. After her older sister’s divorce, it is up to Anjali to fill the role of the good daughter. Her parents are pressuring her to enter an arranged marriage and have a family. Anjali secretly leaves for Bangalore when she is pushed into realizing that she has no real future in Gauripur.
I hesitate to call this a coming of age novel, since Anjali is a bit older and on the cusp of womanhood. That said, she had a traditional, strict Bengali upbringing and was fairly sheltered from the world, so she experienced a lot of life-changing realizations in a pretty short amount of time. In that sense, Anjali does come of age. She’s not sure of what she wants out of life, other than that she wants more. She’s also in a precarious position of trying to straddle her parents’ traditional values with her own. This isn’t an immigration novel, but it definitely starts out with similar themes, with the daughter trying to honor her family while trying to be her own person, and at times, she’s bitter of the fact:
That was her father’s excuse: his fate was cursed. A fortuneteller had once warned him he had a jealous uncle, long-long dead, who had blocked every male Bose’s path to wealth and happiness. That was her mother’s excuse: I must have the same name as a distant auntie; I must be paying for her misdeeds. And now she knew the old stories were true. There were monsters, and innocent children were their victims, and no one, especially not her parents, could save her from them.
I felt that Mukherjee did a great job of juggling Anjali’s personal evolution. Anjali is a flawed character, who like many teens on the cusp of their twenties, make a lot of stupid mistakes. And like a lot of people, Anjali is hard on herself when she messes up. Once she’s in Bangalore, she becomes even more aware of all the things she does not know, be it English slang or literary references. But no matter how lost she is or how ignorant she feels (she mentally berates herself as a “country bumpkin” a few times), she always strives to be better.
My only gripe with the book, which I won’t specifically go into because it’s too spoilery, is that there were a couple of really ludicrous events regarding Anjali’s roommates in Bangalore. The book really didn’t need to go there. But for the book as a whole, I have almost nothing but good things to say. Mukherjee did a fantastic job of describing the feeling of chaos when Anjali arrived at the Bangalore bus station and encountered for the first time the eclectic amalgamation of different cultures and languages one finds in big cities. It was also really interesting to learn about corporate culture and the effects of globalization through the eyes of the ones most affected by it.
Most of all, it was extremely satisfying to encounter some gay and transsexual characters of color, some of whom even played a significant role in the plot; though homosexuality was used as a device to open Anjali’s eyes to the “real world,” homosexuality mostly incorporated into the book as just a plain ol’ part of everyday life in India (as it should be).
Considering all of its talk about complicated subjects like outsourcing and globalization, Miss New India as a surprisingly light read. Anjali experiences things that a lot of people can relate to regardless of what country they’re living in. It’s an entertaining book.
Miss New India was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 17, 2011.