Anita Jain is a nuclear warhead!
Shobhaa De - in The Week, June 21, 2009
Boooof! It hit me in the gut minutes into our virgin conversation. Anita Jain, the author of ‘Marrying Anita’ is like a nuclear warhead – lethal! I met the delicious former journo at the first ‘India Se Writers’ Festival’ in Singapore last week. It is one thing ‘Knowing Anita’. But ‘Marrying Anita’??? You need guts!! How many men in our hypocritical society have them? I completely and totally adored the latest enfant terrible on the rapidly growing literary circuit in India.
Quite simply, Anita Jain is a character. Not quite Kamala Das, not Erica Jong… and certainly not Brigit Jones. She is Anita – her own person. And she has written a spunky book that could also have been titled ‘Being Anita’, and it would still read the same. But ‘Marrying Anita’ is a more commercial title, as I am sure Bloomsbury, her American publishers realized when they decided to publish her memoir in 2008. Well, the book has not sent cash registers ringing in the U.S. but in India, Anita has been noticed and is being courted by desi publishers, impressed by local sales. Carelessly tagged ‘Sex and the City, Delhi-style,’ the book is much more than just a raunchy account of the 36-year-old’s sexual romps in her motherland.
Her ‘Quest for love in New India’ is more hilarious than erotic and begins on a rather comical note . The narrative is a loosely linked catalogue of her sexapades – near-misses and a couple of booze\drug induced ‘dates’ ( notably with an Amritdhari Sikh virgin whom she initiates into kissing by caressing his turban). But behind the very American upfrontness and ‘let it all hang out’ tone of the prose, I sensed enormous pathos. And after meeting Anita over two days and three sessions, I could understand her rather unique dilemma.
Anita has shifted to Mumbai so she can hack it in Bollywood. Why Bollywood? Well… virtually every talented individual I have met over the past ten years wants a piece of Bollywood. To achieve her objective, Anita is sharing a rented hole in the wall with an American guy (not a boyfriend, she hastily clarifies), and doing the rounds of studios and ‘contacts’ in production houses.
Has she given up her search operation for a Suitable Boy? I don’t think so – she didn’t say. But I could sense her ambivalence…. and loneliness. Anita, a Harvard graduate, business journalist and most recently, an author of a successful title, is caught in a cultural vortex – she thinks American but wants to live Indian (well, to the extent possible).
Mumbai is just the city for Anita. But even Mumbai can be cold sometimes. And Anita is too hot to handle. By any city’s standards. This is what is so terrific about her. She says what is uppermost in her mind without thinking twice or caring a jot about consequences. Unwary strangers respond to her like they’ve been electrocuted, unable to handle her eloquence, overt sexiness, volatility or brilliance. Men recoil at her candour and women rush in the opposite direction looking for cover. Extreme reactions are expected in conservative societies such as ours, and I am wondering whether Anita was aware of the storm her book would create in India – particularly at book readings during which she reads out chapters dealing with graphic details of her trysts (notably one in a motel, when she was menstruating and left a bloodied bedsheet behind before fleeing the premises!) with relish.
And yet, there is nothing sleazy about in any of this. I found her ‘confessions’ exceedingly heart- breaking, naïve and innocent. In America, these sort of books are a dime a dozen and their content is often far racier. The difference here is contextual– this is not fiction. It is Anita’s own story (much like Kamala Das’s ‘My Story’ which was far more coy). We are still not comfortable dealing with women’s sexuality, particularly if the writer remains unapologetic and unashamed.
Anita has several choices ahead of her – I’ve suggested one - a sequel: ‘Surviving Anita…’ She should go for it!