So she sets off to Bangalore, India’s fastest-growing major metropolis, and quickly falls in with an audacious and ambitious crowd of young people, who have learned how to sound American by watching shows like Seinfeld in order to get jobs as call-center service agents, where they are quickly able to out-earn their parents. And it is in this high-tech city where Anjali—suddenly free from the traditional confines of class, caste, gender, and more—is able to confront her past and reinvent herself. Of course, the seductive pull of modernity does not come without a dark side.
Fiction:1) Téa Obrecht, The Tiger’s Wife
2) Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the Goon Squad
3) Karen Russell, Swamplandia!
4) Clark Blaise, The Meagre Tarmac
5) Gustave Flaubert, (translated by Lydia Davis), Madame Bovary
6) Abraham Verghese, Cutting For Stone
Non-Fiction:1) Doug Saunders, Arrival City
2) Simon Winchester, The Alice Behind Wonderland
3) Ben Ryder Howe, My Korean Deli
4) (trans. Wheeler Thackston), The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor
Dear Amazon Readers:
I grew up in Kolkata, India, in a large and loving, traditionally patriarchal Hindu family, headed by my father. Though my father was not the eldest male in the extended Mukherjee family, he had been co-opted as patriarch because he was the most educated, and had founded a prosperous pharmaceutical company. I watched my father accustom himself to the demands of the role of patriarch, which meant having to provide for, and to protect, scores of uncles, aunts, cousins, and strangers who claimed to be our distant relatives. For him, as with Anjali Bose’s father in my novel, Miss New India, discharging duty was the utmost expression of love.
In families like mine, a father’s greatest obligation was to marry off his daughter to a good provider. With that in mind, my father sent me to Loreto House, the school of choice for over-sheltered girls from well-off families in Kolkata. It was an English-medium school, run by Irish nuns from Galway. The nuns’ goal was to groom us to become wives of the city’s future leaders. We were being trained to be chaste and graceful young women who spoke English as fluently as we did our mother-tongue. To improve our English vocabulary, the nuns encouraged us to read British novels. My two favorite novels were W. M. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I was entranced by the adventures of gutsy, ambitious Becky Sharp and Jane Eyre, because they each had to make their her way in life without any help from protective, well-connected parents. My admiration for those fictional, self-made women who surmounted obstacles in their pursuits of love and happiness may have contributed to my having jettisoned myself out of my father’s patriarchal reach and the comforting familiarity of my hometown by marrying—much to my father’s consternation—--an American fellow- student after a two-week courtship at the University of Iowa’s famous Writers’ Workshop.
I became fascinated with India-based call-center employees and their dual identities (American at work; Indian at home) when, some years ago, I was activating a credit card on the phone, and the agent at the other end of the line struggled valiantly to disguise her Indian English accent and pass herself off as a mid-western American. The character of Anjali/Angie Bose jelled for me while I was visiting my first cousin and her husband, retired UN personnel in their retirement home in Bangalore, the IT hub in India. My cousin had invited a family with a twenty-something daughter who was working as a customer support agent in a call-center. The parents had wanted to meet me because they had read my novels and because they knew I lived in San Francisco and hoped that I could put them in touch with rich, Silicon Valley–-based potential bridegrooms. The afternoon started off amiably, with the parents exaggerating the accomplishments of their daughter and wondering out loud why she was still unmarried. But midway through the visit, the daughter began to show her rebellious side. She told her father to back off matchmaking, which led to an ugly shouting match. The visit had to be aborted when both daughter and father had a public “melt-down” in my cousin’s living -room. Later that week, she came to see me by herself, and talked compellingly about her conflicts with her traditional, controlling parents and about her hopes and ambitions for herself. Through her I met many of her call-center friends—, adventurous, young, working women from families of modest means, stuck in provincial towns. They talked freely to me about their hopes for themselves and the pride they took in being financially independent. They were lively women, many of them away from home and vigilant family chaperones for the first time, and eager for romance even if it didn’t lead to marriage. They inspired me with their conviction that they had an inalienable right to personal happiness. They saw themselves as pioneers of a sort, in charge of their futures, accountable for their failures as well as their successes. They shared their dreams with me, some of them said, because they saw me as an early version of themselves. I saw them as brave time-travelers moving away from the torpors of tradition and eventless adolescence, heading into a dazzling, technologically advanced future packed with events.--Bharati Mukherjee