I tolerate my job, hate my boss, and bond big time with my friends, while routinely suffering from umbilical cord whiplash.
My name is Aisha Bhatia, I am 29 years old and single…. I tolerate my job, hate my boss, and bond big time with my friends, while routinely suffering from umbilical cord whiplash.”
Aisha is the modern Indian woman. She is in her late 20s, desperate for a life partner and anxious about her weight (which only goes up). But, she is in “denial” and would never disclose to anyone her real weight. Remind you of someone?
With Aisha, the chick-lit genre has made its debut in India. And what a fitting debut too — funny, tongue-in-the-cheek, irreverent, compact, neat. Almost Single has sold 40,000 copies since it was released in August 2007, catapulting its author Advaita Kala as the reigning queen of Indian chick-lit.
Kala comes across as easy going, comfortable in her casual hoodie top and black salwar kameez. Her eyes light up when she laughs, often uproariously; she is quick with her repartees and exudes confidence from every pore. She is the quintessential modern Indian woman, who can hold her own anywhere. There us a bit of her in Aisha or maybe a bit of Aisha in her.
First novels are often slightly autobiographical. In her early 30 years, Kala is still single … is she almost single? She laughs, before replying, “I’m almost single because I am always in love with something and I don’t mean a person necessarily.”
Kala insists that Aisha is not her (in fact she is tired of clarifying that), but her experiences have found a way into the novel. She feels overwhelmed with the reaction, but hold on, it’s not reaction, as Kala says, it’s “affirmation” that the Indian woman has come of age.
Does she identify with the angst that Aisha goes through in the novel? “Not so much my immediate family, but rather friends and so-called well wishers were always hinting that while my career was going well, I was incomplete without a man by my side. And they would have these conversations right while I am sitting there and I am like, ‘Hello, I am here too!’ I think such experiences acted as a trigger for the book as I have a habit of mocking something through writing when I feel angry or hurt. I just felt it so unfair that the life of an Indian woman at the end of the day boils down to marriage. No matter how successful she is as a career woman, unless and until she is married, she is looked upon with pity by all and sundry.”
Kala completed her undergraduate degree from Berry College, Mount Berry, Ga. She admits that her U.S. experiences shaped her attitude towards life considerably: “You leave home for the first time and especially in my case, travel half way around the world. It was a big opportunity for me to discover myself and enjoy the relative freedom that a country like America provides, especially back when I was there in the mid nineties.”
Almost Single was recently released in the U.S. and Europe and Kala is hopeful for its success abroad, as she feels that Aisha transcends all countries, struggling against the outdated norms of a traditional society, trying to break free and yet stay rooted, being continuously judged on a scale that is unfairly and unfortunately tilted toward men. “Aisha straddles the world of modernity and tradition, and that I think is a common theme for women around the world. Even in western societies, we are still confined to certain patriarchal definitions in different measures, so in that sense there is a thread of commonality. In India the issues are different, in Saudi Arabia, where I believe the book is being photocopied, the situation is very different. But one thing is true, women, no matter where they belong, are challenged by the same issues in different measures and we all feel this constant need to prove ourselves, be it personally or professionally.”
Kala is a big fan of the chick-lit genre and likes the works of writers like Sophie Kinsella and Candace Bushnell for their candor and wit. She says she loves the mystery genre too. “Interestingly a lot of mystery writers are women who were romance novelists. So who knows that may be the next step. My next book is a sequel. I just wasn’t ready to say good bye to these characters.” The book is expected next year.
So, when will her singledom end? The spark of her witty humor reveals itself when she says tongue-in-cheek, “Well I’m a Hindu and aren’t our partners supposed to be predestined for us? I will be attached to him for many lives, right? I have a feeling that we have already spent a few janams (lives) together. So, this janam (life) we need a break and so he’s taking his time.”
Till then, she stays “Almost Single.”