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Almost Single, But Most Eligible

I tolerate my job, hate my boss, and bond big time with my friends, while routinely suffering from umbilical cord whiplash.

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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?

 
Well, the modern Indian woman should definitely feel at home with Aisha. She will remind you of any protagonist of the chick-lit genre that is so popular in the U.S. and Europe. Her priorities, her angst, her attitude — thus far restricted to Western women (at least in literature) — are now distinctly Indian, a bold reminder that the Indian woman has come of age.

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.”

 
 Advaita Kala on the book publicity circuit.
The ex-hotelier started writing the book in October 2005 after she returned from a stint abroad. Her parents were relocating from Mumbai to New Delhi and she decided to take a break from work and do some writing. In her novel, she wanted to show the change India was going through, especially among its women. “I think when women change there is a cultural shift. My generation of women are busy redefining themselves and what it means to be happy, what it means to put yourself ahead, if not necessarily first. We are choosing to live lives that are very different from those our mother’s led and there is great freedom in that. But then there are also insecurities and challenges that we never anticipated or were prepared for. Being single for longer than it is ordained is most certainly one aspect,” she says.

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’s book has been hailed as the Asian Bridget Jones, although she feels that she is more attuned to American fiction and literature than British and hence, she feels she was inspired more by Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City than Bridget Jones. “It certainly inspired me to tell a story that was more about friendship than anything else. Also we are a society where family is very important, if not paramount. What is happening today is that since more and more young people are leaving home for work and study, we are turning to friends more than ever before. They are truly becoming the family you choose. It’s a new phenomenon and Aisha and her friends are each others family in the big city. Having said that, I am aware of how tremendous the impact of Bridget Jones was in its time, and to be referred to the Asian Bridget Jones is nothing short of a wonderful compliment.”

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.”  

 

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Arts & Entertainment | Books | Magazine | March 2009

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