In “Song of Myself” from Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman writes, “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” Many stories set in rapidly transforming India feature heroes and heroines with Whitmanesque contradictions—characters who are struggling to maintain their connections to the past while coping with their nation’s surge to the future. In the spirit of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, Bharati Mukherjee’s Miss New India features a young Indian woman trapped between her provincial lower-income life and the career promised to her in Bangalore, a city obsessed with its own growth and inevitable Americanization.
Mukherjee, an award-winning American writer born in India, introduces readers to Anjali Bose, a rebellious 19-year-old who flees an arranged marriage in search of her own future in the booming metropolis at the cusp of its digital age. With help from her secretly gay American teacher, Anjali finds refuge in the remains of the once-great Bagehot House, a boarding house which holds the memories of a colonized India and the wounds Britain once inflicted on the nation. The girls who lease rooms there are the new women of India, competent and eternally hopeful. Unfortunately, Anjali’s promised call center job does not live up to its expectations, and her search for a suitor never wanes, even when her own career begins to crumple.
Miss New India is a brilliant, seismic coming-of-age story that encourages hope in the “Photoshop world” of today’s India, a country buoyed by incredible promise, but still burdened by false hopes.