Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee ****

Anjali Bose spent her entire life in the small Bengali town of Gauripur, as did her parents and their parents, since before India's revolution, probably even before the British arrived. Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee follows as Anjali (sometimes using the anglicized Angie) breaks with tradition, gets educated in American English, rebels against tradition - especially arranged marriages, and escapes to Bangalore.

With this brief background in caste, tribes, and a stratified society, the story explodes into the excitement of modern India's technology boom, especially the opportunities and dangers for young women drawn to highly-paid (by India standards) outsourced jobs. Be warned, this is not a one-sided paean to technology and progress.

Through her teacher's connections, Anjali joins three other Bagehot Girls at the Raj-era Bagehot House. These four women party in the day and work at night (matching prime time in the United States), experiencing a life not previously possible in India - or most of the world for that matter. Freedom comes at a cost and in the end Bagehot House is gone and the Bagehot Girls are left to face their separate challenges.

Miss New India puts individual faces behind the story of technology and out sourcing in New India, an exciting clash of current events and individual repercussions. In the end two things are clear: India is not abolishing classes and caste as quickly as might be imagined, and the thin line between opportunity and exploitation is crossed both ways.

While this book provides an enjoyable and informative view of contemporary India, I had one problem: Anjoli is too much a victim of circumstance and an insecure girl totally dependent on others for approval and rescues. If the point is that India's women are not ready for this new entrepreneural world, this a tragic story indeed.

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