Bharati Mukherjee’s novel Miss New India
follows Anjali Bose, “Miss New India,” as she embarks on a journey away from her small, rural village to the fastest growing metropolitan area in India, the city of Bangalore. Pushed by her teacher Peter Champion, an American expatriate, Anjali finds herself lost in the bizarre, Americanized technobabble of her new home, with a desire to find herself but no idea where she should be looking. This is the third book in the Three Sisters from Calcutta
The novel begins in a small town in India, where Anjali Bose lives a deeply traditional life, going to school and preparing for the arranged marriage her parents have prepared for her. Anjali comes from a lower middle-class family. Her caste and gender mean her options for upward mobility aren't great – she feels trapped in the customs of her small town and her family, where the smallest behaviors of women are monitored, and life seems it will always be the same.
However, Anjali's teacher Peter Champion, an American ex-pat, doesn't agree with her idea of where her life is headed. Anjali is skilled with languages and has ambition. Peter Champion sees potential in her to move to a populated area and find a place for herself beyond the confines of her small town. Champion advocates for Anjali to the people in town who can help her succeed, eventually convincing Anjali herself that she is worth more than a life she did not choose for herself. Finally, Anjali decides to make a new life for herself after she is brutally raped by the man her mother and father have chosen to be her husband; refusing to be wed to such a violent brute, Anjali leaves town.
The best place to find herself, Anjali discovers, is Bangalore, the fastest growing city in India, and the hub of hundreds of enormous call centers and technology companies. In Bangalore, the world is very different than rural India. Anjali's caste doesn't matter, and though her gender is not irrelevant, it is not nearly as constrictive – for the first time, upon her arrival, Anjali sees a woman smoke a cigarette and is amazed. In Bangalore, young people have found a way to make a name for themselves – they teach themselves American slang and accents from comedy shows like Seinfeld, and apply for positions at call centers, where they can make more money in a single week than their parent made in a month. Anjali soon finds herself among this crowd of young people, learning the tricks of their trade.
Once she arrives in Bangalore, often called Bang-a-lot by the snarky young residents of the city, Anjali finds herself in two different versions of the city – the old India, and the new. First, Anjali moves in with Minnie Bagehot, who lives in a crumbling mansion reminiscent of the old days of British colonization. Controlling, Minnie keeps Anjali under her watchful eye, while Anjali learns the ins and outs of removing her accent, and develops an Americanized backstory, calling herself Angie.
Trouble comes when a terrorist strikes, and one of the suspects is a woman who used to be a Bagehot girl. Taken in for questioning, Anjali struggles to confirm her identity to the agents interrogating her. The police believe that she is lying, leading to an identity crisis and the final straw for Anjali, who realizes how precarious her life is in this big city. Anjali finally emerges from her crisis with the help of some friends, who appear earlier in this series by Mukherjee, reclaiming her identity as a strong woman in the new India.
Born in Calcutta, Bharati Mukherjee eventually moved to Canada and the United States, where she wrote many books and worked as a professor emeritus in English at the University of California Berkeley. She wrote many novels, a few collections of short fiction, a memoir, and three books of researched non-fiction. The focus of much of her fiction is the complex experience of Indian immigrants and the clash of Indian and Western cultures. Miss New India
is the third book in the Three Sisters from Calcutta
series and is preceded by Desirable Daughters
and The Tree Bride.