SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Anita Jain was sitting on a couch in her parents' roomy tract house in Antelope, a few days away from returning to Delhi for the next chapter of her life.
She was at the end of promoting her recently published first-person book, Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India (Bloomsbury, $24.95, 307 pages).
Her plan: "I would like to move into film development. There's a lot of cross-pollination between Hollywood and Bollywood in Bombay."
Her book, which has enjoyed international buzz, would not exist but for two motivators — family dynamics and cultural identity.
Her parents immigrated from New Delhi and ended up in Sacramento, Calif., where her father, Naresh, worked as an electrical engineer, and her mother, Santosh, stayed home to raise a family.
Jain wrote for the Sacramento Bee's Sidetracks teen page in 1990. In a clipping framed at her parents' home, the overachieving El Camino High School senior wrote: "Life is chance. Falling in love is basically a matter of the passage of time."
That statement possessed a certain prescience. At its heart, Marrying Anita is the lively, almost bloglike account of how Jain moved to India to find a husband and, maybe as part of the package, love and romance. But her story transcends that one-dimensional tack.
"Getting married wasn't my sole objective," Jain said. ". . . On one level it's just one person's journey. On another, it's a book that speaks to a universal story I've seen around the world: Women in their mid-30s saying, 'Why don't we have what our mothers had?'
"It's also a travel narrative about this very new India. . . . I wanted to talk about India in a way people aren't talking about it — how Delhi and Bombay are very modern, Westernized cities."
Jain, now 35, graduated from Harvard University in Indian studies and worked as a financial journalist in London, Singapore, Mexico City, Delhi and New York.
She landed in New York in 2002, on a budget and somewhat wide-eyed. Like other single career women, she soon joined the club scene. Where else to meet men?
But there was one huge difference between Jain and her like-minded girlfriends: Her ethnic heritage and her father's Old World ways dictated that she should have been married to an Indian man of similar caste, preferably a doctor or engineer. All signs pointed to an arranged marriage, or at least an assisted one.
Her parents had wed in a formal arranged marriage and were happily together after 40 years. (Her mother once told her, "It's not that there isn't love in an arranged marriage; it's just that it comes after marriage.")
Never shy, Jain did what she does best: She expressed herself. In a March 2005 first-person article titled "Is Arranged Marriage Really Any Worse Than Craigslist?" which appeared in a trendy New York magazine, she wrote, "My parents, in a very earnest bid to secure my eternal happiness, have been trying to marry me off to, well, just about anyone."
Warming to the idea of assisted marriage — and expanding her magazine article into a book — she moved to Delhi. Friends and relatives in India joined the mission. Back in Sacramento, her father continued to post her vital statistics on marriage-minded Web sites in India.
Jain got a job reporting for the Financial Times newspaper and began networking. To her surprise, she soon discovered a social scene in Delhi that was strikingly familiar. A young, affluent crowd partied at hot new clubs and fashionable restaurants — sort of like what was going on in New York City.
"I had sensed there was quite a bit of bed-hopping and bar-hopping in Indian cities, but I was shocked at the extent of it," she said. However, that didn't keep her from joining in.
Mom, dad to the rescue
Her parents paid a visit to Delhi — ostensibly for a relative's wedding but really to push the husband project. They occupied Jain's roomy apartment for six weeks.
Her determined father took out a newspaper ad on the matrimonial pages of the Times of India: "Educated Jain girl, 33, Harvard graduate and working for international newspaper, looking for broad-minded groom."
That ended in several bizarre suitors. One candidate earned only $200 a month as a clerk and lived with his mother. Another, a corporate lawyer, turned out to be money-obsessed, which led to a confrontation with Dad. A third was a "chubby Little Lord Fauntleroy" look-alike whose father talked for him. Another showed up at Jain's place with a garrulous cousin who did the talking.
Discouraged, her parents packed their bags to return to Sacramento.
Jain told them, "I want to get married just as much as you want me to. It's just that I haven't found the right person."
"A boy will come when it's your time to find him," her mother reassured her.
"Don't worry," her father told her. "We love you anyway — whatever you've become."
Just what had she become? In her parents' eyes, she'd become a woman who lived outside tradition and culture.
"The book has been upsetting for them," Jain said, "but they're very supportive and loving. My mother said very nicely, 'All the girls are (drinking and smoking hash). You're just the one writing about it.' I think that's very sweet. While I am doing these things — like having men in my bed — so is everybody else. My father thinks I'm the only one doing all these things. I try to tell them that by the standards of Western memoir, this is kid stuff.
"But while they have that supportive side, they have that incredibly nagging side about marriage. You take the good with the bad, I suppose. It's very hard, because you feel like you're disappointing your parents."
On two occasions, Jain came close to finding a husband. Those men found wives and left her . . . well, while not standing at the altar, at least envisioning it. Does she feel left behind?
"Certainly, but this was my choice," she insisted. "I could have gotten married at various points of my life, but I chose not to be married to the people offered to me. That speaks to all women who are unmarried in their 30s — it's been their choice, to a large extent.
"So why do women remain unmarried well into their 30s and 40s? It's because they haven't yet met (the man) they can live with. Now I'm only interested in meeting somebody if it's going to lead somewhere, and I don't need more than a couple of months with him to figure that out."
Finding Mr. Right
Which leads one to wonder: Exactly what is Anita Jain looking for in a man?
"Somebody who has liberal values, a similar socio-economic background as mine, who looks at the world in a similar way to mine, who likes to travel, who is worldly, and who likes me back," she said, sounding vulnerable for the first time.
But isn't "liking you back" a given?
"There happens to be so much mismatch in the desire to enter into commitment," she replied. "It often happens that you like someone and they don't like you back, or vice versa. . . . It's a search for a kindred spirit and for the opportunity for love to blossom."
Alone at nights, in an empty bed, does Jain feel lonely?
"On my good days, I'm not," she said, brightening for a moment. "On my bad days . . . yes."