By Pallavi Bhattacharya
What do you understand by being single? Does it just refer to an unmarried person? In the contemporary context this isn’t the meaning of ‘being single’.
Truly the basic definition of being single if you are unmarried doesn’t work anymore.
The significance of the title:
Author Advaita Kala in fact intelligently juxtaposes an adverb ‘almost’ before the word ‘single’ making the title of her debut novel Almost Single.
If we look around us we will really discover that most people around us aren’t really completely single any more especially if we are referring to an urban society.
For instance you often see people around you who aren’t technically in a relationship but aren’t enjoying a carefree single status either.
You may often notice that a person who claims to be single is maybe brooding over a former lover or completely smitten by a new person who may just be unattainable.
Unfortunately maybe the idea of being totally single seems scary as people sadly dismiss the advantages of being single and just brood over the disadvantages. Therefore people may feel the need of constantly being in a relationship.
Almost Single shows how single women often fearing that their biological clock is ticking away are not really searching for the right guy (as the right guy maybe doesn’t even exist) but is actually looking for a romantic relationship ‘right now’.
The Desi Bridget Jones?
The protagonist of the novel, 29-year-old Aisha Bhatia, a Guest Relations Manager at the Grand Orchid Hotel however comes across as a quirky singleton who is refreshingly different from the other female characters in the novel who are desperately searching for a partner or brooding over broken relationships.
Aisha with her witty tongue-in-cheek humour comments on her single women’s frantic search for love but also lends a patient and empathetic ear to their woes.
Almost Single has been likened to Bridget Jones’s Diary by critics. Whereas it is true that like Bridget, Aisha has generous proportions, smokes and is constantly pestered with questions on her single status.
Unlike Bridget, Aisha doesn’t immerse herself in self-pity for being single nor does she come up with histrionics to attract men. However like Helen Fielding, author Advaita Kala humorously explores the position of single women in today’s urban society.
Frantic groom hunting:
Aisha observes her friends as they frantically hunt for grooms through online matrimonial sites and frequent astrologers, babas, godmen, god persons and numerologists to find out when marriage is on the cards.
She nicknames matrimonial websites the ‘electronic swayamvar’ which is often used as the one-stop site for those who are keen to net an NRI groom. Aisha ponders how those who are hunting for partners through matrimonial websites are working backwards by first setting a date for their marriage and then proceeding to look for a potential mate.
And how in the desperation to attract a suitable partner within that deadline people often fudge personal data like salary and weight to create a larger than life online persona of themselves. We come to realize how mechanical the process of finding a partner from matrimonial websites is by just scanning factual data like body type, salary, age, profession and even food habits.
When Aisha’s mother brings forth a proposal of a groom who is a ‘pucca vegetarian’ who doesn’t even taste garlic and onions, Aisha finds it amusing how even herbs and vegetables are a relevant basis for marriage.
She says that if people find matches on the basis of the food group philosophy she had a preference too, as she after all needs to lose weight, she will settle for a man who is on high proteins and no carbohydrates, or in other words is on some kind of a diet.
Many of us may be able to relate when Aisha ponders on how expensive dating can be for a single woman. Though it is true that as per social custom women are not expected to foot the bill at a date they incur many hidden costs on dates like new clothes, regular salon visits, waxing legs, doing eyebrows, colouring hair and buying new shoes.
We as readers may also wonder why women find it necessary to get dolled up instead of sporting their natural look confidently on a date. After all post marriage won’t their husbands see them without makeup and in ordinary clothes at home?
Do girls need to be pampered on dates?
The novel also makes us think as to why do girls have to pampered on dates. Aisha narrates how Samir, the date of her friend Misha, insists on coming right up to her doorstep to pick her up though he is given the option that it was better that they meet at a familiar landmark as her home is a challenge to be found by even the most astute navigator.
Samir like many other men doesn’t ask for directions from Misha even when he loses his way as it will snub his male ego and therefore arrives late. Misha dressed up in neon pink looking like a pink flamingo is picked up by a chauffeur driven Mercedes with her date perched in the front seat.
The date ends in the worst way possible after Misha throws up after drinking cheap free alcohol ordered her date who supposedly owns a Mercedes. Moreover she discovers that she is to go home in a battered Maruti van as the Mercedes actually belongs to her in-laws.
The author maybe deliberately uses this delightful bathos effect to a date which seems to start off ‘perfectly’ to point out how redundant it is for guys to show their conventional ‘chivalry’ on a date to impress women.
Why do women often need to be in a relationship?
“After a certain age, especially for a girl living alone …. There are a lot of challenges,” says Aisha’s mother who seems unduly fixated on getting her daughter married. Aisha on the contrary feels resentful that being independent and socially active should be regarded as a handicap.
She sees her peers having trophy boyfriends even if they may have no genuine liking for the guy, marrying male gold-diggers, opting for break-up sex for ‘that one last time’ after splitting and having affairs with married men. She sadly observes how a woman on getting married often immediately snaps off ties from her single girl friends.
“What is it about single women in our age group? The day they find a man, they totally disconnect from the rest. Their single girlfriends become a burden, reminders of just how close they came to missing the boat. Suddenly the single girl community is perceived as a group of hungry piranhas, waiting to sink their teeth into any man, even the unavailable variety. The soon-to-be-married species starts to take refuge in the married friends, like they understand the nuances of relationships as opposed to the single girls,” Aisha ponders.
She figuratively describes her twenty nine plus single girl friends oaring a small raft. As her girl friends get married the raft gets depleted of its already sparse population.
After all what’s so wrong about being single? Aisha’s friend Anusha judiciously tells her girl friends who are obsessing over men and relationships, “Why didn’t he call, why didn’t he kiss me, what car does he drive, where does he work …… There’s more to life than men.”
The novel though a romantic comedy does make us aware that after all not all marriages have a happily ever after ending. Aisha’s friend Anushka in fact laments, “I know, but I never thought I would grow up to be a divorcee.” Like all little girls, Anushka grew up dreaming about that perfect, life-long love.”
Worse still, some may be trapped in dysfunctional marriages. Aisha’s relative Lata Di who is in an unhappy marriage with an alcoholic says, “Marriage is not all that it’s cracked up to be. After a while it’s just two people living under the same roof. And you find yourself accepting things that you never thought you could … His drinking has progressively worsened.”
Also it is a myth that every single woman is lonely. Lata Didi says, ‘“Now he drinks to get drunk. Every night is a battle. But what do I do? It’s been over ten years now and I’m only a college graduate. Where can I go? Papa has also retired. Aisha it’s good that you’ve waited. You have a job, a life, friends, an identity ….” She then turns to look at me and say with a quiet intensity, “You know something, you will never be lonely.”’
Aisha’s love interest Karan, a handsome affluent man with a wacky sense of humour is an essential character of the novel. However the author makes sure that the novel is not just about Karan wooing Aisha. Indeed the novel with its varied array of characters explores a greater canvas of life.
Aisha while working in the hotel observes its diverse guests be it a handsome celebrity cricketer or a beautiful princess from a Gulf country who while in a love-lorn state is just like a girl with a broken heart with no friends to hold her up. Each and every character of the book is well-etched whether the person is one of the main characters or just a hotel guest.
This delightful novel is a must read especially for all single women who are being pressurized by their families and society to tie the knot. Almost Single has in fact been categorized by some critics as ‘chick lit’ which is a term used to denote genre fiction genre written for and marketed to young women, especially single, working women in their twenties and thirties. So if you’ve enjoyed watching Sex and the City and reading Bridget Jones Diary you are sure to enjoy the very witty Almost Single too.