Manspotting – Chronicles of mid-life romance
How well does a single woman hitting her forties fare in the urban jungle of romantic relationships?
When Delhi-based writer and journalist Ritu Bhatia turned single in middle age and set forth to discover a new life and romantic relationship, she had no idea of what she was up against. All the books she could find were for the twenty and thirty-somethings, not women of her generation, which led her to chronicle her own experiences.
Optimistic about finding true love, she discovers the city has all kinds of men looking to mingle, there’s the debonair single dad, who wants her to play stepmom, a middle-aged singleton who can’t be parted from his Mommy, a dashing Mr India who turns into Mr. Sleazy when she enters his apartment, and a smooth-talking salsa dancer who sweeps her off her feet. Keeping pace with a younger man, she finds, needs vast reserves of energy and a generous budget for gyms and beauty treatments, bringing her attempts to turn into a ‘desi cougar’ to nought.
Told with engaging wit and candour, Manspotting looks at the metamorphosis of love, sex and relationships over two decades, in a culture beset with contradictions and judgements about women’s interactions with the opposite sex. The future of romance, says Ritu, depends upon the willingness of men and women to step out of gender stereotypes and embrace unconventional relationships that allow partners to live on their own terms.
I came across Ritu Bhatia’s book while searching for memoirs written by Indian women. I was captivated by the premise of the book which tackles a completely underserved area of contemporary life. I connected with Ritu over Twitter and we kept in touch over time. It is my pleasure to interview Ritu for my blog on my favorite topic.
Ritu Bhatia has written a rare book – rare for Indians because it addresses the important issue of a single woman, looking for love in mid-life. Even as the numbers of single women increase in urban India, the scales have always been tipped in the favour of males, leaving an educated, opinionated, thinking woman, scratching her head at all the stereotypes that she meets.
I laughed out loud at so many places. From unsatisfactory coffee dates with men to follow a hunt-and-conquer strategy to those who drone on about their pet subjects, disastrous dinner dates with men with less-than-desirable table manners, and the ones who wanted to appear progressive but turned out to be the opposite. On her dating adventures Ritu encountered a long list of unsuitable prospective suitors who facilitated deep insights into the characteristics of Indian males who seemed to be stuck in the dark ages despite their ‘new age’ claims to the contrary.
In this book, Ritu has managed to achieve the right balance with a humorous touch while not shying away from the underlying biases and prejudices that contribute to a skewed view of single women being either easy or bossy or needing to be rescued. There’s humour and sarcasm and a clear-eyed assessment of the situation that is extremely relatable.
My opinion: A great read that is both light and funny yet honestly asks the tough questions about the unfair situation that women face. Hats off to Ritu for pulling this off.
Question 1: Do you have a formal background in writing?
I am a microbiologist by training. My writing career began in my 20s, based more on my disenchantment with the lab than any real ambition to be a “writer”. I began with journalism. Since I had no formal training as a writer, I began reading a variety of books, to learn structure, dialogue etc
Question 2: What came first? The idea for the memoir or the material?
For as long as I can remember, I have kept a journal. Writing is my way of processing my life, and feelings. For over 30 years, I’ve maintained a daily diary as well as a series of notebooks with my writing on people, conversations, journeys, and events. But the idea of turning any of these into a book didn’t arise, until a friend read the accounts I’d written, about my interactions and conversations with various men over a decade.
“They are so funny, and enlightening,” she said. “Why don’t you share them!”
Question 3: Did you come up with the idea to write this memoir or was it someone else?
I was tempted by my friend’s suggestion, but held back by fear. The thought of putting myself out there was scary. What would people think? How would I tell my truth, without hurting others? I contemplated writing under a pseudonym, but publishers dismissed the idea.
Use your own name, said a niece, be brave.
Question 4: Who/what were your primary motivations for writing this memoir?
Most women of a certain age in India are confused and bewildered by their ‘dating’ experiences. The social and cultural connotations of mid-life romance exert huge pressure. Women are conditioned to believe in love, marriage and the rest of it. But romantic relationships have changed dramatically and often fail to deliver on these expectations. I wrote Manspotting because I met many women who shared experiences similar to mine and realized that capturing this social dilemma was relevant.
Question 5: How long did it take from start to finish for the book?
The book evolved over a 3 year period.
Question 6: How did you arrive at this form for narrating your experiences?
After juggling with the various forms my book could possibly take, I settled on a memoir. Unlike an autobiography which tells the whole life story, a memoir focuses on a specific aspect.
Question 7: Did you read other memoirs for inspiration?
One of my favourite memoirs is An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, which recounts her struggle with manic depressive illness. A more contemporary memoir that caught my fancy is Wednesday Martin’s Primates of Park Avenue. In this, the author describes the world of privileged Manhattan mothers.
Question 8: How did you decide what goes in and what stays out? Were there any concerns about how your extended family would feel about the level of detail you have shared?
Despite my comfort with writing in first person, I hadn’t anticipated the complexity of a memoir. I wanted to tell my story, truthfully. Finding my position was tough though. I didn’t want to complain, whine or blame others. I realized that too much show and tell is as bad as too little. And that restraint is as important as revelation.
Question 9: What was the difficult part?
The complexity of a memoir makes it challenging.I was uncomfortable at first to put myself out there. What position should one take? Critical, judgemental, kind, what? In the end I chose to adopt a candid yet compassionate view.
Question 10: What was your path to publication? Did you have an agent?
No agent. I wrote a chapter and book synopsis and showed it to publishers.
Question 11: Did you learn any lessons – during writing and after publication of our memoir – any surprising or unusual takeaways?
As the pages emerged, I realized that truth is a re-construction, which relies on our memories. But I learned that our emotions never lie. So, I focused on my feelings, in an attempt to stay true to myself.
Question 12: What is the one thing you want the reader to remember from the book?
Attitudes to middle age in India is different from that in other countries and the socio-cultural factors that influence our attitude to mid-life romance are deeply entrenched. Finding and keeping love in this scenario involves transcending limiting factors and believing in ourselves. My hope as an author is to forge a connection between me and my readers, to lead them to contemplate their own path to love.
Question 13. Any words of advice to aspiring memoir writers?
Hang in there. It’s all about draft after draft. Find a space that makes you emotionally comfortable to write. I wrote in my bed, with pillows propped up all around me. Read as many memoirs as you can, to figure out what structure appeals to you. Imitate! But always, always be authentic. A writer’s voice is what readers remember.
Question 14: Would you recommend any memoirs by Indian authors?
The Love Queen of Malabar – Memoir of a Friendship with Kamala Das – Written by Merrily Weisbord with inputs from Kamala Das
Family Life by Akhil Sharma
Faith and Fire – A Way Within by Madhu Tandon
Connect on social media:
Instagram: Ritu Bhatia
Image credit: Ranjani Rao