Full of Life When You're 21 in Mumbai

Nisha Mehta is a 21-year-old citizen of Mumbai, India. Nisha is middle class, part of a fast-growing sector of the burgeoning Indian economy.

She straddles two worlds. There's her professional life: As a young woman, she is independent, earning money and getting exposed to progressive attitudes about women. Then there's the world of her traditional family.

Nisha lives with her homemaker mother, Sonal, and stockbroker father, Sunil, in a small, two-room apartment. She and her 16-year-old brother, Jay, sleep on a pullout couch in the family's living room. She has earned enough money to buy her brother a laptop and herself an apartment, but she prefers to live with her family until she marries, as is the Indian custom. She finished high school early, entered a three-year diploma course at a university and started working full-time at age 18.


Nisha's mother is surprisingly nontraditional in her hopes for her daughter. Though she herself has lived a traditional Indian life -- an arranged marriage, having children, beholden to her husband -- Sonal wants a different one for her daughter.

"My mom, she says, 'Never, ever live like me,'" revealed Nisha. "She always tells me, 'You just have some time, you get married after four to five years. Enjoy your life. You can do whatever you want right now.'" That said, she appreciates her mother's taking care of her -- cooking her dinner, making fresh carrot juice in the mornings, even packing her lunch.

Nisha is a sales manager for a medical testing company in the city. She spends her long work days meeting with doctors at hospitals, explaining their tests and encouraging them to use her company's products.

At 20, Nisha was promoted to area sales manager; she oversees five employees, all of whom are older than she is. Her mentor is her boss, 29-year-old Amira Shah, the executive director of Metropolis Health Services. Amira is part of a generation of highly educated young Indian women who are going further in business than women ever have before.

"Being young is now finally being looked upon as something good in India," Amira remarked. "And that's a big change. People talk about the young population in India and how that's a great thing."

Nisha is as comfortable praying in her Hindu temple as she is shopping at her local mall or talking with friends on her cell phone. She thinks Americans are "cool" and "slow" -- cool meaning cold, as in not friendly and slow meaning slow to raise their temper. And she thinks that Americans "are lazy, not like the hardworking Indians." She also feels sorry for young Americans, because she believes they are lonely since most do not live with their families.

She also has no knowledge of or need for American culture. Bollywood produces more movies than Hollywood. MTV has its own channel here, which features Indian pop stars. When asked if she liked Brad Pitt, she didn't even know who he was.

"What's new in that [American culture]? I don't find anything different over there. I am getting everything I need over here," Nisha insisted.