In The Bad Boy's Guide to The Good Indian Girl or The Good Indian Girl's Guide to Living, Loving and Having Fun, the authors pursue the elusive figure of The Good Indian Girl in an attempt to rid her of her mystique|
Going by the (long) title of the latest book from Delhi-based Zubaan Books, an independent non-profit publishing house that focuses on women's writing, one might imagine the book written by Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindran to serve as a primer on how to be a good Indian girl. Not true, says former journalist, freelance writer and co-author Annie.
"I think we settled on 'bad boy' along with 'good girl', because men keep complaining about how hard it is to understand women. Personally, I think women are simple. Even when their actions are complex, their motives are easy to fathom," she says, when asked to comment on the title, adding, "Men are unfathomable."
The second part of the title was to ensure that they didn't limit their audience. "If there is anything to discover about good or bad girls, then girls should be the first to line-up and read it," says the 32-year-old. The book is a collection of 29 short stories that are "not quite fiction", and addresses the dilemmas and desires of women growing up in India. It follows the lives of a group of girls right from their school days, with the authors playing mischievous insiders, who link plots throughout the book.
"The format evolved after a few drafts. For one, too many characters would have made for a confusing book. Following a few characters helped create an arc and provide bulk to these characters and their stories," says Smriti, who teaches creative writing in the United States, and is a columnist with the Kathmandu Post.
Smriti adds, "It is like following a character through several phases of her life: school, college, job, marriage, relationships."
Adolescent dilemmas, hierarchies and social ostracisation, among peer groups, are some of the other topics touched upon."About 80% is fact. Most stories are drawn from our own experiences, or that of our schoolmates or college friends, or friends of friends," says Annie.
She adds, "When we began work seriously, I also interviewed a few girls and boys to get their stories and ideas on the subject. But we have mixed up many different stories and given them to a small set of characters."
Inspired by Life
"The story called Overseas about a girl going off to the US and having a conversation with her professor, well, I had that conversation with a professor," shares Smriti. It helped that Annie and Smriti had been classmates and friends since their days in Sophia College, Ajmer, and had many shared experiences that helped propel the book in a specific direction.
Right from the book's onset, the authors claim that every generation has had their share of GIGs (Good Indian Girls, abbreviated throughout the book). While the story called Buzz is a fun take on the literal 'buzz' that is created, when a girl asks her male classmate the way to the toilet in his house at a party -- Panty Lines outlines the relationship a girl shares with her panties, including the association of shame and forbidden desires attached to it. Boobs, is an astute observation about how peers can make one feel worthless and ashamed about one's body.
The writing style is colloquial and therefore easy to identify with. The narratives could be from anywhere in India, though Annie is keen that readers not adopt a closed approach to their origins. "I resent blinkered phrases like 'stories from small-town India' or 'Gen Next'. I have met conservative women even in Mumbai. For instance, as a cub reporter, I was once scolded by a woman for asking men, instead of women, for directions when I was lost."
Big cities are built by and defined by so-called migrants, who carry their values, fears and shame along with them. And whether you are in Mumbai or in Bijapur, no girl in the country is free from shame, as Annie recalls the lines from the song Kuch Toh Log Kahenge from the 1071 film Amar Prem, 'Tu kaun hai, tera naam hai kya. Sita bhi yahaan badnaam hui.'
Extracts from the book
Boobs (Pgs 55, 56)
The odd thing about Teena, is that she really was one of the best girls in class. Not the best scorer of marks or even the best debater or best athlete. But she had a nice, smiling temperament. She was respectful to teachers, kind to her classmates and did her homework on time. And yet nobody spoke of her as a particularly 'good girl'. This was a source of concern for her ex-best friend Gaurangi, who was convinced that Teena was one of the best persons she had ever met.
Years later, she began to suspect that the school's suspicious eyes were trained upon her friend because of the way Teena was built. She had bigger breasts than anyone else in standard VII. At 13 she was better endowed than most of the teachers, and was the only girl in her class whose Saturday shirt gaped between buttons number three and four.
Teena had not yet started. The others kept a watch on the pale outline of her half slip under the shirt. No bra-lines. Conversations in the 11 am short break began to centre around her torso. Ranjana and Anita were especially concerned about such unbridled growth.
Ranjana would say, "It is so odd."
Anita would say, "Why doesn't her mother do something?"
Gaurangi would say, "What should her mother do?"
They would say, "Something. It is too much."
Panty lines (Pg 49)
At 13, I started thinking about panties seriously, when Mummy took me shopping. It was horribly embarrassing because we shopped at the stalls in the old bazaar. The man at the stall would pick up bunches of bras and panties in his fists, toss them up and let them fall back on his cart, all the while yelling 'Ae pachaas, ae pachaas.' Mummy told me I could pick whatever I wanted but I stood there, frozen. I couldn't believe she was subjecting me to the humiliation of actually touching underwear in front of hundred people.
I finally pointed out to a pair of bright yellow panties with white trimming. Mummy set it aside motioning to the stall boy that this one was taken. The she picked up an off-white bra and yellow chikan one, holding both against panties to match them. It was decided that the yellow chikan matched better. She smiled, "There's a
little embroidery too. Feels nice, no?" Extracted with permission from The Bad Boy's Guide to the Good Indian Girl by Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra; Zubaan; Rs 295. Available at
all leading bookstores.
Log on to www.zubaanbooks.com