Being a Good Indian Girl

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By Padmalatha Ravi on Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - 16:13

Two women, through a collection of short stories, explore the various aspects that go into making a good Indian girl. Stemming from incidents in their own lives, the book has been over five years in the making. Padmalatha Ravi reviews.

I was in class two then. I had taken to finishing my homework on the one-hour bus ride home, especially on Saturdays. One day a young man, probably in his early 20s, sitting across me was trying to see the label on my book. He was trying to read my name. Me, all of six years, instinctively covered it with my left hand and continued to write. I do not know why I did that. No one had told me it was wrong for a stranger to know my name. But somehow I had internalised that boys / men whom I didn’t know should not know my name.

Annie Zaidi at the Bangalore book launch

Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra’s book The Bad Boy’s Guide to Good Indian Girl tells me that this is one of the qualities of a GIG (good Indian girl) and who is the Bad Indian Girl (BIG). They dissect this and many other facets of being a GIG and unearth the complexities of living in a society that is modern and traditional at the same time. This complex phenomenon unfolds through stories of many women, interwoven, laying bare the hard work that goes into being a GIG. It is funny. It is enlightening. It is non-judgmental. And it is upsetting in many, many ways.

Book name: The Bad boy’s guide to good Indian girl 
Authors: Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra
Publisher: Zubaan
No. Pages: 221
Price: 295

So who is a GIG? She never goes against her parents wishes. She’ll never tell her name to strangers, boys. She’ll never show her panties to anyone, not even while drying them. She will not show interest in sex, even when she’s mighty interested in it. She will not tell a man she wants to pee, she’d rather let him think she’s not interested in him than admit that her bladder is about to burst. The GIG list is long and it takes a lot of effort to keep that label. But she has to look happy through it all. Otherwise all other qualities are of no significance whatsoever.

The Singh family in the book is my favourite. The patriarch who doesn’t hesitate to hit his wife or the daughters to keep them in line, and the three daughters who come up with the most devious plans to get their way while still being the GIGs. But the best role goes to the mother – Mrs Singh is very much aware of her daughters’ plans, yet she manages to be a ‘good’ mother and a ‘good’ wife. The women steer Mr Singh along their plans without ever letting him on. Mr Singh for his part is vaguely aware of some dubious plans but can’t quite put his finger on it and decides to go with the flow.

Another favourite is the chapter where Ruby and Mehek discuss whether God is a virgin. Each of these girls has stories of love, lust and panty line to tell. The stories connect the girls to each other. At times it does get a little tedious to remember who is connected to whom and how. But this doesn’t get in the way of the narrative.

The book takes inspiration from the experiences of Annie and Smriti from their college days in North India. The experiences are largely from those regions. South of the Vindhyas, though not terribly different, does have its share of exclusive idiosyncrasies that don’t find place in the book. Not a big enough an omission to question the Indianness of the book’s context though.

Book launch in Bengaluru

Annie Zaidi was in Bengaluru recently for the book launch organised by Toto Funds The Arts. The audience, largely male, had a lot of questions for her. Author Jahnvi Barua was in conversation with Annie at the British Library.

One of the questions was on the relevance of the stories in this age of communication and ‘freedom’ that women seem to enjoy, because the stories do seem to come from another era. Considering the fact that Annie and Smriti came up with the idea for the book seven years ago and took five and half years to complete, this might be true. But the said freedom is only available for a privileged few. The rest of the girls still have the same hurdles of GIGdom.

The bad boy in the title is a bit of a throw away, Annie says. But it got men curious enough to come for the launch. There was a young man who wanted to know if the book explains who a bad boy is, because he wanted to decide if he should read the book or not.

A middle-aged college professor confessed that he had more trouble from the girls than boys in his college. A refrain one often hears. But could it be because there are larger constraints placed on girls?

Annie says the reason for writing this book was to help people (read men) understand GIGs better. The book does more than that – it helps GIGs understand themselves and other GIGs better and the BIGs.

Picture by Padmalatha Ravi

Padmalatha Ravi is the Founder, Editor

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