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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 34, Dated 27 Aug 2011
    CULTURE & SOCIETY  
    BOOK
    PAROMITA VOHRA

    The Nervy Ones

    How do we tell stories of women that go beyond manipulations of vixens and saints, asks Paromita Vohra

    Illustration: Samia Singh

    MANY, WHEN wounded in romance, turn to a friend of the opposite sex, in the company of alcohol. In this, we partly seek to impose some rational, maybe even scientific, order to the mess called relationships — if we can understand exactly what men and women are like as species, maybe we can beat the mystery and uncertainty. We can strive to be the ideal and hence successful-inlove version of men and women.

    In this context, a male friend of mine once said, “I feel really bad for my feminist friends. Their feminism makes them too earnest in love. They believe they must always be truthful and fair, that feminine wiles are manipulative and that’s demeaning. But it doesn’t work that way. Learn to be a little manipulative, yaar.”

    I laughed then — a bit at him, a bit at some possible truth in his thought. Unlike how I wept when, at 26, I read the bestselling book The Rules: Time- Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. For them, the only honourable destination is marriage. Any other makes you a worthless woman. They advise women to answer one in four emails only, not accept short-notice invitations — basically play hard to get — because men will pursue and marry a woman of elusive femininity, sexual conservatism and quiet comportment — and no other.

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    These ‘findings’ about love and gender hold true — except when they don’t. Patterns exist but also shift with mocking sinuousness. Schneider and Fein’s good girl’s guide to getting a ring on your finger and a lifetime of prim lies might make some men and women happy. But it sure as hell don’t work for all.

    These thoughts circled overhead as I read The Bad Boy’s Guide to The Good Indian Girl/The Good Indian Girl’s Guide to Living, Loving and Having Fun by Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra. I am not sure it is the zippy little ride through girlish shenanigans that it’s perhaps illchosen Latina bling chic cover suggests. But it is certainly a guidebook to the interlacing lives of a group of young girls and women, the Rashomon-like dappled truths they tell about their betrayal, longing, rebellion, temptation and that minefield hopscotch of right and wrong, good and bad, in matters of friendship, status, sex, desire and occasional aspiration that makes up the lives of many Indian girls.

    The bad boy’s Guide to the good Indian girl Annie zaidi and Smriti ravindra Zubaan
224 pp; Rs 295

    The bad boy’s Guide to the good Indian girl Annie zaidi and Smriti ravindra Zubaan
    224 pp; Rs 295

    ONE OF the best things about this book is that it subtly shifts focus from that frock-wearing, pouting but pensive, smart but sexy, Cosmoyet- Tehelka girl who crowds the landscape of supposedly liberated Indian womanhood nowadays, to tell stories about small town or middle-class Lajpat Nagar-type girls.

    I liked this not because I believe that one is essentially more Indian than the other. It is just that a lot of stuff about the supposedly sexually liberated girl is a nervewracking display of the self as erotic object (rather than subject), a kind of not-quite-porno matrimonial advertisement where the thin and thinly disguised writer-protagonists are presented as suitable girlfriend material — the latter half of the posts of the popular blog The Compulsive Confessor (in contrast to its early, entirely artless and engaging posts) and Anita Jain’s puzzlingly disingenuous memoir Marrying Anita come to mind. These performances have yet to grow up into actual storytelling, which holds both emotional and sociological insights, for which we wait.

    The supposedly sexually liberated girl is a nerve - wracking display of the self as an erotic object — a not-quite-porno matrimonial ad

    The book’s memoir-like writing is gleaming filigree, delicately detailing the tiny shifts of implication girls gauge to see how far they can go, how much more they can want — unlike the Schneider and Fein type girl, their wanting is huge. It lays out the web of reputation, violence and confusion, the extreme fear of being alone that leads to lives of both depression and defeat as well as chance-taking, effrontery, bold fun lies and canny manipulations. These stories, with few morals, absorb you, make you laugh, and quiet you — especially those of the Singh sisters, who call boys from a landline hidden in the cupboard and who end up marrying exactly the boys they want, through deft moves, whereby the defeated patriarch PP Singh doesn’t even know he’s been bested.

    One certainly enjoys this upturning and fanning out of the ways women succeed in getting what they want. But I also wonder how long women’s lives must be told as these topographies of inhibition, self-censorship and fragile manoeuvres? Is it time yet for another way as well in which that winning and losing may not be so linked to gender alone?

    A clue lies in the 100 percent delicious desi romantic maal from which the book is made — the songs of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, the smell of monsoon mud, the indirections, the sufferings and sighings. Maybe not a clue, as much as another type of question, not about gender, but about the business of love and sex that seems to be at the heart of gender.

    Is the upfront quality we mistake for honesty somehow counter to the entire nature of romance itself? Does wholesomeness strip romance of its erotic charge? Is this an especially Indian thing? We might succeed more pleasurably in finding love with equality if we could learn more about and play along with the ways of that trickster — Love — than if we tried to outwit him/her by being a good girl or bad babe, bad boy or nice guy.

    Vohra is a filmmaker and writer.


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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 34, Dated 27 Aug 2011
 

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