The goodness of the good Indian girl is a badge of sorts. Or, as the cover of Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra’s The Bad Boy’s Guide to the Good Indian Girl suggests, a tacky sparkly medallion. As the authors emphasize in their introduction, “good” here “does not mean the opposite of bad”; merely the set of behaviour considered desirable in an Indian girl.
What Zaidi and Ravindra explore in this collection of loosely connected (several characters and names appear in more than one) stories is not the oppressive nature of this set of desirable qualities, but the ways in which women can transgress them and still retain the Good Indian Girl (or GIG) tag. The result is a book of surprisingly subversive tales in which girls interact with men, climb down rope ladders (“BIG Girls”), flirt and draw back (“Strangers”), cut themselves (“Out of Here”), are nervous and afraid around men but simultaneously willing to play along (“Finger Play”) and manipulate their perceived goodness for their own ends (“Daddy’s Girls”). They are less about emphasizing the restrictions placed on Indian women than they are about how women use and test them. The “GIGs” in these stories have agency and they use it.
The stories are interspersed with short segments addressed directly to the reader. These are something of a weak point—they are arch in tone, and often attempt to “explain” the previous story or to draw a connection with the next one. It’s unnecessary and intrusive. We don’t need to be told that Gaurangini (“Panty Lines”) suffered, but lightly, or that the next story will require us to think about what happens when we confront a girl with her own lust. Sometimes these sections are merely trying too hard: “Seems far out? Can’t believe it? Think we’re exaggerating? Trust us: it happened!” Thankfully, as the book progresses, these sections become less self-conscious and more like chatty asides.
The Bad Boy’s Guide to the Good Indian Girl: Zubaan Books, 224 pages, Rs 295.
The interconnectedness of the stories ties the book together. When done well, the related chapters are delightful read against one another, with the same situation reflected in many perspectives.
Occasionally, it is done clumsily (as with the paired stories “Tiger Balm” and “Stop Press”). Sometimes it is brilliant, as with the lovely “Rain” and its sequel-of-sorts, “Words”. However, a consequence of these recurring characters is also to highlight the fact that these characters are a specific subset of Indian girls. It’s possible that Good Indian Girl-hood is so universal as to make no difference, but the authors themselves admit towards the end that “(g)eneration to generation, state to state, notions of GIGdom vary”. Yet besides this one acknowledgement, there’s no exploration of this idea at all.
The title of the book is a mystery—what “bad boys” have to do with anything is beyond me. But though The Bad Boy’s Guide to the Good Indian Girl feels rather less than the sum of its parts (the excellence of some individual stories is rather let down by their sameness), it manages to be a likeable, if one-note collection.
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