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A CIG’s guide to why you should read The BB guide to the GIG

A CIG’s guide to why you should read The BB guide to the GIG

CIG means Cool Indian Girl,  by the way.

Last year, The bad boys guide to the good Indian girl was published. The book, which has a strange dappled red jacket, is a collection of little vignettes about the Good Indian Girl compiled by Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra. I hadn’t heard the latters name but I was familiar with and quite liked Annie Zaidi’s bylines. When the book came out last year, there was a lot of talk about how deftly it captured this and that, and how thoughtfully it threw light on the other.

I have the book and I have read it and I have liked it. I may not praise it as elegantly as it should be praised, but I will say this. Every word of it was something I have seen and felt. For a book of fiction, it’s almost scarily accurate. And I say this from my experience of having lived with, studied with and played with a wide assortment of Indian girls both good and bad. First of all, as each story will illustrate, The GIG is not an actual thing. It’s more of an idea, a concept. And that is the whole beauty. When you consider the fact that there’s 221 pages of stories about a damn idea you may end up wanting a drink.

But that’s not why I like it. I like it because it made me feel something I hadn’t felt in a long while. I couldn’t identify what that feeling was exactly, but I searched my memories and came up with an inkling.

When I was about 11, my mother started studying her BA through correspondence and I ended up reading all her prescribed texts. I gobbled up her plays, (The glass menagerie was my favourite) struggled through The Scarlet Letter, read Things fall apart with great enjoyment and also completed my first unabridged Dickens (A tale of two cities), a text I had the pleasure of studying when I did my own BA. There was one book, that came into our house during the mothers BA phase, that I remember very vividly, a copy of which I have never seen again. Sunlight on a broken column by Attia Hossain. I remember this book, because it was written as if the words were coming from my heart and speaking from inside me. I don’t even know why. Contextually, it might as well have been I don’t know, Breaking Bad. My family had told me no horror stories about partition, so obviously I didn’t relate to that, and I wasn’t raised in a conservative Muslim family, so naturally, I had little in common with the main characters. Defying tradition for love was obviously not it. (At that time, I was all about defying geometry homework in order to read BA books but whatever). Was I an orphan? Nope. Did I have an ancestral village where cousins would talk about how soon they wanted to get married? Uh uh. Maybe that was actually the first Indian English fiction I read. I can’t say for sure. All I know is, the writing made me feel alive. With the first vignette from The bad boys guide to the GIG, that feeling came rushing back.

The great thing about books that are compilations of short fiction, or even a book of short stories, is that there’s breathing space between pages. It’s not a book you read to finish. It’s a book you read when you have an hours wait in a coffee shop. It’s a book you put aside when something exciting comes along, not to desert it, of course, but to visit it later, like you would visit an old roommate that you never stayed in touch with.

If you don’t like short fiction, here’s a list of reasons you should read The Bad Boys Guide to the Good Indian Girl.

You’re a GIG, A BIG (Bad Indian Girl) or have known/loved either of the above.

You are a boy and your love interest is a girl.

You are a girl and you’re love interest is a girl.

You were shy with the opposite sex or still are.

You fight with your parents.

You live alone in a city and your watchman gives you sidelong glances when you come home late.

You regret things.

You are at a crossroads.

You are young, restless and eager.

You feel older than your years.

You are scared.

You are happy.

The story of a people

The story of a people

This is a thought I had and I’m putting it out there. The Anglo-Indian community has been for the most part absent in mainstream Indian Literature in English, especially literature set in the post-independence era. Anglo-Indian characters have little space in books that have pages breathe with Nehruvian Socialism, or stoically bear the pain of partition. When she does come to the surface, she’s spared a few telling lines – In A suitable boy, we learn that Arun Mehra’s secretary resented working for a brown sahib and Laila’s college classmate in Attia Hossain’s Sunlight on a broken column, calls England “home.” Having established these truths, the novel goes on to bigger and brighter things and the character is not heard from again, ironically, much like it was with the real community – a small section of people sidelined by history and ignored by art.

Of course, not entirely. I’m speaking of John Masters’ Bhowani Junction, a dense but simply laid out novel that revolves around three characters and their struggle with identity. The novel relies heavily on plot and while it’s not particularly gripping stuff, it’s definitely insightful in that it makes a strong case for the very human decision of what now? I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live in a country that’s brand new; still finding its feet. To be alive and having the choice of clinging to what you are or striving for what you want to be. There’s something to be said for a novel that satisfyingly explores that kind of uncertainty and fear. Jaysinh Birjepatil’s Chinnery’s Hotel also delves into loss and displacement among a few characters of Eurasian lineage, but this fiction is a little more subtle thematically. Maybe I should give it another chance

Clearly I’m not the only one thinking of this.  And though non-fiction is informative, I want me some of those stories.

I’ve always liked novels that have the story of a people, of a community behind it. Think Alex Haley’s Roots or Toni Morrison for that matter. Or Meave Binchy, Rohintan Mistry and Amitav Ghosh. I wish I knew about more books which told the Anglo-Indian story from within. If you know of any, let me know.

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