Monday, October 24, 2011

Life & Style

Why good Indian girls are not bad

Good Indian girls are not bad

How is the bad guy supposed to woo the good girl? What should he tell her and how? WriterAnnie Zaidi passes on some secrets

We may be fast transforming into a forward-thinking society, but the 'good Indian girl', it seems, still has to deal with all sorts of presumptions and prejudices. Addressing this slight, authors Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra in their book, The bad boy's guide to the good Indian girl, present a collection of funny, irreverent stories of the lives and loves of smart, feisty girls from the subcontinent. Here, Zaidi writes for Mumbai Mirror and hands out the guys a few hints to get the good girl: First things first. This isn't really about bad boys (We don't know any. God-promise); this is about good Indian girls. And you should read this if you are the unsuspecting guy who walked up to a sweet girl, but when you asked for her name, she treated you as if you were a pervert. Or are you one of those who gave a girl a fancy present but she was too nervous to accept it? Are you married to a girl who loves you madly but who resents your harmless, homely sister-inlaw? Why? One of the reasons we decided to do such a book was that so many men complain that they simply cannot understand women, particularly Indian women. We kind of sympathise because we know there's cause for confusion and resentment.

For instance, when we were undergraduates (and living at a very strict girls' college), we had instructions not to talk to boys when we went outside. Some girls obeyed. Some didn't. Those who talked to boys would give out fake names, fake addresses. It must have been frustrating for boys when they discovered the lie, but on the other hand, what's a good girl to do?

If the boys had real names, real phone numbers, they would try to call. The hostel warden would find out. Parents would be summoned. The authorities would tell them that their daughters were up to no good. The girls would be shamed in front of their families and families would be shamed in front of the college authorities. Did we really have a choice?
When Smriti and I began to talk of what kind of stories we wanted to tell, we asked ourselves this question: How does one get labeled 'bad' or 'not very good' or at least 'not a good Indian girl'?

We also asked others and most of us agreed that clothes have a lot to do with the stereotype. So does body shape. A stereotypical good Indian girl is expected to not just dress 'within limit' but also to somehow make her body look, well, restrained, cautious. 'Limits', of course, are very hard to define. It is not enough to wear a sari, for instance. If you look supersexy in a sari, then even that might earn you a bit of social censure.
So, when a girl spends hours trying to make up her mind about what to wear, remember that she isn't just worried about looking good. She is also worried about appearing to be good.

Remember that she is expected to place others' interests above her own (but that doesn't mean fighting for human rights in war zones; it means eating matarpaneer even though she hates it). Above all, she is expected to look happy and content.

Remember, that for most good Indian girls, to be interested in boys is considered healthy. But if you act on that interest, you enter a grey area. How much interest can you show without suffering for it? Can you go out drinking late at night? Can you buy him a drink, without being laughed at for being 'desperate'? Can you sleep with him and still expect him to treat you with respect?

So if you want to bowl over a good Indian girl, the best thing to do is to treat all girls with respect. Not just your girl. You must show respect for all girls. NEVER say things like 'x girl had it coming' or 'y is a nympho' or 'girls who smoke are more likely to put out'. If she herself says such things, YOU must gently shush her, and remind her that all girls should be treated with respect.

And NEVER ever hint that there's a separate set of rules for girls and boys. That you are allowed certain privileges, like hairy legs or bare chests, while she isn't. She knows the rules. She will hate you for reminding her.

Do NOT ask about her sexual history. If it doesn't matter, then why ask? Let her volunteer information if she wants to. You must not ask, even if she has asked you. Remember, we play by different rules and that a girl's secrecy is often the only defense she has.

Many young men wonder why we care so much about being seen as a 'good girl'. We care because if we are seen as not-good girls, we are not treated with respect. Our families are not treated with respect. And because, when things go seriously bad, even our pain and outrage is turned into a weapon against us. We see this happening again and again through news reports about girls who are assaulted, or harassed. The first question everyone asks is - What time was it? Why was she out alone? Did she know the boy(s)? What was she wearing? Did she live alone? Why?

There are plenty of other reasons why we care about a 'good Indian girl' image, but remember this - a great web of morality confronts us. Most girls end up breaking some rules. And what's more, most girls want to break the rules. The challenge lies in snatching a bit of joy and freedom for ourselves and not getting caught.

(The bad boy's guide to the good Indian girl by Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra is published by Zubaan Books.)

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