Nisha Susan’s debut book is unputdownable, friendly and fun
Anyone familiar with Susan’s writings on The Ladies Finger, the feminist journalism website she founded, wouldn’t be surprised at the stories in this collection, writes Sowvendra Shekhar Hansda
In Nisha Susan’s debut book, a collection of short stories titled The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories, I am reading a story titled “The Gentle Reader”.
The story is in English and I can identify with the plot, the characters, and the setting because it is about a writer and is set in a literature festival taking place in a scenic, Himalayan locale. I am absorbed in the story, imagining the trials and tribulations being experienced by the protagonist—a young, woman writer who has hit the big time with her very first book. (Remember: this is all in English.)
I am already aware of the patience the protagonist shows and the anxiety she battles between the time she signs the contract with the publisher till her book is, finally, published. The eccentricities of the guests at the lit fest has already put a smile on my face. (Remember: this is all in impeccable English.) The atmosphere on the page is as real as being there at an actual lit fest. And then, all of a sudden, there in the middle of the page, in the midst of all those English words, I spot a random and very common Hindi word, a word almost all of us have grown up listening to and laughing at its connotations, used so masterfully in a full English sentence that my reaction is not of surprise—it is laughter
Had that Hindi word been out of place even a tiny fraction of an inch, I would have certainly asked: ‘Why? Why this word?’ But I don’t. I laugh. I, in fact, doubled up in laughter. I felt the inclusion of that word some sort of a genius. It was so organic, so in sync with the tone of the story, that I just wanted it to be there.
At one point, I even felt that no word in English – despite the entire story, the entire book being in English – could have expressed that particular part more accurately than that one word in Hindi. That one Hindi word carried in itself an entire, perhaps, sentence written in English. That word was arousing, economic, and just so apt.
Susan’s book makes a commendable use of such words. Words which are apt and economic, yet outsiders. And yet, again, not exactly outsiders. For they might not be in English, but they are in a lingo that we speak daily, normally. This lingo is so intimate it knows us inside out, it helps us save time and the effort of raking up our vocabularies to string together a phrase that would make sense.
Apart from this lingo, our lingo, another thread that seems to bind Susan’s stories is the camaraderie between the characters. There are friends, and their friendships evolve.
Not all stories are about friendship though. There is also an almost-amurder-mystery – titled “No Filter” – involving two married couples in which, much to my frustration, the father of one murdered character kept on siding with the murderer just because they both were related.
Back to the friendship part of the book. In the titular story, the narrator and Lavanya, the narrator’s BFF, create a sort of a map comprising of people they know – including siblings and lovers and other friends – and connecting (like in a match the following test we did in primary school) those people on the basis of who was sleeping with whom.
If that map idea wasn’t outrageous enough, Susan’s deadpan manner of writing it had me choking on my own saliva as I was gripped in a frenzy of laughter and a What the F— sort of disbelief.
In “The Trinity”, three friends – Meena, Annie, and Nayantara – grow up as local celebrities with their dancing talent while they are in college. They experiment with boys and have their own adventures. But once college ends, Nayantara is surprised to see her friends automatically and inexplicably lose all the fire of their youth and turn into the type of women she had never imagined they would ever become.
In “Teresa”, the unnamed narrator – a banker who gives up her career after her marriage with a successful media person – and Teresa – the said media person’s dead wife – have a Mrs. de Winter and Rebecca kind of relationship, with the narrator finding a certain kinship with Teresa as she discovers a secret Flickr account and other secrets in Teresa’s MacBook.
In “All Girls Together”, a group of Indian women scour the Internet for improper images of women their boyfriends might have uploaded as revenge porn. And why had they been given that responsibility? “Because white people [wanted them] to do their dirty work, but they [thought] Indian men [were] too dirty to be trusted with naked photos. That’s why brown girls [got] to do [that] job.”
Anyone familiar with Susan’s writings on The Ladies Finger, the feminist journalism website she founded, wouldn’t be surprised at the forthrightness and the fun factor of some of the stories in this collection. Engrossing and entertaining, Susan’s debut collection of stories is a book you would grow friends with as you laugh along with her.