Just read The Bad Boys’ Guide to the Good Indian Girl from my stash from India. There’s a review on Women’s Web which covers most of my thoughts so I won’t go into them. The website ran a contest asking readers to tell them something interesting about the Good Indian Girl (GIG) today and the comments on that post are interesting too.

I think the book’s overall point on how the GIG has to essentially maintain a façade of virtue while finding ways to express herself and satisfy her own desires is a valid one. The stories in the book are mostly set in smaller towns in India and I grew up in a much more liberal environment in Mumbai. But still many of insights rang through.

I began to think not so much about the GIG, an ideal which all of us to a greater or lesser extent were schooled to aspire to, but her alter ego the Bad Indian Girl (BIG). Even in the supposedly liberal environment I grew up in, some girls had been tainted with the generally unspoken but nevertheless sensed “Bad” label.

So who were the BIGs? BIGs turned into BIGs from being just girls around the teenage years. They had a “reputation”, or as we called it a “bad rep”. This rep had something to do with the fact that they hung around with boys… a lot. By the time they were 14, they had had a boyfriend or two. And the suggestion was that they had “done things” with them. Their uniforms were generally short. They bunked school to go to discos. None of them were particularly academically inclined. Many of them were well blessed in the bosom area.

One of the interesting facts mentioned in the book is that those girls with big breasts or who developed breasts early were always in danger of being seen as Bigs. One might counter this impression by being jocular and as non-womanly as possible or by being dour and trying to blend into the wallpaper. But something, consciously or subconsciously, had to be done.

See, none of these things individually qualified one for the Big label. My uniform tended to be on the short side but I don’t think I was ever considered a Big. Many girls, especially those with elder brothers, hung around with boys but it was how you hung around that mattered. What were you wearing? Were you a tomboy or one of the sati savitri two-oily-plaits kind? Did you laugh a lot around them? Was one of them your boyfriend?

On the flip side, there were lots of girls who didn’t do well at exams (some bluntly referred to as “failures” if they failed a year). They weren’t necessarily considered BIGs. Neither were the ones constantly pulled up by teachers for some infraction or the other. They were just naughty.

Badness was something else.

Badness, if one gets to the heart of it, had to with sex. And the innate Indian fear of a girl having sex, or engaging in activities that might lead her to have sex. So why was hanging around boys and simpering a problem? Because it might lead you to “like” one of them and vice versa. And why was that a problem? Because you might acquire a boyfriend? And why was that a problem? Because you might “do stuff” with him? And that’s a bad thing because? One thing might lead to another and you might (gasp, Holy Mother of God, etc.) have sex.

There you have it – an Indian parent’s worse nightmare. Even my own mother subscribed to this logic and once burst out at me – when I suppose I could no longer be considered a GIG though I never quite acquired the BIG label (I think) thanks to the unwitting spadework in my schooldays of being academically gifted and not attracting much male attention (not from want of longing though): “So you think you can keep kissing different boys? Chee!”

The fact of kissing (and the unmentioned activities to follow) subsequent boyfriends was her major problem with her daughters having boyfriends. The reason, of course, one must not have sex was not so much the more practical possibility of getting pregnant but “noone will marry you”. One lived in the vestigal fear that ones youthful reputation might prove disastrous in the marriage stakes because even if one did acquire a husband, imagine the moment of truth on one’s wedding night when the man discovers you’re not a virgin and all hell breaks lose. A physical fact that there would be no repudiating.

It never occurred to mothers – and to me for more than half my life – that one might not want to be married to men who hold virginity in such high esteem. That people who are obsessed with virgins are also obsessed with a lot of other virtuous behaviour that doesn’t make life much fun for women. And that there might actually be men who couldn’t care two hoots about one’s hymen.

When I think about where many of the Bigs I knew in school are now, they seem to be plodding along normally like everyone else. Many have acquired husbands and babies too. Some are divorced but so are many of the Gigs I know. Being a Big in their early teens doesn’t seem to have been the death of any opportunities for them. If anything, they can say they had some fun in their youth.

Being a Big in one’s 30s is a different thing. People seem a lot more accepting of a lot of behaviour in your 30s. Not so easy to identify a Big when everyone seems to look and dress like one. Remember, what makes a Gig or Big is not actual behaviour but the façade of suggested behaviour. So who would the Bigs among us be?

I’m quite possibly considered a Big in some circles because at dinner parties I don’t stick to the group of women but go and not only talk to the men but even stand on the balcony and smoke with them. Plus I don’t cook, which makes a lot of people uncomfortable. And I once asked why Celina Jaitley should be considered a call girl just because she may have slept with a couple of men. On the other hand, I got married at 25 and had two babies in quick succession. That should count for something. One of my friends even told me I couldn’t possibly be a feminist because of such boringly conventional behaviour. Anyway.

Were you a Gig or a Big? If you were a Big, did you know then? Were you aware that people thought you were a Big and how did that make you feel? What are you now?