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A gallery of bad feminists: Review of Nisha Susan’s ‘The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories’

Mistrustful of all things labelled ‘quintessential’, I warily picked up this book, praised as a collection with archetypal millennial and urban women characters.

I was in for a surprise. In Nisha Susan’s worlds of the thumri_girl and prince_nakshatram; @MaduraiMami and SirPachkao; the Kerchief Kumaris and hot-hot Vilas, you are indeed the protagonist, or their friend. You are the background noise, or the muse incarnate. Susan’s acute observations of life mean you’re seen.

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Susan’s economy with words and the mostly non-linear narrative require the reader to labour through the stories. A moment’s lapse and you’ve missed a name, a connection, a foible, an event, that elevates the story. The stories are best relished one at a time, haltingly soaking in the wit and candour.

Her comedy is not just situational but comes at times from the absurdity of an entire premise. If you mistake Susan’s sincere treatment of the bizarre for seriousness, the joke is on you. In ‘Mindful’, for instance, Rhea lets her meditation app called Chill tell her, “Fix your head and you can fix your hair later.” In ‘All Girls Together’, Sheela, working on an anti-revenge-porn project, tries to identify body parts: “Was it a vagina? Or was it a piece of plastic?”

Platonic relationships between women is a common thread. The women flit in and out as confidantes, friends and colleagues, always within reach in times of disaster. The two times Susan allows men to enter the limelight, she paints them in all shades of hyper-masculinity and misogyny.

For Susan, the co-founder of the feminist website The Ladies Finger and of the 2009 Pink Chaddi campaign, the personal is the political. These stories are a continuation of her feminism, and her characters aren’t shy of political incorrectness.

Roxane Gay, in Bad Feminist, writes that she would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all. “I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy... I’m not trying to say I’m right,” Gay writes. Susan’s women are just that.

The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories; Nisha Susan, Context, ₹499

pragati.kb@thehindu.co.in

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