HYDERABAD: A Girl Like That’ is about Zarin Wadia, a gorgeous, intelligent, audacious troublemaker who indulges in romance a little too often according to the people around her. Zarin is raised by her eternally-pissed-off aunt and her too-docile-to-do-anything uncle because her parents are dead. Her past and her present are a little too suffocating for her to live with. So she smokes and goes out with boys, even though Jeddah’s religious police might skin her alive if she was caught. This is her way of dealing with the stress. People say everybody should stay away from a girl like that. But Porus Dumasia, someone from Zarin’s past, finds her too intriguing to stay away from. Is that why they end up dead in an accident on a Saudi Arabian highway?
‘A Girl Like That’ starts on a path of showing the life of a girl weighed down by almost everything in her life including her family. But it quickly disintegrates into merely showing Zarin smoking and going out with boys. That would have been completely fine if there was some insight into what her thoughts were and how she deals with all of the circumstances in her life. Maybe it was Zarin’s way of coming to terms with her parents’ death, but just repeatedly describing her moping and smoking isn’t something that’s really appealing.
The book is set in Saudi Arabia where women aren’t given a lot of freedom in the time this book is set in. But the constant repetition of the phrase ‘women must not lure men’ or ‘if something went wrong, it must be the girl’s fault’ takes away from the point that the author is trying to make.
It is not just a generalisation about women; men are subjected to it, too. There is just one man in the entire book who is well-intentioned. Every other male character is either controlling, scheming to sleep with a woman they find even remotely attractive, cheating on their wife, or all three. It is not fair to men as it is not fair to women to talk about them and say, ‘She hooked and broke his heart.’
‘A Girl Like That’ starts out in a promising vein but levels down into a layer of misogyny that’s unexplained. It is understandable that the environment had yet to witness a change back then. But the reason for the conflict seems more to be about how the pain was portrayed than the pain itself. Even in the end, despite redeeming the rest of the book to a certain extent, didn’t give much of a closure – something that was probably because of the way it was written.