Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book Review: "She's A Jolly Good Fellow" by Sajita Nair

I got the book "She's a Jolly Good Fellow" about a month ago and what caught my immediate attention was the colored edges. Most of the books would have the white edges while few get golden colours etc, but this book appeared different.

I was reading Sagarika's "A Calendar too crowded" that time, so kept this book for next. Eventually completed reading "She's a Jolly good fellow" during a recent train journey. Here's a quick review of the book.

Traditionally, Army isn't believed to be a place for women. World wide armed forces have been dominated by men and role of women, if any is often limited to support roles and not combat roles. Particularly in Indian context, no family would willingly send their daughter/daughter-in-law to work in the armed forces. It is often the girls who take the initiative, brave all odds and resistance, clear various tests and start their career in army. Even then, survival and career progression has its own challenges.

Sajita Nair's "She's Jolly Good Fellow" is about two young women officers in the Indian Army- their story over the years and challenges encountered. The two girls who pass out of Military Academy together, get posting in the same unit and make their way up against all odds. Though both were committed to be at par (and better) with men and command respect, various situations test their commitment, ability and endurance. Menfolk, including very senior officers are doubtful of their abilities One of them suddenly drifts away-she falls in love with a senior (older by 20yrs), marries him and takes life easy, while the other battles all obstacles, handles every job assigned to her much better than her male counterparts. Novel has all ingredients- love equations, office politics, gender bias, army life, family pressures and so on.

The first person narration gives an excellent exposure to what happens in an Army unit. Various challenges men in uniform face, in their passion for uniform and duty. The level of details mentioned in the book can't be narrated by an outsider easily. I first thought the author would have consulted someone in army to know inside functioning of an unit. But after finishing the book I read the first page again. Author has lived the talk- she was commissioned in the Army in 1994 and served in Army for certain years (exact duration not known) before taking up writing and HR. This increased my respect for the author and the book

Additional thoughts:
  • As the Kargil war story unfolded in the novel, I was expecting a character equivalent of Barka Dutt to appear in the story and talk to Dips.
  • The end is not clear- What happened after Dips went to Mumbai to meet Major Joseph's mother- Dips decided to exit the uniform (this is a question book attempts to find answer all through- is any man in a lady army officer's life worth more than the uniform). May be a sequel of the book would cover that
  • Couldn't identify what happened to the haunted bungalow at Ahmadabad. Were those noises human initiated?
  • Looks like Anju was promoted to Captain's rank, but there's no reference of lieutenant Deepa's promotion (did I miss a few lines?). What was her rank by the end of story?
  • An appendix of army ranks and NATO phonetics (Alpha for A, Bravo for B etc) will be a nice value add, as it helps reader get the context easier
While reading books like this increases our awareness and respect towards Army, news of President Pratibha Patil grabbing acres of Army land for personal use injects further hatred towards the political class. [Read details here, the area is 100 times a normal 40x60 site]. Also I hope the news of ammunition shortage in army is fixed asap.

The book is published by Hachette India and is priced at INR 250. Do start reading first few pages, rest, you'll read automatically.

Note: Photos of women in army are sourced from an old email forward, as I found it very relevant to the context here. No offence.

Other book reviews: Topgear magazine * Comical Saga Fate, Fraud and Friday Wedding *  I am Number 4 *  It happened in India * Raga Chintamani * 2 States by Chetan Bhagat* Not a penny more, not a penny less * Zero percentile -Neeraj Chibba* Colours of life by Ravi Sidula * The 3 mistakes of my life by CB * Bala Takes the Plunge-Melvin Durai * The Incredible Banker * Songbird on my shoulder * 


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