By Rohini Banerjee:
Before I had even picked up Cyrus Broacha’s book, “23 1/2 Ways to Make A Girl Fall For You,” the title had made me cringe. Whenever somebody (especially a man) claims to have “figured out women”, or claims to know “how to make a girl fall for you”, I am made increasingly wary because very often, the results turn out to be highly sexist. I had similar expectations from this book and was fully prepared to shudder in horror throughout while reading it, but surprisingly enough, I was proven wrong.
“The Indian male approaches women with mostly great trepidation, and even horror. He traditionally has no game”, Broacha announces in the very preface of this book, setting its tone. The book, structured in the form of letters from such ‘hopeless’ Indian men seeking dating or wooing advice with Broacha answering them agony aunt style, ends up being a hilarious and incisive exploration of the entitled Indian male psyche. Broacha deconstructs the ‘friendzone’ (and the subsequent concept of the ‘nice guy’), provides razor-sharp commentary on male stalking (or stalkerish and creepy behaviour), addresses consent, and ultimately, (albeit in a convoluted fashion) punctures holes into the patriarchal belief that a man has the unquestionable right to a woman’s affections.
The so-called letters from men range from amusing to horrifying to plain and simple ridiculous. There are men who want to know whether a girl merely waving at them can be construed as reciprocation, and there are men who want to know whether it is allowed to hit women ‘playfully’ if they are their friends — and all of this is dealt by Broacha with the snarkiest and sassiest of replies. Though most of these letters (and the people depicted in them) are fictional, they expose the disturbingly warped ideas Indian men form about women. Among the various ‘problems’ that these fictional men write to Broacha about, include women not ‘staring back’ at them when the men stare, of women not responding when the men tag them on social media, of women not liking the same kind of food as the men — all of which may seem exaggeratedly hilarious, but almost seem dangerously close to how creepy men can get in real lives. All of Broacha’s responses to these ‘problems’ directly or indirectly destroy the men’s illusions about women, and expose how pathetic they ultimately are. For example, this is one of the hilarious responses Cyrus gives to a guy called Emanuel D’Costa (who continues to pursue his next door neighbour despite being rebuffed by her multiple times and even had a restraining order issued against him) when he asks him for tips to woo her:
“Having read your letter carefully my father and I are both in agreement that you’re extremely lucky it’s just a restraining order you have got from the court. Going by your version of events, without even considering her side of it, may I say that you deserve a far stiffer punishment (like banishment from the kingdom or being locked in a dungeon or even worse, being forced to wear Spandex all your life). You, my friend, are the encyclopaedia definition of the word ‘stalker’. In the encyclopaedia in front of me, the word ‘stalker’ is defined as ‘someone who stalks’, which is clearly the work of an ill-read idiot. It should be changed to ‘Emanuel D’Costa’ with great speed and finality. You can’t force love. If we could, we’d all be married to Cindy Crawford.”
Though the book is sneakily feminist, there are still certain problems with it. There’s an element of mansplaining here — of a man telling other men how to not talk to, or think about, women — and we almost never hear the woman’s side of the story (barring a couple of letters, which are written by women). Nevertheless, it’s still an important book, and indeed a refreshing one because very rarely has Indian male privilege so thoroughly roasted and called out like it has in this book. Though I went in fully prepared to hate it, it ended up being extremely enjoyable, and not just because Broacha’s brand of humour is gloriously derisive, but also because his observations about the dating habits of Indian men are extremely on point.