Tag Archives: sonia faleiro

The Good Girls – An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro

The Good Girls - An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro

Title: The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing
Author: Sonia Faleiro
Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0670088829
Genre: Non-fiction, Gender Studies, True Accounts
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Faleiro had heard about the Badaun killings on Twitter, in the year 2014, as did most of us. It shook her to this extent that she decided to go the village of Katra in the Badaun district in Uttar Pradesh where the death of two teenage girls, who were also cousins, took place. The picture that circulated on social media was that of them hanging from a mango tree, whose memory is etched in so many minds and hearts. Though momentarily forgotten perhaps, it can be conjured in an instant. Between 2014 and 2019, Faleiro interviewed everyone connected with the deaths to produce a story in which there are different perspectives – each struggling to make themselves heard, each hustling for credibility.

Whether it is a cousin who claimed to have seen the girls getting kidnapped by Pappu Yadav, a 19-year old from the neighbouring village. Or whether it was someone else who had claimed to have spotted Pappu with the girls (who are known as Padma and Lalli in the book). Or whether it was the parents and relatives of these girls who didn’t act soon enough, scared that their honour will be at stake. Well, at the end of the day, the truth is that the girls were dead.

The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro is not just an investigative book or a “non-fiction novel” as some would seem it to be. It is a chronicle of what women go through in the country on a daily basis, and this isn’t just restricted to one region or is a function of being educated or not. The brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in 2012 is a testament of that fact. The Good Girls is a book that holds no judgement. It is about the facts, and yet Faleiro’s writing is so strong and insightful that you cannot help but feel overwhelmed in most places while reading. The idea that two teenage girls – children really, died before their time. The idea that they could not lead full lives. The idea that we give so much importance to factors such as caste, honour, about how a girl should be and should not be, that we forget to consider life – the very basic essence of life and living.

Sonia Faleiro’s book is about the India that is still struggling with so much – patriarchy, lack of education for women and girls, poverty being the biggest issue (which most , maybe even all politicians turn a blind eye to or very conveniently use it to their advantage), about lack of faith not only in the judiciary system but also in the workings of the police and safety that cannot be trusted, and about the way we treat our women and men at the same time.

The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing – just the very title says so much. Something that is so chilling, and yet only so ordinary that it could take place on an almost daily basis (and maybe does) and yet apathy is supreme. Sonia Faleiro also without taking any side goes to the heart of that apathy and indifference through this work that chronicles the brutality, that takes place more on a mental and emotional level. Faleiro’s writing is to the point. All facts and suppositions (that sprung from various narratives) are laid out for the reader. Everything is in plain sight. The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing never lets us forget that at the heart of it – of all that occurred, two teenage girls, two children really, with so much life, and possibility and a future, lost their lives to patriarchy and its machinations.

Beautiful Thing : Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars by Sonia Faleiro

Long after you have finished reading, “Beautiful Thing” by Sonia Faleiro, you are left with a lot of questions: What is the future of Leela now? What happened to her? How is she doing? And if an author through a work of non-fiction (so dark and real) can manage to evoke those questions, then I will say Kudos to her and the book.

So various authors have used the so-called Interviewing Technique and written books about them – Suketu Mehta did that with Maximum City – and somewhere in the book he too mentioned the dancers of the city, to Truman Capote while he went half-crazy writing In Cold Blood and almost fell in love, to John Berendt while writing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. They were all trying to understand the business of life and managed brilliantly in chronicling the same.

Sonia Faleiro immersed five years of her life in Mira Road (which is on the outskirts of Mumbai City), shadowing the life of Leela – a bar dancer. She got a firsthand visibility of conversations between their pimps and them, their lives, how they entered the profession, their small joys and the trials and tribulations.

The start of the book is enough to keep you sustained and glued throughout, with Leela’s line:

My story is the best you will ever hear. The best, understand? Now come closer. Closer! Okay, ready?”

And thus starts the book – carefully written, not mincing words at any given point (not even with the expletives), and writing exactly the way she has seen things – raw, stark and bitter. So here is Leela, the bar dancer Sonia familiarized herself with. Leela is young, not so nubile and at the top of her profession when the story opens. There is a complex hierarchy system when it comes to professions such as these and the reader is made aware of them, right at the onset.

There are the destitute prostitutes who come right at the bottom of the pile, to the brothel girls – a notch above, the call girls and the massage parlour girls; and of course right at the top of the booty are the bar dancers in their glittering world.  

Faleiro then moves on to picking up places and people in Leela’s life – from her best friend Priya – another bar dancer – who is as nonchalant as they come and that is also because she is so “bootiful” and has many “kushtomers” to Masti the stunning and confident Hijra to the parents of the bar girls who sometimes also watch their own daughters getting de-virginized so to say. And then to take a detached view and talk about how the Bombay government closed down the dance bars, condemning most of these women to indignities, dangers and insecurities of “dhanda”. Her perspective, always respectful to the subjects of her story, allows this to be a story of and about Bombay’s women—a massive, and refreshing, change from the masculine world of the gangs we’ve been offered by previous Bombay chroniclers.

I have often wondered how was she able to write without getting emotionally involved with them – I was incorrect. The story is sensitive – there had to be an emotional connect. Faleiro tells a story that is beguiling, warm, funny, tender and absolutely heart-breaking in parts. It makes you wonder about the lives that we chose to ignore and pretend they don’t exist, because they are not a part of our social framework. Come closer and see – view things differently. Open the doors of perception and you will be surprised as to what lurks beneath.

This is an honest book and that’s why it reaches out. Beautiful Thing is one of the best books I have read this year and would highly recommend it to one and all.

Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars; Faleiro, Sonia; Penguin/Hamish Hamilton; Rs. 450; 216 Pages;