Dames in boots and berets
Reviewed by Tushima Rattan

She’s is a Jolly Good Fellow 
By Sajita Nair.
Pages 335. Rs 250.

A woman in a man’s world and that, too, a domain like Indian Army where no woman had ever entered to command the men definitely makes an interesting subject. It is a repertoire of her experiences as a Short Service Commission Officer in the Army that inspired Sajita Nair to start working on her maiden novel. Sometimes the urge to make a mark leads one to accept the challenges even in the completely unknown territories. When women enter men’s space, they do face situations that cannot be anticipated, but largely they are prepared in their minds for the path they have chosen. But at the same time men have never been prepared to accept women around them and suddenly when they land up, they do not know how to handle them.

Set in the early 90s, Nair’s novel chronicles the journey of two young women in testosterone-fuelled world of the Army. An all-male unit turns lively with hilarious situations due to the novelty of a feminine presence. Being among the first few women in Olive Greens (OG), 2nd-Lieutenants commissioned into the same unit in distant Bengdubi, Deepa Shekhar and Anjali Sharma are like chalk and cheese. While one faces problems head on, tries to prove that she is as good as any male officer and insists that she be called ‘sahab’, the other begins to take advantage of her femininity, opts for easier solutions and is unable to resist the charms of a young officer. It is easy to visualise the delicate, feminine Anju who prefers parties to physical training and the ‘OG’ Deepa hurling abuse at the hapless jawan who dared to smile at her. They frequently fall out, get back together, and along the way learn many important lessons about their life and profession. This is a story from a woman’s point of view, the way she tries to fit-in in the Army, sometimes by the rulebook, sometimes creating rules.

The main protagonist, Deepa, comes across as a strong-willed person with exemplary determination and self belief, qualities which will be greatly appreciated by the female readers. The prejudiced attitude of some male counterparts and the insecurities of better halfs of a few officers help create interesting incidents. Though it will definitely not fall in the classical literary mould and depth is missing in both the characters, the story does try to explore various layers of their experience. There is an evolution of a young girl into a tough Army officer who can command hundreds of men and the hard work to equal her male peers. It also touches the career versus love or family dilemma that almost every career-oriented woman faces.

Nair has been clever enough to make it humorous, though unfortunately it fades away amid the many trials and tribulations that the girls face. The author has mentioned, but carefully avoided details on the controversial topics around the Indian Army like purchase of substandard material for the jawans in tough terrains and treatment of women by the officers. There is good description of the locations mentioned in the story, especially the camp in desert and splendid Kalijhora by the side of the spectacular Teesta. The authentic language of the forces conveys their world literally. The story looks more or less autobiographical, with simple and taut narrative. The story line around romance could have been more romantic, which was as a matter of fact having statement feel to it. The quirky jacket design by Gitanjali C. Kalro is representative of the content. All in all a commendable debut by Nair, which gives an insight into the once all-male department from a lady officer’s eyes.