It’s tough being a girl in India. The Census 2011 shows that the practice of female infanticide continues in many parts of the country. Put the words “Delhi” and “rape” in Google search, and you get 5,210,000 results (in 0.10 seconds). For a large majority of this country’s women, here’s how life works in general: parents marry you off, husbands abuse you, the extended family neglects you unless they need you, kids insult you, employers discriminate against you, strangers on public transport molest you. And all this is irrespective of that other critical issue: how pretty and fair you are. Having just survived a set of job interviews where I was judged first by what I wore, then how I looked and finally by what ethics meant to me, I can tell you that the Fair & Lovely ads do not lie: you can get jobs based on just your skin colour and make-up. (Well, you can get interviews anyway.)
Now, given this is the sad state we live in, what I expect from women who haven’t had to suffer injustice, prejudice and bias, i.e. privileged woman, is that they will have the sense to not behave like idiots. What do I mean by that? Let me be specific. When you’re fortunate enough to be born into an educated family that supported you as you got yourself an MBA from Columbia University and writing lessons from Junot Diaz at MIT, I expect you to recognise that the following paragraph shows a staggering lack of intelligence, good taste and sensitivity. It also shows a complete ignorance of punctuation but that’s a separate matter.
The main difference between the I-banking girls and me seemed to be that they all looked so … good, and I was well … drab. Would it ever be possible for me to look like them? Maybe not. But if I had to be an investment banker, I would have to try.
As I observed their rose-hued complexions, and perfectly-straight hair, I wondered if I would ever be able to look like that. I began discovery of my deeper self. With each stroke of the make-up brush I felt like my personality was being highlighted. It wasn’t merely physical. As I applied lip-gloss to my chapped, colourless lips it was as if along with my lips my self-confidence was also being plumped. With each sweep of the foundation on my dull skin it was as if I was brightening up the drab, boring person that I was. As I lined my eyes it was as if I was giving shape to the girl that I always wanted to be. With each strand of my frizzy hair that I straightened it was as if I was straightening some flaw in my personality. When I looked in the mirror I couldn’t believe what I saw. I saw a pretty, sexy, confident girl, a girl who looked like an investment banker to me.
The extract is from Ms. Ira Trivedi’s “There’s No Love on Wall Street”, and no, the novel is not written with ironic humour. Trust me, I had desperately hoped it was, but Trivedi’s account of a young Indian girl coming into her own is written with with completely heartfelt earnestness. She and her heroine believe in the power of the brush. Trivedi is also certain that not being pretty and well-groomed is about as close to the end of the world as you can get while you’re an undergraduate student in Wellesley College. Considering how upset the college president was when “The Mona Lisa Smile” came out, I’d really like to know what the current president would think of Trivedi’s depiction of the college and its students in “There’s No Love on Wall Street”, especially since Trivedi is an alumnus.
There’s another chapter in the same book that has mystified me. It’s titled “The Seduction”. In it, Trivedi writes, “Getting an offer [from an investment bank] was like getting laid.” The bank is supposed to be a beautiful woman in the elaborate metaphor that Trivedi details over 2 pages. This means the actual beautiful woman is the metaphorical man wooing the metaphorical woman, which is actually the bank. The first date is the first round of interview. This is when you “pull out your well-manicured hand” and “sport the perfect banker handshake, not too limp, yet not too firm”.
The second date is supposed to be the second round of interviews. This is a two-part program. First, according to Trivedi, confident in the fact that you are “smooth as silk”, you play footsie with the bank, I mean, the woman.
Seriously? The last time I recall footsie being used as a seduction technique was in the last scene of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, a Disney production from 1989. More importantly perhaps, what is footsie a metaphor for?
The second part is when it’s either the bedroom or it’s out of the front door. “She could throw you out of her house with an evil smile, or she could lead you to her room for the most insane sex that you will ever have. You are like a dog in heat, following her every footstep.” Never mind the recruitment policies of investment banks, is this what happens when you go on a second date with Trivedi?
Ultimately, if you’re getting the job like Trivedi’s heroine does, then, “you sit back in awe as she undresses piece by piece, revealing her sexy black lace panties, and you know that the job is yours.” I read this chapter two days ago and I’m still wondering about two things:
1. Is there a connection between the fabric of the panties and the candidates’ employment status? As in, if they were cotton panties in pastel shades, would the job not have been yours? What if she, by which I mean the bank, didn’t wear underwear?
2. What exactly are the sexy black lace panties a metaphor for in the world of investment banking recruitment processes?