The phrase ‘razor-sharp wit’ perfectly describes Scaachi Koul’s debut book, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter. The book, a collection of essays, is a rollercoaster ride of 26-year-old Koul’s life. The book talks about her growing-up years as the child of an immigrant couple who left Kashmir in the 1980s to settle in Canada. One Day… is a well-defined attempt at highlighting the life of an outsider trying to settle in the West. Koul writes in great detail about her pre-teen years when she struggled to be ‘cool’ in school. It will make you laugh out loud and even weep a bit, as you empathise with the adolescent troubles of a brown girl trying to fit in a foreign country. Her years in high school and college were, in fact, marked with constant efforts to make friends.
The book, however, isn’t just about an Indian girl’s life in Toronto. Some of the essays move beyond being personal narratives. Koul’s skilfull observations and acute sense of humour lend serious subjects such as party drugs, rape, gender issues and racism a new perspective. She writes on these subjects without being preachy.
In between the essays, there are brief interludes of email exchanges between Koul and her father, which are intense, as well as hilariously funny. The father-daughter relationship can best be summed up in this line by her father, which he wrote for the author bio: “If I am presented as crank or an Indian version of Archie Bunker then my revenge would be complete because I named her Scaachi with silent ‘C’.”
The most powerful chapter in the book is Hunting Season, which deals extensively with the male gaze. Koul describes her own experience with party drugs and spiked drinks in a gut-wrenching tale. Her own escape from being sexually assaulted was nothing short of a miracle. The line, “Women are so used to being watched that we don’t notice when someone’s watching us for the worst reason imaginable”, sums up the murky world of predators.
Social media has its evils and Koul dedicates the chapter, Mute, to detail the Twitter backlash she experienced when she encouraged non-white, non-male people to contribute to BuzzFeed, where she works as a culture writer. “Most people use Twitter to drain their brains of the things you can’t say in public, the minor irritations of existence, passive aggression so sharp that if you acted it out at your office you would immediately be fired,” she writes.
The reader also gets a glimpse of her close family ties when she describes the death of her grandparents and the effect this had on her parents. Her own worries about her parents are reflected when she recounts how once they went for a vacation and didn’t text or call her for a few days, leaving her quite anxious. The fears that her parents instilled in her about the outside world are etched forever in her mind. Her phobias—air travel and snorkelling—are hilariously described.
Humour is Koul’s armour and it often comes to her rescue when she is dealing with critical subjects. The subtext behind the statement, “Arranged marriages still make me uneasy, and their implication—that the woman is being sold into middle-class slavery—is nefarious”, is not lost on readers. Koul describes a family wedding in a Kashmiri household with great panache and takes us through the traditions that demand more than just a fistful of patience, as they continue longer than “short prison terms”.
One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is a brilliant and thought-provoking book. A must-read.