PLOT: 4/5 CHARACTERS: 4.5/5 WRITING STYLE: 4.5/5 CLIMAX: 4/5 ENTERTAINMENT: 4.5/5
Every once in a while, I love to dabble my hands in light, cozy reads that are breezy and feel good. Though mostly, it is the girly reads by foreign authors that grab my attention, over the years, I have come across many chick-lit gems by Indian authors that have left me equally warm and fuzzy. Anuja Chauhan’s Baaz, Trisha Bora’s What Kitty Did? Nikita Deshpande’s It Must’ve Been Something He Wrote, and Zarreen Khan’s Koi Good News? are some of my favorites from recent years.
Yet another gem was added to this bandwagon when I got a chance to read Sahana Ahmed’s Combat Skirts. Read on to know more about the book, and how was my experience of reading it?
What to expect?
Expect a funny, light-hearted, and peppy read. Expect a book that is essentially a girly read. Expect a book that is witty and full of humor. One which is cozy and classy at the same time. Finally, expect a book that provides a sneak peek into the lives of defense families.
Who can read?
The language of the book is rich, flowy, and lyrical. Keeping that in mind, I would recommend the book for intermediate and voracious readers. Beginners who are still uncomfortable with popular culture and rich language would find it a difficult read.
The story as it goes
Set in the 1990s, Combat Skirts narrates the story of a bubbly and vivacious young woman, Saba Minhas. Saba has joined a law college in Calcutta, and has also enrolled herself in an army hostel (AWWA) in the city. While she had big ideas about her newfound freedom, she is disappointed upon her arrival in the city.
Why? Well, there are three main reasons for it.
One: All around her, there are multitudes of army aunties who know her and her family and are only happy to pass on the juiciest details about her life in the city.
Two: The army hostel is a well-disguised jail. The rules are very strict and should be strictly adhered to. And in the end, they don’t leave Saba much room to exercise the so-called ‘freedom’.
Three: Saba currently has three suitors. The college hottie, the old crush, and the mysterious army lieutenant. All three confuse her to no end.
So, Saba’s life is a mess, but then whose isn’t?
How good are the characters?
Most of the characters have a charming air about them, their personas vastly differing from each other. Special attention to detail has been given to bring out their dynamic personalities and their striking qualities. For example, we aren’t just told that Kabir is an exceptionally talented crossword maker, we see its proof throughout the narrative.
One particular character whom I was swooning over throughout the book is OIC Sajni i.e., Lieutenant Adil Singh. Extraordinarily charming, witty, intellectual with the perfect combination of brain and brawn, a complete gentleman to say the least – he is so easy to fall in love with.
Saba Minhas, our female protagonist, is eccentric but cute. The title is a clever dedication to her personality and passion. Her actions would often leave you wondering, but even then, they are hilarious and adorably so.
Let’s talk about the writing style
The author makes generous use of humor in her writing. And it is not just the subtle type, but also the laugh-out-loud type. The usage is clever and makes it to the list of one of the best things in the book. One example of this sagacious use of situational humor is through the way of well-timed puns. ‘Butt of course’, and ‘it was turning out to be a note-able day’ are a few specimens. On one occasion, the protagonist has this to say about herself, ‘If success was ninety-nine percent perspiration, I was a champion already.’ Even the ‘Vikram Betal’ fiasco at the dance club was a hilarious addition.
The book has an equal amount of romance and drama. Talking about romance, it is innocent and sincere, childish and yet so elegant. There is a certain charm in its virtuousness, which one finds hard to resist.
The pace of narration is fast, with elements of mystery introduced at every significant juncture. This teases the reader and keeps her second-guessing all the time. Needless to state, it also keeps her hooked, eager to keep turning pages after pages in search of those elusive answers.
The setting of Calcutta of the 1990s works like magic. It immediately makes one dreamy and nostalgic about a place and time that one can only relive in memories or and through works of art.
What did I like?
Even though the book is about army life and how different it is from a civilian one, there are many things that any reader would find relatable. The college crushes, first relationships, friendly fights, friendly banters, and other college and hostel drama are things that anyone can easily relate to.
The nostalgia hits you hard
Nostalgia hit me hard when I read about girls using slam books. And about the time when people would eagerly wait for the results of their photoshoots, as the pictures took a really long time to develop.
Another thing that strikes you is the description of pre-internet college life, which is so different from today. Reading about popular disco anthems of that time – Brazil and Its My Life, also brought a smile to my face.
The girls’ hostel part is another big treat for the reader. To anyone who has ever lived in a hostel, my word of caution is this – be prepared because nostalgia is going to hit you like a storm. Everything is so relatable – the melodrama, the catfights, the fun, the laughter, and friendships that mean the world.
Not just the lighter things
While the overall tone and content of the book are cheery and light-hearted, Combat Skirts also touches upon some serious issues like mental trauma, depression, and anxiety. I also like that the book offers a generous dose of family drama.
What could have been better?
There are times when the writing seems a little choppy, a little disconnected. It sort of reminds me of a popular book that I read last year – A Burning by Megha Majumdar. Though the genres are completely different, the writing style is a tad similar. Disjointed, choppy, and yet engaging.
The pace is fast and breezy. The author has done away with the necessities of phrases like he said, she added, she remarked, etc. So that the text is mostly conversational and fast-paced.
Is the climax good?
As the climax of any other chick-lit, Combat Skirts is partly predictable but in a good way. It won’t be incorrect to say that it does give a befitting end to the story of Saba Minhas.
In the end
Combat Skirts is a funny and light-hearted read, a perfect companion for a cozy afternoon or a holiday. The author is clever with words – they reflect both the cultural vibe of the era and the polite sassiness of the city. In the end, the book perfectly captures the warmth of true love. In her own words, we learn of its essence – “I know what is mine, I know what I’m fighting for.”
Just go for it!
Pick the book if
- You love chick-lits.
- You are looking for light Indian reads that are fun and breezy.
- You are looking for a short feel-good romance.
- You enjoy contemporary young adult fiction.
- You enjoy reading books set in the 1990s.
- You are looking for a classy and sassy read.
- The idea of a confused but adorable army brat appeals to you.
Skip the book if
- Only if you don’t like chick-lits.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Combat Skirts using the link below.