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Sharp Eyes, Sharp Wit: A Review of One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
By Erynn Porter
It’s hard to be funny and point out all the systematic oppression within cultures, but somehow Scaachi Koul does it in One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter. Koul uses her sharp eyes and sharp wit to discuss a range of topics from classism and shadism in India to rape culture to her relationship with her father in this collection of essays.
In the opening essay “Inheritance Tax” Koul uses her fear of flying (and trying new things) to introduce us to all the characters in her life. Her family, her boyfriend, and even herself. She writes about the traits she inherited from her father with a beautiful line: “He was on the phone with me at the time, speaking to me mostly in sighs and rueful grunts, a language I’ve since learned to speak myself.” (7)
“Size Me Up” discusses the power that clothes have to transform a person or their feelings about themselves. If you dare brush this off as a common “woman essay,” you would be terribly mistaken. Braiding together her past experiences with a current predicament with being stuck inside the perfect skirt. Koul says everything we think, wanting to be the ideal of what we are supposed to be, have our crush like us, the dramatic transformation that’s supposed to happen as a teen—only to be severely disappointed. She contemplates the ideals that we feel we need to meet and the amount of pressure we all feel to look a certain way. Sadly, the skirt’s zipper was stuck and she had to get cut out of it.
“Fair and Lovely” is dynamic, giving the reader a quick lesson on classism, racism, and shadism without missing a beat. It opens with: “Like farts and the incorrect retellings of classic literature, racism is a lot cuter when it comes out of a little girl” (53). The girl is her niece, Raisin, who doesn’t want to go to India because Indians “stink”. Of course, she doesn’t realize she is Indian herself. Raisin, half white, is the lightest in her family, she is the closest to passing as white. Which is all Scaachi wanted as a kid, she hid her history from others, tried to blend in as much as she could. Didn’t matter, kids were still racist and only got worse after 9/11. But with Raisin causes gut punch realizations:
“My parents felt blessed by her fairness, her light eyes, her distinctly ‘white’ features—typical shadism, the idea that lighter skin is better skin even when it’s all brown skin, a frequent topic within brown and black communities but one rarely discussed openly… When Raisin was very small, I rubbed lotion on her belly after a bath and marveled at how different our skins were: more a dark yellow, black hair sprouting on my arms and hands, hers like milk and honey. It felt as if I was dirtying her, rubbing my skin against hers when hers was so ‘good.’ I wrapped her in a little towel and she looked up at me with blue eyes, the same kind I always wanted for myself” (62).
When she finally goes to India, Scaachi realized her own privilege. Her light skin shines brightly among her darker counterparts. She’s stared at, offered things, and asked where she is from. In India, she is a white person. She noticed that darker skinned people didn’t work at the banks or jewelry stores, that darker-skinned women were beggars at the airport. Men with similar skin tones come up and talk to her, standing too close, staring at her bare shoulders. Darker skin men wouldn’t even make eye contact with her. The title of the essay is borrowed from a popular brand of skin-whitener that she remembers seeing the commercials of, from her childhood. By the end, Raisin is happy to look like her Aunt, finds features that they share and Koul is changed forever.
Maybe the most terrifying essay is “Hunting Season” because it’s all true. The essay illustrates how deeply perverse rape culture is. Men watch women at bars, collects information about them so they can gain trust. They feed them drink after drink so they can take them home. They don’t want to get to know them, they want to bed them. How “party culture” is an alias for rape culture and that people who claim that is the problem is trying to cover up their own predatory ways.
“We think of rape in terms of how men create intricate plans for hurting women, for sexual violence at its more gruesome, men who use physical force to hold women down. But we don’t, for some reason, associate it with a man who surveils you in public, maybe for an hour or two, to see if you’re getting drunk on your own or if he needs to help you along by buying you a drink. These types of rapes—rapes where women are too drunk to consent or unconscious, or when no one bothers to ask for consent in the first place—are considered accidents” (167).
Let’s not to forget that it’s all the woman’s fault. After all, she should have known better.
Reading One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter feels like having Koul sitting in your bed gossiping with you. She tells you all about her cousin’s wedding and how Indian weddings are intense and last a week. She’ll also tell you about the subtle sexism within the wedding, how much pain the bride goes through to be beautiful while the groom and his buddies drink all day. She’ll also disclose the amount of harassment she gets online and how it’s infuriating and terrifying at the same time. The email snippets slipped in between essays make you feel like you know not only the author but her family as well. It will be hard to deny that her father is a fan favorite. She discusses complex materials in a way that is easy to comprehend and being entertaining at the same time. If you want to grow as a person and laugh at the same time, pick up this book.
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