We all know how fairytales work. There’s a prince-type person, a princess-type person, a few obstacles (like disapproving parents and cruel people) and ultimately, a happy ending. It’s a formula that has been followed in stories like Rapunzel, Thumbelina, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the Ugly Duckling. No matter what happens, Mr Right will swoop in and ride into the sunset with his lady love, the promise of a happily-ever-after bright on the horizon.
As a child, we’re all convinced by the logic of fairytales. It’s only when we grow up that reality reveals how men and love are rarely anything like what fairytales told us they’d be. Most of the time, this knowledge leads to bitterness and disillusionment. Rupa Gulab, on the other hand, decided the only thing to do with silly, outdated fairytales was to rewrite them.
Gulab’s third book, I Kissed A Frog & Other Stories, has an entire section dedicated to “Not so grim fairytales for big, bad girls”. Those familiar with Gulab’s work would have read ‘Fair and Lovely’ and ‘The Ugh Duckling’ on unboxedwriters.com.
The fairytales appear at the end of the book, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The rest of I Kissed A Frog... is made up of stories of love and friendship. You find yourself sympathising and empathising with her characters and their normal problems — overeating, split ends, overactive libidos and being blonde. They use fairness creams, fail their chartered accountancy exams seven years in a row, require time off to ideate on award-winning ideas and they have self-esteem issues. There’s no happy-ever-after here — not in the conventional sense at least — but all her fairytales have a moral. For example: “Not all princes become kings, some become queens”, or, “Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler have the only froggy lips that women want to kiss”.
In Gulab’s world, love stories are realistic and they’ve got lots of the not-happily-ever-after details like heartbreak, unrequited attraction and — the ultimate side effect of being in love — the need for revenge.
Her stories are like jottings and scribbles taken from diaries and woven into whacky, witty and occasionally touching tales. In ‘Hell’s Angel’, Gulab takes on the voice of a shallow, pretty girl who works in a magazine and falls for the hot new stud in office. This leads to advice like, “If you want your employees to really enjoy their jobs, add glamour to the office by hiring a few smoking hot men and women”. ‘Love in F Major’ has the heroine falling for an older, married man. The best story of the love section is ‘Welcome to the Sisterhood’, about the changing relationship between a girl and the guy she loves, after he decides to have a sex change.
In the stories that deal with friendship, there’s the desperation of wanting to lose weight in ‘Diet Wars’, the loss of a friend in ‘Au Revoir’ and discovering that being a mother isn’t at all hunky-dory in ‘Wannabe Mum’.
Gulab’s feminist streak make her stories both incisive and incredibly funny. Take, for example, this line from ‘The Ex-Files’: “Men are not very bright — you just have to learn to play them wisely”. And Gulab’s female characters play their men very wisely indeed. In ‘The Ex-Files’, she advocates an easy solution to getting back at your ex — take their “We can still be friends” very seriously. So her female lead becomes his ‘bestie’, sticking like a leech to his new girlfriend and for good measure, poisoning his cake.
I Kissed A Frog… is funny, witty, and lots of fun. It’s perhaps the best antidote to the Valentine’s Day fever going around.
I Kissed a Frog & Other Stories by Rupa Gulab, Pan Macmillan Rs 250.