15 January 2012

Suits by Nina Godiwalla

Mom… dad… here’s why I did it …
This book is a memoir, but it reads like a ripping good novel.
To be working on Wall Street is the culmination of a dream – in Nina Godiwalla’s Parsi community in suburban America, something better even than being a neurosurgeon or rocket scientist. It turns out that naughty Nina is brilliant enough to be the first freshman ever to intern at a top-tier Wall Street firm. And yes, she’s naughty enough and brilliant enough, once she’s been there for a while, to write this book which exposes all the sham.
As an investment banker, you are the most respected of the high-powered executives. There is a strict power hierarchy that is based on the paychecks: bankers, lawyers, accountants, and company executives. Hierarchies continue to dominate across university, across company brand. Oppression – and, often, petty vengeance – is a natural consequence. And Nina Godiwalla reveals here what she learns: that in corporate finance, you are rewarded for being a monkey – for agreeing not to think, speak, or have an opinion. It’s a fossilized culture, and pervaded by a terrible, crippling snobbery. Nina towers over Wall Street, reducing it to the width of an Excel spreadsheet cell, understanding from the heavy scent of musk cologne that she isn’t the only one trying hard to make a good impression. Comes the moment when realisation strikes: the overpriced gourmet stuff charged to expense accounts doesn’t really taste better than the Ponsri Thai food around the corner from work! And that exciting pace, the intellectual challenge, the unparalleled exposure to top executives – comes at the cost of dignity and sleep.
I wondered how Nina could write as bluntly as she does and escape legal action. In the course of the book she answers the question herself:
“You better not tell anyone,” she reminded me.
“Don’t worry,” I said, “No one would ever believe me.”
Written like a diary, this book intersperses scenes from Nina Godiwalla’s childhood and they add colour and warmth to the Wall Street life of screeching adrenalin. Nina's love for her grandmother - and her feelings when the specially-prepared pista barfi is greeted with snickers from her classmates ("barf! barf!"); her close relationship with her siblings, one of whom is interning with the Peace Corps in Morocco at the same time Nina is having this tryst with the apex of capitalism; incidents involving her dominating father and wise, long-suffering mother - are all told in an engaging style that paints an impressively lifelike picture.
In both these very different planes of existence, Nina Godiwalla excels as snoop reporter. I enjoyed her descriptions of New York and its inhabitants, so immersed in the urgent necessities of their lives that they don’t see anything around them. Even the bus drivers have an attitude familiar to anyone who knows Bombay’s BEST. And I loved the relaxed way she muses about men.

If you were standing close enough, you would choose Scott, though they were both second-glance guys.
One of the things that horrified me was Nina Godiwall's descriptions of how women are treated in Wall Street firms. They are mocked and degraded just for being women – the men use raunchy banter as an oppressive tactic during discussions; they proudly de-stress by frequenting strip clubs – there are any number of ways they make a woman feel small:
“Ladies first” always felt like a dirty trick, especially when you were caught in the back of the elevator and an older man near the front would say it. Smashed in the back corner, as the only woman, I’d grudgingly try and squeeze my way out.
Another thing that upset me was thinking about how Nina Godiwalla’s father would feel when reading her frank and beautiful descriptions of her childhood and his role in it, and I kept hoping that he wouldn’t read past the dedication:
To my mom and dad,
for giving us everything
But then it struck me that the sentiment behind this dedication was so strong that it would follow him through every trial Nina Godiwalla faced, right through the book.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that a PIO should reach this level in Wall
    Street. The mood in USA is such that every Wall Streeter is
    considered a villain unless proved otherwise.