Narrated in vignettes, altering fluidly between the past and the present, the novel poignantly encapsulates the angst of a middle class young girl, desirous of breaking free the manacles of societal and filial expectations.
A Bad Character – the voice of the 21st century Delhi
Elucidated as the voice of the twenty-first century Delhi, A Bad Character is the story of a young girl, Idha in her twenties, narrated ten years later in retrospect by her much mature self. Left alone after the death of her mother and the absent father who abandons her, Idha comes to live “in east Delhi over the filthy Yamuna, in the care of Aunty”. Raw, young, inexperienced, she constantly writhes between the societal expectations of the other “proper” Aunties of the world to be “a good girl”, “…to be same as them, to smile the right way, to say the right things, to be grateful at all times, to be seen and not heard” and her desire to rupture the shackles placed on her by society and be free. Shrieking to escape from the monotony of her bourgeois life, to break free from the claustrophobia of her aunt’s world; she encapsulates her desolation, “The agony of being alive, of functioning like a human being. Can you understand this? This is who I am.”
Idha’s nameless lover – a bad character
Restless, living in the twenty-first century Delhi which is “no place for a woman in the dark unless she has a man and a car and a car and a gun”, she meets her nameless lover in a café in the Khan Market who is “ugly with dark skin”, who has “something of the animal in him”, who is “not a typical ‘Delhi boy’”, “a vagabond who’s been scrubbed clean”. Pitted against the boys “they want me to marry”, he is a “bad character” who turns her on, takes her to the forgotten monuments, lost dreams, the dark drug labyrinths of Paharganj, “one of those places good Delhiites don’t go”; to a black market of foreign films, to the rave parties, to the “foundation emptiness of Gurgaon” where the future resides.
Idha – the product of her environment?
Resembling to the landscape of the city which is ugly, black, fetid, rotten and putrid; her lover is also ugly, dark skinned which “turns him into a mystery”. Part inquisitive, part restless, part defiant; she consciously tries to rebel against the prejudice of her peers that treats dark skin as “ugly, poor, wrong”. However, remaining very much a product of her conditioning, she is fixated by his darkness, “he looks like a servant”, “combined with his ugliness, his confidence, his dark skin, it’s intriguing”, “but more than this I have misgivings about his face…the question of what it will finally say about me”, “he is still ugly, I am still beautiful”, “…his face was ungoverned, appearing monstrous”.
Although sullen to her aunt’s proposition to get her married to a rich, settled guy; she desires the same thing in her lover “that he would become rich, successful, respectable. Respectable above all else, because of his ideas and the wealth they would bring”.
Even after his death, she chooses a rich businessman who provides her with a small apartment in Defence Colony and pays for her apartment till the time she finds a real job for herself.
Naïve and untamed, she plunges into the unknown and dangerous world of her lover marked by her first sexual experience: “He is a god to me. I’ve never known with such certainty what my body is for.” Bored by the domesticity, humdrum of her aunt’s static world, she keeps going back to him, “he who is setting me free”. However, like everyone else around her, he tries to tame her, to possess her completely, “It’s not the girl that he desires, it’s this possession of her, what he’s made, the dressed-up thing.” Delirious, she lets him make her “a lump of wet clay”, “I’d walk for him and he’d obliterate me, take everything…”, “…and know that I was owned”. However, still desirous to get released of her chains, Idha doesn’t give in completely and this makes him angry, “…angry because I leave, because of the way I guard myself, the way I never let go, as if I’ve learned nothing from him.”
Set on the path of self-destruction, the duo plays out their love story till the very dark end.
Like the city, where the violence is residing just beneath the surface, her nameless lover also gets violent with her when defied, hits her, spins her around; shove her to the ground in his ultimate act of trying to take possession over her.
“…Fuck you, I survive.”
Inept to deal with the darkness, the loneliness of the city, the city “rotten with the sons of men”, she too, descends into the world of drugs, sex with “the urge to destroy”. However, standing on the periphery with no one to claim her, tell her what to do, “she felt the bliss she’d been searching for from the start.” Ending her story on a triumphant note, the narrator declares “…Fuck you, I survive.”
A beautifully written prose, skillfully delineating the coming-of-age story of a young girl, exploring the psyche of the narrator in vivid details, this book is highly recommended for anyone interested in bourgeois lifestyle of the twenty-first century Delhi.
Title: A Bad Character
Author: Deepti Kapoor
Genre: Indian Fiction/ Contemporary
About the Author
Deepti Kapoor is an Indian author. She was born in Uttar Pradesh, but grew up in Bombay, Bahrain and Dehradun. She completed Journalism and then an M.A. in Social Psychology at the University of Delhi. She was associated with various publications for about a decade, driving in and around the city, searching for stories with an eagle eye and mostly learning its streets. Deepti currently lives in Goa. (Courtesy: Flipkart)