She’s such a Samantha: Deepti Kapoor’s ‘A Bad Character’

There’s not a moral to this story. Deepti Kapoor’s main character (I didn’t realize until right this second that none of the characters have names. Huh.) snorts blow, screws strangers, and lies to her loved ones. She doesn’t wind up at the top of the heap, but neither does she wind up buried by her sins. That isn’t what this book is about.

Sometimes [often] the books by international authors that are chosen by major publishing houses to be marketed to North American audiences can be a tad moralistic. See: The Alchemist. I get why that is. Morals are universal, whereas setting, language, and culture is not. Do good and you will be rewarded. Do ill and you will be punished. Everyone can get behind that. Unfortunately that isn’t how life works so if you’re looking for truths that can be universally understood, you’ll have to start with smaller truths (sorry Paul Coehlo).

This is the space into which Deepti Kapoor’s debut novel enters. Kapoor’s unnamed protagonist is a young, middle class woman, struggling against the expectations of her culture. Now you have my attention. That young woman resides in modern-day Dehli. Now as a reader I see that this book may show me something about myself, and something about the world. A woman should not be free. There, a universal truth.

Kapoor’s protagonist, who her family is trying to pair off into an arranged marriage, meets a man and falls in love with him. They drive around Dehli in the night, she loses her virginity to him and then immediately sex is all-consuming, he does drugs, then she does. She loses him but not her itch for coke and men. In western fiction this sexually liberated woman is familiar. What’s so striking about Kapoor’s character is that her setting means that no one has to pretend the woman has a right to her own body. The friends and relatives in A Bad Character act out their opinions on the place of the woman in a way that is only implied in western fiction where we pretend to be so forward thinking but are really just prudes.

There’s not a moral to this story. Beautifully written this little book deals with the decisions made by a woman, and the city that won’t stop moving around her.

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