This Is Character Building

“Anyone who has grown up in Delhi knows it's horrible.” – Upamanyu Chatterjee

Idha, the narrator of Deepti Kapoor’s A Bad Character, is seventeen when her mother dies. Her father, who has been away working in Singapore, comes back to India for the funeral, but goes right back to Singapore afterward—without Idha. She is sent to live with an aunty in New Delhi, whose main goal is to get her married. But Idha is humored and allowed to go to college. They even give her a car. Somehow, this is not enough. She is not looking for the college-husband-kids progression. This is what leads her to the “bad character” in the title. She never gives his name and much of his life remains a mystery to us. But what we do know is that he shows her parts of the city and parts of herself that she had previously only guessed at.

She is in a café in Khan Market, avoiding the “indestructible” Delhi heat, safe in the air conditioning.
Safe until she looks up and finds him staring at her. She, however, is not completely innocent. She says, “But in the café I’m looking up at him. I am pretty and he is ugly. And the secret is this turns me on.” He takes her, literally and figuratively, on a ride through the city. Delhi, itself, is like a character—dark, menacing, dangerous. Delhi is “no place for a woman in the dark unless she has a man and a car or a car and a gun,” she says.

I enjoyed how the novel is a Bildungsroman, but also has dark undertones. Growing up and learning about the world is not always easy and sometimes there is more at stake. If you like Kapoor’s book, you might also enjoy reading Green Girl by Kate Zambreno and A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride.