Well, comparisons are odious but 30 pages or so into this book, words float into your mind. Words like Svengali. Like Last Tango in Paris. Like Lolita. Like Caro Lamb and Lord Byron. Like 9½ Weeks.
You get the drift. Deepti Kapoor`s heroine Idha, motherless, abandoned by her father, is a bit of a wraith: good-looking, intense, ripe for anything life or a man might make of her. In Deepti Kapoor`s A Bad Character, life combines forces with a man to take the willing girl by the hand, down ill-lit labyrinths, push her headlong into the path of disaster-prone headlights. The nameless boyfriend (the term she uses for him rankles because the reader gauges that he is neither a boy nor anything resembling a friend ) is plug-ugly but sexy as hell. He throws a sexual charm on the girl (yes, she is just 20 and don’t wince, she knows pretty much what she is getting into) and we watch as she succumbs, sinks into the sweet morass, then starts to rail against the enchantment, twisting, turning in the snare that suddenly acquires all the tensile strength of steel.
The city of Delhi is the well-mapped backdrop for these two as they conduct their liaison with drives around the capital by day and by night. They walk into monuments like your everyday tourists, they sip coffee in the popular coffee shops, he takes her on a trawl of the less savoury parts across the Yamuna.
He loves Delhi, she loathes it, astutely seeing it as a city of meat and men. He introduces her to good cinema, to acid, to classical music, and of course she can never be the same again. In a beautifully underwritten passage later on, Idha in her other avatar, meets a prospective groom who tells her he found the film American Beauty, to be a masterpiece.
Oh, how she hates Delhi, this `city of vulgar men, fat and rich men, drunk men, the sons of men. ‘ Still later, she says she lives in luxury now; unable to hold the pain of Delhi inside, she realises it is better to orbit it from space.
So. Is this just another furtive, searing and doomed love affair? The two of them reflect the flaws in each other`s personalities; the city reflects the darkness in him, in her. Their love is a twisted thing, but of course.
They could have chalked it all up to experience, except, somewhere, the girl`s insecurity rises to the surface and she wants to put a label on the relationship, wants to pin a flag, some sign of permanence, to its amorphous form. He, expectedly, is scathing, contemptuous of such need for conformity. They slowly start to wear each other down. And what the reader saw coming pages and pages ago, comes with all the force of a cyclone. But it doesn’t end with an apocalypse. The real shocker is how she picks up the pieces and carries on. But then, A Bad Character is a title loaded with irony.
One doesn’t read this book as much as plunge headlong into it. There is no real connect with either the girl or the man who — almost— moulds her into what he wants. But then, a reader-character connection is clearly not the author`s intention. This is an ode that every girl who has dated a man who is mad, bad and dangerous to know will immediately identify with.
Sheila Kumar worked for the Times Group and now writes for many newspapers and magazines on matters concerning just about everything under the sun. She has had her short stories published in as many as six anthologies.Sheila’s first book, a collection of short stories titled Kith and Kin (Rupa Publications) was released to very good reviews.
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