Published on 27 June, 2014 in BLink – The Hindu Business Line
Debut author, Deepti Kapoor, on the swagger of male novels and darkness of Delhi
Born in Moradabad, educated in Bahrain, Dehradun and Delhi, Deepti Kapoor worked as a journalist before she left it all behind to live in Goa. She took up yoga and began to write about the Capital, which despaired and inspired her. Intrigued by the city’s aggression, the male gaze and the threat of sexual violence, she reveals the bold escapades of her 20-year-old protagonist, Idha, in A Bad Character (Penguin).
Kapoor speaks about choosing not to write a run-of-the-mill love story and focussing on desire, pain and control. Excerpts from the interview:
Sexual liberation is not tantamount to sexual equality. Do you agree?
I do. Sexual liberation against a background of sexual equality would be ideal, but that’s wishful thinking today. The mirage of sexual liberation is often a tool, simply designed to sell things, made by marketing men, driven by money. In the novel, my character Idha experiences a certain amount of sexual liberation, but that in no way leads to equality, either between her and her boyfriend, or between her and the city/society. In fact, it leads to a kind of domination and more danger. Through sex she may seem to become free, but it leads to a state where she is dominated by him, his gaze, his ideas, and his actions.
What do you think about society’s double standards on sexuality?
It makes me angry and it is one of the greatest problems India faces, though it’s by no means restricted to India; it’s a global issue. Yet, Indian society, in particular, does a wonderful job in harbouring hypocrisy, patriarchy and misogyny. Desirous women are labelled as sinful and wrong. They’re suppressed; they’re declared bad characters. They’re punished for it — get her married off, shame her, kill her. But you can’t kill the desire, can you?
It seemed things were beginning to change after the December 16 gang rape and murder of the paramedic student, but women say it’s worse now. That they have to plan their lives around safety, their public life is reduced, their private life threatened. What I want is to be in control of my own destruction.
The city is real. I know all the places in the novel, though their representation is often distorted and amplified, built from memory. The Irish guy in the hotel room in Paharganj is real; I can still see his face. The Israeli cow story is real. Aunty is just an aggregation of the ideas of the Aunty, a necessary, well-meaning, but to the narrator, a suffocating presence.
Are you like your protagonist, Idha?
I wasn’t like her, and yet I was. We have been in the same places and situations, but she isn’t me. She’s perhaps one aspect of me, brought out from a nightmare and magnified.
How easy or difficult was it to put the city’s aggressive character into words without setting a stereotype?
It took a long time to hit upon a style that allowed me to write without simply recounting or complaining about it. Novels by men, about men in the city — regardless of their suffering — have a swagger to them, a certain freedom of the city. They pursue women in their stories, succeed and fail, but she remains the centre of attention. But I wanted to write from a woman’s point of view, the point of view of the pursued.
I decided to combat the city’s aggression by becoming it, by embracing it and owning it, and altering it to my own version of history. The city’s aggression, in terms of writing what goes on in it, was quite easy. I have soaked it up and absorbed it, and it has eaten my insides for many years. All I had to do was close my eyes, open them and write.