Kavita Daswani explains how her new book both creates sympathy for and satirizes its characters
In an early scene in her new book Bombay Girl, writer Kavita Daswani almost had protagonist Sohana kick back at the end of a stressful day with hot pista milk and a Parle-G biscuit. But Kavita’s friends in Mumbai, to whom she sent the manuscript for a look-over, insisted that this girl would instead have an espresso and biscotti.
So Kavita made the change, to keep the character consistent in her high-society background. Bombay Girl is set resolutely in the upper rungs of Mumbai's society. The business family at the story’s centre carries an outcast tag because it does not display its wealth as ostentatiously as it should. “The family car was a Mercedes, not a Rolls,” says Sohana in an expository passage.
Indeed, Kavita conceived the setting for Bombay Girl, her third novel and the first of an upcoming trilogy, after realising what she said was people’s obsession with wealth. “I’d read about the Ambanis!”
Kavita’s previous books had upper-middle-class or middle class heroines, and this would be a marked change. The plan was to create real, human stories against this setting, and not allow the setting to overpower the characters. “Sohana’s wealth doesn't make her who she is,” explained Kavita, who was in town recently for the launch of the book.
Bombay Girl follows Sohana Badshah as she endures a breakup, quits her course in London and returns to her family in Mumbai, only to discover that there may be more to her family than she realizes. The plot has Sohana alternately preoccupied with the fate of her family's business and getting mani-pedis with Dior-wearing, herbal tea-drinking Nitya. Sohana's journey through the book culminates in her realizing that she does not belong with the other “heiresses”.
The writer acknowledged that parts of the book satirized a particular type of spoilt rich kid, and that readers might recognise themselves in some passages. “But it’s not in a mean-spirited way,” she clarified.
The focus on the family dynamic might move the book beyond formulaic chick-lit. “The trick is to do it in a fresh way,” Kavita said. “I’m guilty of not doing that earlier – my first book was like that. About the packaging, I just said, don’t make it pink,” she laughed, referring to the pastel hues of Bombay Girl's cover.
She wrote the book in seven months, and chose the trilogy format because it allowed a longer-lasting relationship with characters. Daswani started out as a business journalist, but nevertheless had to diligently research elements of the detailed business setting in the book. “I think Google is the best tool for a writer,” she smiled. She lives in Los Angeles, and also used the search engine to make up for her lack of familiarity with Mumbai: “I think I actually Googled ‘coolest places to visit in Bombay’.” Between her freelance journalism work and writing books, she doesn't find time to read much, she said, while noting a persistent love for Jeffrey Archer's stories. “I thought I was too highbrow for him, but here I am reading him again,” she said.