Vedashree Khambete Sharma
Move Over, Kitty
Growing up in the 80s and 90s in India was annoying for several reasons, but the one that got my goat was that it sucked being a girl. Don't get me wrong, in many ways, being a girl still sucks, but it was extra sucky back in the day because quite often, the only place girls got to do cool, clever, plucky things, was in books written by white people.
In fiction, we had George from the Famous Five, we had Nancy Drew. On Indian TV, we had Kitty. Who stood next to a carrot-chewing Karamchand and was regularly told to "Shut up, Kitty!" Kitty asked stupid questions. Kitty was ornamental. Kitty couldn't find her arse if it was on Google Maps. And we laughed at her, this silly girl, this ditz who thought she could even ably assist a real detective, leave alone investigating anything herself. Of course she was out of her depth.
And hey, I get it.
After all, the very degree of independence required to be a detective, has come comparatively late to Indian women. Even today, we think twice about letting girls work late at night, even in metros. Back in the 90s, it was not to be thought of. How believable would it seem, in that ethos, to watch a woman on TV, who visits crime scenes and shady hotbeds of illegal activity at all hours of the day or night, that too alone? Perish the thought.
Besides, what is a detective, but someone who asks questions and makes deductions? And a woman who asks questions is instinctively treated as a busybody. Could audiences take a busybody seriously? Would they believe she is even qualified for this task? (Nobody asked Byomkesh Bakshi or that dude from Tehkikaat this, but hey, that's a whole different can of worms.) Could Indian readers or TV audiences be able to stomach the fact that a woman could be a shrewd, intelligent investigator?
The argument could be made that culture changes with creative. People couldn't imagine a woman superhero till they read a comic about Wonder Woman. They couldn't imagine a woman adventurer till they saw Lara Croft. So what was stopping Indian TV writers from creating a girl detective?
God fucking knows.
All I know, is that it pissed me off on some level. So when years later, I had an idea for a detective-ish novel, I chose a woman for my protagonist. Avantika Pandit doesn't giggle at the jokes of some more important male character, she cracks jokes herself. She gets into sticky situations and then, gets out of them as well. She is ambitious, scrappy, a little mad sometimes, and angry often. You know, like normal women.
And I trust readers enough to know that if they can stomach the idea of a radioactive spider giving a high school kid superpowers, it’s not that much of a stretch to believe that an actual adult woman can have critical thinking and problem solving skills.