I finished reading What Kitty Did in a single rainy afternoon. Trisha Bora’s debut is a tongue-in-cheek eye-roll of a novel about upper class New Delhi seen through the eyes of a 20-something named Ketaki Roy (aka Kitty) who is fresh out of college and floundering from one drunken night to the office to the next drunken night. She works at a fashion magazine called Poise – simultaneously squirming at the stories she must write (“10 ways to lose belly fat”) and grateful for the paycheque that buys 30 bottles of vinegar-like wine every month.
What makes Kitty relatable (and loveable if you’re an attached sort of reader) is that she laughs at everything about herself. She is self-deprecating to a fault. She isn’t your clumsy, glasses-wearing, sports-loving cliched heroine. Her faults and scrapes are painfully real.
Meet the cast
Kitty’s family, in her words, is “completely and totally bonkers.” Her mother Mala lives in Calcutta and is enjoying a second lease of life after a brief stint at the hospital which involves everything from French men to hash brownies. Her father is a timid professor who doesn’t get out much. Kitty has a close-knit group of friends, most of whom are dysfunctional in their own way.
Weaving in and out of her life is an ex-boyfriend who cheated on her, nicknamed Scum. There is a boss named Kamini who is a “manipulative turnip”. There is a six-foot, serious man (cue Mr Darcy) called Kabir – we will have to wait and see what becomes of him. Ronny Verma is a man in his fifties who knows how to tip the waiters enough to divulge gossip. He is half-jokingly (half with a shudder) referred to as The Elderly. In this colourful cluster of characters, Bora brings to light the hazy, bright chaos of being in your early twenties.
If that wasn’t enough going on in Kitty’s life, she is assigned a big story at work – write a profile of the recently deceased (rumoured to have been murdered) actress Roxanne Merchant. Kitty sets up meetings in Delhi’s Amrita Shergill Marg and Meherchand Market as she interviews the rich and the powerful in Roxanne’s life. And before she knows it, she has plunged headlong into a covert murder investigation led by one of Roxanne’s friends. Braving rainy auto rides and crammed metro compartments, Kitty goes every time she is summoned by the friend-turned-detective to turn over every lead that may lead them to the motive and identity of Roxanne’s killer.
Tandoori days and wasabi nights
As we trample through Kitty’s life with her, she pulls us into Chaucer, Oscar Wilde and even the children’s book What Katy Did. Thankfully, we are introduced to Chaucer only in service of a joke. The references particularly resonate if you are or have been a literature student. It is the language in which Kitty thinks.
Take for example her dissection of her friend’s relationship to romance – “There is not one piece of nastiness when I say this but she’s always preferred Pemberley to Darcy”. There is a particularly hilarious takedown of a Delhi restaurant called Indie Accent that serves “burrata papdi chaat with a tamarind champagne brew” and “tandoori duck with wasabi malai”. Ronny Verma of the waiter-tipping fame declares “Now that’s how you do a tandoori”.
What Kitty Did is clever, funny and spares no one in the world Kitty lives in – neither the perennially broke, confused and reckless young people nor the rich, smug and controlling people in Central Delhi who are too accustomed to power to ever willingly let it go. In the pursuit of Roxanne’s killer, Kitty finds she is in over her head. With the help of her loyal friends, batty but adoring mother, her entourage of lovers and some unlikely suspects, Kitty must figure it out.
The book is reminiscent of Karachi, You’re Killing Me by Saba Imtiaz, whose protagonist Noor was one of the first relatable millennial women whose context was South Asian. In earlier years, this reading experience would have been found in US or UK novels. But Indian publishing is finally making space for witty, accessible fiction that will appeal to a wide audience. Trisha Bora herself is an editor at Juggernaut Books. In a time where it is getting rarer and rarer to see people laughing at themselves, Bora provides an afternoon’s respite from taking ourselves too seriously.
What Kitty Did, Trisha Bora, HarperCollins India.