The Freedom to Write Less Likeable Characters in Crime Fiction
There’s this colorful word my dad taught me growing up, common across many South Asian languages. Chalak. It’s not exactly a compliment. If someone calls you chalak, then they think you are cunning, clever, and maybe even devious. It means you use your understanding of people or situations for personal gain.
I only have a rudimentary knowledge of my mother tongues, yet this particular word has always stayed with me–perhaps because what it represented stood in stark contrast to the ‘good Indian girl’ stereotypes and expectations I grew up around. And similarly to words like ‘bossy’, ‘aggressive’, and ‘emotional’, chalak can be used as a catch-all to demonize women who defy society’s expectations of them.
Is a woman who has the foresight to create boundaries chalak? What about women who extricate themselves from toxic situations and people before the going gets rough? Or, women who simply put themselves first?
Being a little chalak from time to time doesn’t have to be a ‘bad’ thing. I’m sure many of us can recall challenging situations where we wish we’d been practiced more self-preservation.