Anuja Chauhan on The Fast and the Dead: ‘I love the energy and intimacy of bazaars’

Feb24,2024


ACP Bhawani Singh is back in Anuja Chauhan’s latest whodunit-romance, The Fast and the Dead (Harper Collins). There was serendipity in his return, the 53-year-old author says. “When I wrote Club You To Death, I was working with an idea of this pudgy, gentle oldie who radiates so much sympathy that people can’t help talking to him.”

Bhawani, Anuja says, was a vibe, not a face. All that changed with Murder Mubarak, based on Club You to Death, that is dropping on Netflix this March. Directed by Homi Adajania, the film features an ensemble cast including Sara Ali Khan, Vijay Varma, Dimple Kapadia, Karisma Kapoor, Sanjay Kapoor, Tisca Chopra, Suhail Nayyar and Pankaj Tripathi as Bhawani.

“I kept picturing him (Tripathi) in my head, as I wrote,” says Anuja. “That was a little hard to break out of. Luckily, he’s quite a dream casting, in fact a lot of my readers are saying when they read the book, they were imagining Pankaj as Bhavani…”

The book cover

The book cover
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Club You to Death about a trainer who ends up very dead in a posh health club is set in Delhi. The Fast and the Dead moves the action to Bengaluru — Bhavani is on holiday. When a jeweller dies in Habba Galli, Shivajinagar, there is no shortage of suspects from the local veterinarian, Jhoomar Rao, to superstar Haider Sait and several others.

That the jeweller’s wife broke her Karwa Chauth fast (that some women observe for their husband’s long life) before the moon came up does not help matters. “The book pairs two issues that have come up often in my life, and which have always intrigued me — street dogs (menace or blessing?) and Karwa Chauth (faith versus feminsim).”

As with most issues nowadays, Anuja says, a street dog is never just a street dog. “One heated WhatsApp altercation with your neighbours, and swiftly he/she rises to become a barometer of your decency, your patriotism, and your standing in society. Ditto with Karwa Chauth — keeping it or not should be a matter of individual choice, but society is not content to let it be just that.”

Every topic seems to have become incendiary nowadays, Anuja says. “Street dogs, parking slots, loudspeakers, vegetarian-non-vegetarian, the fact that a stray frisbee thrown by kids could knock down an oldie…We’re all cramped and crowded and we all have a huge amount of entitlement. I chose stray dogs because I love them, and I especially love the fact that (as Bhavani says in the book) they don’t follow human hierarchies — they tend to snarl at billionaires and grovel before beggars.”

Living in Bengaluru rural with Nandi Hill views and leafy roads empty enough to cycle on, Anuja has recently acquired “a teeny-tiny flat” in the heart of the city. It is walking distance from all the main shopping and party districts, and of course my muse for this book — Shivaji Nagar.”

The Battle For Bittora author has described The Fast and the Dead as her first bazaar novel. “I love bazaars. My grandfather’s house is walking distance from Ajmal Khan Road in the capital and we would head there for anything or everything — from birthday cakes, paan or midnight ice-cream to getting dupattas dyed, and blouses matched. There’s so much magic in a walk through a bazaar, such a sensory overload — colour, energy, texture, neon, dust, sequins, sweat, smoke from the tandoors, blessings from beggars, and sassy comments from the vendors.”

It is the energy of the bazaars that attracts Anuja. “The intimacy, and the fact that a good time doesn’t cost very much, the magic is accessible and the thrills are cheap. Nobody ever went broke shopping in a good, old-fashioned bazaar.”

When she wandered into the lanes behind Bengaluru’s Commercial Street, Anuja says, “All my Ajmal Khan Road, Karol Bagh senses, got up and started to do a happy dance. It was all so familiar, and yet so new. People are so much gentler here, the spaces are so much cleaner and Karol Bagh never had the amazing syncrenetic vibe that Shivaji Nagar has, which I love. Churches, mosques, temples, all in row and everybody swalpa adjust maadi-ing! The fact that so many people speak Hindi there didn’t hurt either.”

When we last spoke about setting a novel in Bengaluru, Anuja said she was working on getting the keys of the city. “I think it was the language. I took Kannada lessons for three months, and while I am far from fluent, I can at least communicate!”

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