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‘Drop Dead’

Tough and feminine, Niki Marwah is a crime detective, a woman in a man’s world and a woman who loves shoes. Indian author Swati Kaushal talks about the leading lady in her crime novels. Kaushal’s book “Drop Dead” is hitting the stands and is the first novel to portray a woman cop in the leading role.

1. How did you come up with the idea?

Drop Dead is all about Niki Marwah, the strong, driven cop-in-charge who’s not afraid to be a woman in a man’s world. For me, she’s a role model; the kind of cop I’d like to be had I chosen a career in law enforcement. The murder mystery part is a tribute to Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Alfred Hitchcock and all those master sleuths and their makers who have made this world a much more interesting place!

2. Where did you draw your inspiration from?

Niki, the heroine, is my creation. She’s tough, she’s feminine, she’s a leader; compassion and dignity are her mantras. I did also have extensive interviews and discussions with senior women police officers to get a sense of the challenges and motivations on the job.

3. Tell us something about the place where your book is set in?

Sonargam…it’s a fictitious idyll in the hills of Himachal Pradesh, midway between Shimla and Kullu. It’s a quiet place nestled amidst the majestic silver oaks, with a silvery stream flowing in the valley, and a waterfall. There’s a botanical garden and a handful of shop and a restaurant at a vantage point that overlooks the waterfall. The people of Sonargam are smart and laid back. The place is understated and sublime, it’s the kind of place where I’d like to go to recharge, refresh, feel alive. If only it weren’t for the fact that it’s also the scene of a murder!

4. Why the fetish with the shoes? Realistically, Niki can’t even afford them on a cop’s salary.

Shoes rock my world (alongwith cappuccinos and crime). Can’t exactly say why. Maybe because they can make you feel tall and beautiful and sexy, and streamlined. And Niki likes her shoes to be sexy off duty because she has to wear cop shoes on duty. Have you ever seen cop shoes? They are comfortable I hope, because they certainly are not sexy! As for affordability; Niki’s a woman of simple tastes. Fast cars, high heels, nimbu paani (Indian lemonade: ed.), sizzling men.

5. Which part of researching the book was most interesting and why?

I loved researching the setting for Sonargam. Mostly because it involved checking out many lovely and serene places in the hills. Figuring out the plot and all its moving parts was a lot of fun too; you have to be a puppeteer almost, and have all your characters dance a perfectly choreographed, tightly scripted performance.

Copyright: Peggy Garbus

6. What are you reading right now?

Tarquin Hall’s latest in the Vish Puri series…The man who died laughing.

7. Who is your all time favorite author?

Impossible to name just one. No way. But if Jane Austen could fly down right now and pen a novel about society and women set in modern day India, I’d give an arm and leg to read it….

8. What does feminism mean to you?

In my view, there are three pressing issues that have a profound impact on women’s lives in the 21st century. Independence, dignity, and equality. Women can and should be allowed to take ownership of and responsibility for our bodies and our destiny. We should be free to choose whether we want to marry, bear children, pursue careers or give them up. No one else should have any say in that. I mention dignity because the proliferation of pornography in the internet age is really undermining how men perceive women. We are being objectified and that has to end. Equality of course has been on the agenda for a long time, and while there has been some progress, there is a long way to go, whether it is in terms of equal pay, equal opportunities, equal say.

9. When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

My grandfather used to tell all of us cousins stories at bedtime. He had a great imagination and we waited all day long for the sessions to begin. Once, he started a fantastic story about twelve princesses and three rakhshasa, and then he had to leave midway through. He asked me, the eldest cousin to finish off the story for the others. How much fun I had figuring out what happened to each of the princesses!!!

10. How long did it take for you to write the book?

A year.

11. What is your writing schedule?

I start early, and catch in an hour of writing before the rest of the family wakes up. It is my magical, bewitched, creative hour! The rest of the slog happens while the kids are at school…

12. Do you ever experience writers block?

All the time. But with experience, you learn ways around it. Usually doing something completely different works. The muse is like a young child, actually. It acts up and refuses to cooperate when you want it to. But the minute you stop paying it any attention, it comes sliding right up and plonks in your lap, clamoring for attention!

13. Can you tell us about the challenges in getting your first book published?

Luckily none. When I sent Piece of Cake to Penguin India in 2003; they loved it right away. The US is a different story altogether. what readers want here is very different from what readers in India want. So the task is kind of like selling a bollywood masala hit to a US audience. But I am hopeful, as the world and boundaries shrink, my writing should become more accessible to a wider audience.

14. Do you work with an outline? Or do you just write?

Both. You can’t get very far without knowing where you’re headed in a murder mystery. However, if you try to figure too much of it out in advance, then your characters start to feel very wooden and scripted. So I try to start with reasonably well thought out characters and have just the simplest of sketches for each scene,and then just go with the flow!

15. Have you ever written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?

Luckily, I have found a home for every novel I’ve written. That said, I have a few novels ‘resting’ on the back burner that I’ve started but have to figure out where I’m going with them!

16. How difficult was it to find a publisher?

In India, not difficult at all. India is a very exciting place to publish right now!!!

Interview: Roma Rajpal

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan


09.11.2012 | 16:06