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Murder, she wrote

A SCRIBE'S TALE Swati Chaturvedi  

At the heart of journalist Swati Chaturvedi’s debut novel is a brutal crime — the murder of a young girl and the journey of a journalist intent upon solving it. Around this centre, Chaturvedi weaves an intricate web of lies and intrigue, scandals and violence, political manoeuvres and social constructs, till “Daddy’s Girl” can no longer neatly fit into just one category or genre — a thriller that packs the punch of the complex, chaotic reality it is set in.

Excerpts from an interview:

Before we move on to the story, let’s begin with the process of writing, and the style itself. Was it difficult, to move from reportage to fiction?

Writing is draining. The process of just sitting down and writing a book requires so much discipline. Journalists learn to write to a word limit. So, to just sit down and write so much initially really daunted me. I questioned if I’d be able to write a whole book. I remember being irritable, exhausted, my shoulders aching. It isn’t easy. I don’t think anyone would do it if they weren’t completely driven. But in the end, it’s worth it, and it’s fun.

And word limit isn’t the only thing that changes, is it? From chasing stories yourself, fiction lets you create not just the story, but also a reporter to chase it, all a product of your own creativity…What kind of discipline does it require, to maintain a balance between fact and fiction?

It depends on three things — the depth and the nuance and the voice. For newspapers, we are trained to be as factual as can be. Honestly, it was difficult for me to be less factual, to tell a story with colour. One is so trained to just give the how, what and why usually. To go beyond that was important to me personally and was a challenge. I hope I managed. At the same time, I didn’t want to become too flowery either. The point was to show readers what a journalist goes through every day; to show those interactions between reporters and sources, and how everything becomes so strained, so cut and dry, and how it is important to find your own humanity and humility in it. How it is easy to get so detached.

Trouble is, I don’t get detached. In fact, I am a billion per cent invested in every story I do, but I have trained myself to move on after each one. But I wanted to show people how journalists chase their stories obsessively and how it gives you a high. Their life is never routine, there is always something new. That’s what I wanted to bring to the book. I didn’t want too many descriptions, but more dialogues, to show what typically goes on in a newsroom — the insider’s view.

The story you’ve written — the murder of young girl in her affluent home — will remind readers of the Aarushi Talwar case. But you say that the book isn’t based on the case.

My first job was as a crime reporter, and I covered many, many murders. I also love reading murder mysteries and thrillers. While writing the book, it got to a point where I was actually questioning myself in terms of the Aarushi Talwar case, but no, it isn’t based on that case. Yes, it’s the murder of a young girl, but there have been so many such murders. The story draws from so many other cases that I have covered. The ones you might not have even heard of since they haven’t been widely reported.

Also, the book, if you notice, is not just about the murder. It is also a reflection on politics, on society, on how modern India treats people, how there are different rules for different classes. It shows you how, if you are rich in India, how badly you can treat people and how easily you can get away with it. How you aren’t even accountable sometimes, and how, as long as your public persona is respectable, privately you can get away with murder.

The story is fiction that’s heavily influenced by my experiences, and profession. If you’ve worked for 15-20 years as a journalist, there is so much that you process, and of course you get a point of view into politics and media.

Even so, why choose this story and this crime? What made you pick crime in middle class India as the premise?

Actually, I hadn’t given the “why” much thought yet. I just felt like writing about it. It is a world I know well. I didn’t want to take a leap into the unknown where I had no clue, especially with my first book. I have written another non-fiction for Juggernaut, but this was my first fiction. I wanted to write about something that I could have some perspective and understanding of.

I also find the urban India fascinating. It is changing so fast, and this change is causing a lot of dichotomy and a lot of tension we see today. On one side you have access to world class facilities and on the other hand there are beef bans and morality policing of women in skirts. It’s a very interesting time to be a journalist.



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Printable version | Mar 9, 2021 3:27:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Murder-she-wrote/article14616022.ece

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