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“The DTC’s website declares it to be a world in itself – ‘a haven of graciousness and elegance, merging the historical past with the modern present’ – and on this particular winter morning, with the sun out, and the white colonial main bungalow gleaming in the middle of the sprawling thirty-two-acre lawn like a Fabergé egg in a bed of emerald-green velvet, the claim does seem to ring true. Pillared, bougainvillea-festooned verandahs fan out from the main bungalow like fine filigree work; there is the glint of swimming pool turquoise, tennis court ochre, and skating rink peat in the distance, and a giant arch of multicolored helium balloons sways airily across the East Lawn.”
It’s a picture-perfect Tambola Sunday at a fictional Delhi Turf Club, touted as the capital’s oldest, poshest, and most exclusive club—where regular people have to wait thirty-seven years and pay a seven-and-a-half lakh waiting fee for membership. The following morning, the club’s highly sought-after gym trainer is found mysteriously poisoned and crushed to death beneath a loaded bar. All of the club’s high-profile members (read ‘snobs’)—who make up the story’s central characters—are suspects. As the plot unfolds and investigations into the suspected murder begin, a number of skeletons begin to gradually tumble out of the closet and murky secrets are uncovered.
Bestselling Indian author, advertiser, and screenwriter Anuja Chauhan‘s latest book Club You to Death (HarperCollins, 2021) is a whodunit with a quintessential twist in the tale. The elite club and its culture, with several references among other things to the politics of its elections—complete with bribes and kickbacks—is at the center of this gripping novel. Further, as the story puts the focus on the rich, privileged, and entitled (read ‘spoilt’) young population of Delhi, it throws a light on India’s huge class divide. In a sense, the book rightly projects the club as a symbol of the privilege of elitism and ossified class stratification—especially, in a country where millions struggle merely for basic survival.
An out-and-out urban tale set in contemporary India, Chauhan’s book has all the makings of a nail-biting potboiler with its twists and turns that leave you guessing right till the very end. Set in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, the prose keeps routinely throwing up images of well-known roads and neighborhoods—such as Shantipath, Aurangzeb Road, Vasant Vihar, Chattarpur, and Panchsheel Park—situated in the country’s capital. Its 400-plus pages will be over in no time and have you hankering for more.
Chauhan’s previous books include The Zoya Factor (2008), Battle for Bittora (2010), Those Pricey Thakur Girls (2013), The House That BJ Built (2015), and Baaz (2017). She worked at the JWT advertising agency in India for over 17 years, becoming vice-president and executive creative director before resigning in 2010 to pursue a full-time literary career. Recently, Chauhan’s 2013 book Those Pricey Thakur Girls was also adapted into a web series called Dil Bekaraar on Hotstar. In the following interview, Chauhan spoke to Neha Kirpal about her book Club You to Death, how it is different from her previous books, and more.
Tell us how you came up with the story for your latest crime thriller Club You to Death.
AC: I love writing romance, my toes curl up and tingle just as much as anybody else’s. But even so, I was starting to feel a little trapped in the classic romance format. But I do love the propulsive thrust a romance gives to a novel, the reader stays with it to see how the couple gets together.
So, you can tackle family serious themes, like superstition (The Zoya Factor), toxic patriotism (Baaz), corruption in politics (Battle for Bittora), and you still don’t lose a restless reader because you have the romance to carry the reader along. A murder provides a similar propulsive thrust – so, I thought a whodunnit could be a format I could attempt.
How is it different from your previous books?
AC: Well, it’s funny and it’s romantic, so in that sense, it’s similar to my previous offerings. But the romance here is more of an ex-romance, which is a fresh flavor for me and was therefore great fun to write. And of course, it’s different because my genial, homely looking, almost-sixty ACP, Bhavani Singh (whom I loved creating!), is in there trying to catch a killer.
Why did you decide to set the book in the pulsating heart of Lutyens’ Delhi?
AC: I wanted to write about privilege, entitlement, social hierarchies, and the perils involved when somebody attempts to cross over one to the other. So, a posh exclusive club seemed to be the ideal setting. And which club can be more posh or exclusive than one set in the pulsating heart of Lutyens’ Delhi?
I loved the roster of characters the club setting gave me – I could throw in retired generals and ex-bureaucrats, cougar aunties and their ne’er-do-well offspring, a thoroughly harassed club president, bickering committees, any number of beautiful young dependent members – you get the picture!
Which are some of your favorite horror/crime books?
AC: I’m not a grisly horror fan, but I love the early Stephen King novels just for the way he writes them. The Shining is my absolute favorite. I’ve reread it a million times. And of course, there’s no topping Agatha Christie for crime. I have all her books and I love them all. I’m also very fond of GK Chesterson’s Father Brown series.
What else have you worked on?
AC: I was commissioned for the movie screenplay of Sardar Ka Grandson, a cross-border family film whose screenplay I’ve written, starring Neena Gupta, Arjun Kapoor, and John Abraham. And the Hotstar-Disney adaptation of Those Pricey Thakur Girls is being shot as we speak.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.