Anuja Chauhan takes a stab at the murder mystery genre and skewers elitism in the process ♦
This story was originally published in India Today.
It’s hard to say whether the characters in Anuja Chauhan’s five previous novels were as loathsome as the ones in her newest, Club You to Death, or whether elite Indian society has simply become so cringeworthy that it is almost unbearable to look at its reflection in Chauhan’s first murder mystery. Certainly it is simpler to overlook the prejudices and follies of the privileged of another era, for example 1980s Delhi, in Chauhan’s 2015 novel, The House that BJ Built.
Chauhan’s protagonists are never morally uncomplicated: her heroines are often feisty and her heroes cocky, but to even refer glancingly (as some promotional material does), to this novel as a “romance” is wide of the mark. The only sympathetic character is kindly “Papa Bear” ACP Bhavani, an unlikely upstanding Delhi cop. The suspects, members and staff of the “Delhi Turf Club” (a stand-in for the Delhi Gymkhana Club), are a selfish, limited lot. Even young hotshot human rights lawyer Kashi Dogra, a man most conflicted about his place in this social circle, is, to some extent, trapped within it. The novel opens with his parents’ lament that Kashi isn’t taking up his coveted permanent membership at the DTC, but there’s a sense throughout the book that he might yet succumb, not only to the allure of the old club, but also his ex-girlfriend, club princess Bambi Todi. Romance in this novel looks like a horror-show parody, love reflected in a funhouse mirror. It almost seems like in this world there can be no other kind.
The novel is satirical, but humorous rather than scathing. Chauhan’s deftly worked caricatures are almost affectionately drawn, as she lightly lays bare the contradictions and complexities of Delhi high society. The stereotypes are familiar (see Ravi Shankar Etteth’s Killing Time in Delhi for a similar cast) but distinctly memorable. At times the rendering into English of different registers of Hindi or Hinglish can be slightly jarring, though not inaccurate.
Chauhan’s wit and way with words are as solid as ever, with plenty of laugh-out-loud zingers. The pace and plotting are also skillfully engineered with plot twists and slow reveals. These keep the novel engaging, even though it remains difficult to invest in the redemption of any of the characters or their relationships. Chauhan writes about India’s exclusive club culture from a place of love, maybe even nostalgia, yet as a new national order threatens the security of a centuries-old way of life, she makes no attempt to defend its elitist legacy either.