Sniffing out a story

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 7 April 2018

Chatting up Vedashree Khambete-Sharma about her latest book, Swear You Won’t Tell?, a part thriller, a part whodunit, with school rivalries thrown in

Remember Mean Girls and its school groupism, Us vs Her game, in which Cady (Lindsay Lohan) finds herself entangled? Advertising professional Vedashree Khambete-Sharma’s Swear You Won’t Tell? runs on similar lines, but is far more sinister.

The soft target is Avantika Pandit up against Aisha Juneja and her gang of girls. Avantika’s only friend, Laxmi Swaminathan too goes over to Aisha’s group, thus making her schooling years very difficult. 

Avantika’s path crosses with Aisha’s again; she as a journalist sent to cover Aisha’s designer collection. In the midst of all this, Avantika learns that Laxmi’s dead. And, thus begins the chase, to find out what happened to her. 

Published by HarperCollins, Swear You Won’t Tell? blends school cliques with grown-ups’ inability to let bygones be bygones. Over to Khambete-Sharma...

Please tell us about your relationship with Mumbai/Bombay. The story couldn’t have been set anywhere else, but Mumbai. 
I’ve lived in Mumbai since it was Bombay, which is to say, for most of my life. I’d say my relationship with it is the kind a teenager has with her parents. When you live together every day, you find thousands of things to complain about. But stay apart long enough and you miss them feverishly. And you miss the oddest of things. I experienced that first hand when I studied in Pune for two years. There were days when I’d miss trips to the Dadar vegetable market with my dad! So yeah, it’s a city that’s a part of me for good.

There are footnotes and explanations, mostly whacky. Is that the advertising copy writing working itself into the narrative? Most Indians would know what a Satyanarayan pooja is or a rice plate. 
The footnotes are a tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite authors, who passed away a few years ago. It lets me explain concepts people outside Mumbai might be unfamiliar with. A friend who grew up in Mangalore had no idea what a rice plate is, for instance. Of course, sometimes I write footnotes just because it’s fun — which is the reason I write both advertising and fiction anyway.

Were you a part of Aisha’s group (or some popular groupie) in school? Or Avantika Pandit? 
Hahaha. I was definitely, absolutely, totally never part of a popular group in school. Quite the opposite, which in a sense makes me more like Avantika I guess.

How did you sum up your characters? Tell us in one word.
a) Avantika: Incorrigible
b) Uday: Sensible
c) Laxmi: Indignant
d) Aisha: Possessive

Your first book was set in advertising world. And, the second one is a crime genre. What’s next? 
I’m working on a sequel to Swear You Won’t Tell? Fingers crossed. 

Is the writing process easy when you are writing about a familiar milieu?
I won’t say it’s easy. Writing takes a lot out of you, irrespective of the milieu you’re writing about. Although adding in details to the setting is a little easier if you’re familiar with the turf. Otherwise, it’s a lot of research.

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