Title: Swear You Won’t Tell?
Author: Vedashree Khambete-Sharma
Pages: 231; Price: Rs. 299
Part memoir, part coming of age novel; spiced with a measure of mystery, a dash of danger and topped with a soupçon – just a hint mind you – of romance, Vedashree Khambete-Sharma’s Swear You Won’t Tell? narrates the story of thirty-something Avantika Pandit – a journalist and a single woman, trying to cope with the realities of her profession, even as she grapples with a mild existential crisis in her own life.
Avantika has joined The Mumbai Daily, paper on the urging of her friend Uday Desai, after a contretemps at her last job forces her to leave that publication. Fiercely independent, and a dashing sort of modern working woman, Avantika is all fired up with the zest to prove herself as a serious reporter. But alas! She is given no opportunity to do so. Her bête noire, none other than the editor himself, Nathan, constantly fobs her off with candy floss stories – listicles as she calls them.
Her latest assignment is to attend a press conference of a handbag designer-entrepreneur. Horror of horrors, the designer, Aisha Juneja, is a former schoolmate of Avantika’s with whom she shared a very bad relationship growing up. Avantika was not just the butt of mean bullying, but, what was worse, Aisha had managed to win over her best friend, Laxmi; thus leaving Avatika virtually friendless in the last years at school.
Avantika reluctantly drags herself to the conference. One thing leads to another, and Avantika finds herself propelled into doing an interview with Aisha. When she lands at the latter’s home, she runs into Aisha’s brother Dhruv. The dimpled, gorgeous, divorced Druv. An ace photographer to boot. And yes, the love interest – not counting Uday, the chum, the anchor.
But Aisha is not at home. She has had to rush off, Avantika is told, to identify a body which has turned up at the city morgue. The woman, who has ostensibly drowned, is suspected to be Laxmi, as eventually identified by Aisha and Laxmi’s father. She had earlier run away from home we are told, as she wanted to be with the love of her life, but no one knows who that is or where she has been in the interim. When Avantika hears of Laxmi’s death, which looks to be murder, old memories, affection and loyalty surface in her mind. And, parallel to her own work at the newspaper, she begins privately investigating Laxmi’s death.
A visit to Laxmi’s home to condole with her mother puts her in proximity to the desk with the secret drawer, she remembers from her childhood days when she had spent so many hours at her than best friend Laxmi’s house. Hidden inside she finds a diary with passionate love poems. Obviously, there was someone in Laxmi’s life. But who was it? And why did she have to run away? Avantika muses. Surely her parents would have eventually come around?
Swear You Won’t Tell? brings a fresh voice into the Indian crime novel arena. The book is a breezy read; humorous and contemporary in its sensibilities to the very end. Its people and relationships are ones that any young man or woman can identify with. Real, but not stereotypical in the old-fashioned sense.
The one thing that drove me distracted and almost cross-eyed, was the strange compulsion of using footnotes! Generally, they are used for a specific purpose: To give you the name of the book from which a reference is drawn, a statistic is culled, etc. One hardly ever comes across footnotes in fiction writing, and most especially not if it is but an add-on, or extension, of what is already being written.
In this case, the footnotes, as well written as the rest of the book, would have only added to the main text. Their use only served to artificially cut the body of the text. At another level, they seem utterly pompous. As if the book was being written for some foreign audience to whom every reference had to be spelt out. Despite this, Swear You Won’t Tell? is an endearing story, and an extremely fun read.