Interview with Meeti Shroff-Shah, Author of "The Death Of Kirti Kadakia -A Temple Hill Mystery"
on Aug 31, 2022
Meeti is an award-winning copywriter, content writer, and mother (though no awards for this yet). When she isn’t busy writing ads that make toothpaste sound like an aphrodisiac, Meeti can be found with a cup of ginger tea, gazing contently at the yellow Gulmohar outside her window and plotting the murder of perfectly innocent people. Meeti lives with her husband and daughter in Mumbai.
Frontlist: How did the character of Radhika Zaveri come into being?
Meeti: Creating Radhi was a balancing act. I wanted her to have some similarities to me, so that I could guess how she would react in a given situation and so that I could describe her world and her experiences authentically, but at the same time I wanted enough distance from her so that I could make her say and do things that I wouldn’t dream of. I could make her rebellious and slightly neurotic and send her off on exciting adventures.
This is why, like me, Radhi is a writer from Temple Hill but unlike me, she isn’t a wife or mother – which leaves enough space in her life for new characters to come and go.
Frontlist: In one of your Instagram posts, you mentioned that it took you over two years to write this book. How was the journey?
Meeti: The journey of writing this book was hard for me and I often asked myself why I was putting myself through it. This was my first time writing fiction, which meant there was a lot of self-doubt and a lot of false starts. At one point, I wrote 30,000 words of the story, then decided that it was rubbish and shelved the project for a whole year. Later, during the pandemic, when I returned to it, I realized it had potential, but I needed to change a lot of the characters and motives, etc. So there was a lot of rethinking and replotting that happened at different stages of the writing process.
Also, since a large part of this book was written during the peak of the pandemic, it meant that there was no help at home and that my family was at home all the time. Which made it difficult to find long stretches of uninterrupted time to work in. But on the flip side, the pandemic also meant that we were not going anywhere or meeting anyone and that each day was exactly the same as the one before it, which really reduced the noise in my head and helped me find focus during the short pockets of time which I did manage to carve out for myself.
Frontlist: The book effectively gives the reader a glimpse into life at Temple Hill in a way that feels as if you are there in the moment with the book’s characters. How does it feel to be able to pen down and describe the place where you grew up in your book?
Meeti: Mumbai or Bombay has been featured extensively in literature as well as popular media like films and tv shows. Sometimes, the focus has been on the glitzy Bollywood side of it, at other times, the cameras have lingered over the Queen’s Necklace and the romance of the colonial architecture in Fort and Churchgate. And still, other stories have explored its crowded trains and slums and its gritty underbelly. But I’ve rarely seen Malabar Hill with its conservative Gujarati ethos and its ancient Jain temples nestled amidst bakeries and art galleries, featured in books and films. So to answer your question, it was exciting to write about this neighborhood. I love its wide, Gulmohar-lined streets and the way the temples coexist so confidently amidst the trappings of everyday modern life. And it was an absolute pleasure to bring it to life in my book.
Frontlist: The Death of Kirti Kadakia talks about the secrets lurking behind the lavish lifestyle of the citizens of Temple Hill and provides a social commentary as the mystery of the murder unfolds. What would you like to say about these dual lives that we often live?
Meeti: Temple Hill is a privileged world, but it is also a world that is governed by a lot of rules. It has exacting standards and failure to meet those standards results in swift and severe repercussions. This world is conservative and close-knit, people have been living here for generations which means familial bonds and neighborly relationships are old and strong, but at the same time, it also means that everybody knows everybody’s business and has an opinion on it.
The Death of Kirti Kadakia explores the cost of living in this society. The pressures it exerts, the expectations it sets, and the terrible price people must pay to keep up appearances.
Frontlist: What kind of feedback you’ve got so far from International readers who consider this book ‘A Mumbai Murder Mystery’?
Meeti: Internationally, people have really loved and reacted to the world of the book. They’ve been fascinated with glimpses into Gujarati culture and customs. The food especially. A lot of the reviews have said that the book left them feeling hungry – which was really fun for me to read because food is a very important part of our world. As strict vegetarians, there are many restrictions on what we can and cannot eat, and yet or maybe because of it, our food is inventive and nuanced. With menus that are sensitive to the changing seasons and complex techniques which have been passed down through generations, a Gujarati meal is a literal burst of flavors, textures, and colors and Gujaratis are proud of their culinary heritage. So I am glad that the cultural richness of the world has seeped into the book.
Mysteries are equal parts about the puzzle and equal parts about the world they are set in. And in the case of A Mumbai Murder Mystery, both aspects have been appreciated equally.
Frontlist: What are your plans for the upcoming books in the Temple Hill series?
Meeti: I am halfway through the next book in the series where Radhi is all set to solve a murder in a matrimonial bureau. And I can confirm that there will definitely be the third mystery as well – after that, I don’t know what Radhi’s plans are.