Interview | Author Anita Nair on the third instalment in her Inspector Gowda series, ‘Hot Stage’

Her series set in Bengaluru is as much a work of fiction as it is a reflection of the society around us, says Anita Nair

December 08, 2023 09:45 am | Updated 10:46 am IST

The one word to describe all three of Anita Nair’s Inspector Gowda novels would be the Merriam-Webster word for this year: authentic. In?Hot Stage, the third and latest instalment, the cop goes about first uncovering homicides, then solving a whodunnit in the contemplative yet brisk and wholly authentic manner readers are now familiar with. In an email interview, Nair talks about Borei Gowda and his new case. Edited excerpts:

‘Cut Like Wound’.?‘Chain of Custody’.?‘Hot Stage’. These are terms policemen would be familiar with, not so much the lay public. What is the meaning of the title of your third Inspector Gowda novel and why did you settle on this term?

‘Hot stage’ refers to a key step in a method used in evaluating glass particles found on a victim or at a crime scene, and is a valuable tool in gathering trace forensic evidence. Basically, what it does is use the refractive index of the glass to determine its source. I loved the possibilities of what it suggested. And in this third Inspector Gowda novel, ‘hot stage’ has multiple meanings: the evidence that leads to the scene of crime, of the hot stage in the course of an investigation as in the breakthrough, and the book’s figurative hot stage — where the crime happens.?

Is fearless, intelligent, middle-class Inspector Gowda growing with each story or did he fall into your head fully-formed at the time of the first novel?

Inspector Gowda as the fearless, intelligent, middle-class Bengaluru man is how he happened in my head. But how fearless and intelligent he could be is something I discovered for myself during the writing of?Cut Like Wound, the first novel in the series. We see Gowda pull himself together and shrug off ennui in both his personal and professional life. In?Chain of Custody, the second novel, he evolved into a man with a renewed purpose, a hard-headed investigator who cannot let things be. This is the Gowda we meet in the first pages of?Hot Stage.

All three books are intensely Bengaluru- centric, giving people a glimpse of just what ails the city: its dying lakes, its over-construction, the politician-industrialist nexus, the mountains of stinking garbage... Does Inspector Gowda mirror the author’s gaze?

In many ways, Gowda echoes my thoughts and feelings, and it is especially true about what is destroying Bengaluru. As land values escalate, the nature of crime acquires a more horrifying edge. The Gowda series is set in a fictitious area based on the neighbourhood I have lived in for more than two decades now. I have seen it change and not always for the better. But Gowda isn’t just my mouthpiece. His viewpoint is drawn also from his upbringing and his nature, which isn’t the straight and narrow.?

There is a running theme in this book, albeit subtle, of ageing people, and their feelings of helplessness and fury. Is this a concern you are voicing as an author or something more personal?

I have very elderly parents. My mother-in-law will be 100 in January. I have elderly relatives and friends. As a person, it distresses me no end to see them fade into shadows of their former selves. As a writer, it makes me want to know how they feel about what growing old has done to them. So with?Hot Stage, it was more than just a plot point and became a study on the helpless fury of ageing.?

What kind of research did this book call for??

Lurking?around dodgy bars. Consulting with MMA fighters. Exploring my neighbourhood with a fine-tooth comb to build on the plot and the setting. And initiating conversations with just about anyone willing to talk to me on the various points of interest in?Hot Stage, be it dentures, passports, boiled eggs or illegal fights.?

The themes in the book are all hot topics: religion, bigotry, concretisation of a city, bad roads, terrible crimes. But they are treated in a dispassionate manner. Is that distance a device you have deliberately adopted for your police procedurals?

Yes, this distance is drawn from how Gowda views what he does. For Gowda, crime is always violent; it destroys the order of things, be it murder or a fiscal crime. The criminal is a creature ruled by a dangerous passion. Hence, Gowda believes that the investigator must be dispassionate and not allow his prejudices to taint his process.?

The interviewer is a Bengaluru-based author, journalist and manuscript editor.

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