Tuesday, November 24, 2015

CRIME FICTION SET IN INDIA



During my teen years i.e. late 70s and early 80s, there were few or no crime fiction in English by Indian writers. Even if there were crime fiction books written by Indians, in English, and available in India, I definitely didn't have access to them or even heard of them. There was no internet in those days and finding any information in Bangalore was a Herculean task! 
The first crime fiction set in India I can recall reading were the books by HRF Keating featuring Inspector Ghote.

I don't recall which books of Keating's Ghote series, I read but I do remember the movie The perfect murder, featuring Naseeruddin Shah and Rathna Pathak. I loved this movie! Below is a list of 26 crime books by HRF Keating, featuring Inspector Ghote and supposedly set in India . The amazing thing I learned from Wikipedia is that Keating visited India only after he had written a few Inspector Ghote novels!

The Perfect Murder 1964

Inspector Ghote's crusade 1966

Inspector Ghote caught in meshes 1967

Inspector Ghote hunts the peacocks1968

Inspector Ghote plays a joker 1969

Inspector Ghote breaks an eggo 1970

Inspector Ghote goes by train 1971

Inspector Ghote trusts the heart 1972

Bats fly up for Inspector Ghote 1974

Filmi, Filmi Inspector Ghote  1976

Inspector Ghote draws a line 1979

The murder of the Maharajh 1980

Go west, Inspector Ghote 1981

The Sheriff of Bombay 1984

Under a monsoon cloud 1986

The body in the billiard room1987

Dead on time 1988

The Iciest sin 1990

Inspector Ghote , his life and crimes (1989) short story collection

Cheating death 1992

Doing wrong 1993

Asking questions 1996

Bribery, corruption also 1999

Breaking and entering 2000

Inspector Ghote's first case 2008

A small case for Inspector Ghote 2009

(Please read another article in this blog, "Complete list of crime fiction set in india(almost complete)" 






I discovered, in Canada, (I immigrated in 2004) the crime fiction novels set in New Delhi, written by a British author settled in New Delhi i.e. Tarquin Hall the books featuring Vish Puri a retired army officer and now a private detective with a host of  interesting employees, a lovable mother and wife. I enjoyed these books as they were funny, yet depicted the ugliness (and beauty)of India realistically. I think it's a fantastic feat to be able to write a realistic crime novel set in India which is not depressing and which has a satisfactory ending! Maybe I am too pessimistic about India and feel absolutely hopeless regarding the ethics of Indians in India.

His books are:

The case of the missing servant 2008

The case of the man who died laughing 2010

The case of the deadly butter chicken 2012

The case of the love commandos 2013


Vish Puri mentions that several cases coming for private investigation were of families checking into a prospective bridegroom’s background…does he smoke or drink? Did he have a girl-friend in the past? Has he really studied engineering or did he lie when he came to see the girl? When I read this bit in Hall’s book, I realized that the job of a private investigator in India may not be 'adventurous' but can be  hilarious! He also mentions a case where the house owner hired the private detective  to find out  if his tenant was a pure vegetarian as he claimed or did he cook non-veg in the house!

Apparently another book in the series is to be published shortly.

Noirs: Recently read the book, Delhi Noir’ edited by Hirsh Sawney and published by Akashic Books. It’s a collection of 14 short stories (crime fiction set in Delhi) by different writers. The writing styles of all the authors was fast paced & excellent and I finished the book in a day. Being crime stories, they held my attention.......but the stories did  kill what little innocence/naiveté I had in me!



What turned my stomach the most were the two themes which recurred often that is betrayal of trust and corrupt cops (corrupt cops is actually just betrayal again).   I am not even sure if I really 'enjoyed' reading the book.  I was revulsed by the stories but could not put the book down!  I have visited Delhi years ago and I was deeply disgusted by the men's behaviour toward women  in public places such as buses. The stories in this noir rang true, and this made the stories even more appalling. Every one of the stories could actually be true!


For a few days, after finishing this book, Delhi seemed to be the worst place on this planet with nary a decent soul in it and I thought that I should never ever revisit ! Of course, I recovered from this deep sense of revulsion. Daily interactions with decent people of Toronto and seeing decent actions daily  restored my faith in humanity pretty soon.



I started but did not finish the book Sacred games by Vikram Chandra set in Modern Mumbai. It was well written but as I said earlier, Indian crime fiction is too close to home to me for comfort!



I read 3 crime novels set in India i.e.(1) ''Six suspects by Vikas Swarup; (2) Aravind Adiga's 'Last man in tower' and The white tiger. These three books accurately reflect crime in India. Aravind Adiga's novels are both extremely real and stunning! Stunning because one's idea that criminals are a different category and not 'ordinary'people' is dispelled. I did complete these books but I did not enjoy them as I enjoyed the Vish Puri series. I was depressed and horrified, even though the crime  in these Indian crime fiction books were not as terrible as  in the 'foreign' crime fiction I am addicted to!





I recently enjoyed Vaseem Khan's  The unexpected inheritance of Inspector Chopra. It's set in Bombay & is a delightful read. I look forward to reading the next in the series The perplexing theft of the jewel in the crown. Khan has not glossed over the ugliness in India such as corruption.  Yet, he has managed to make this is a pleasant, feel-good book and that is a miracle! 

My brain cannot conceive a crime fiction story set in India which is both realistic and 'feel-good'.....an Indian  crime fiction can be EITHER  realistic OR feel-good but CANNOT BE BOTH !


While looking up Vaseem Khan's book on amazon, I came across two books, authored by Brian Stoddart and set in colonial India. The reviews were great and I hope I can get my hands on these books some time. (Unfortunately, they are not in TPL and I dont want to buy!) The books are: The Madras Miasma and The Pallampur predicament.



And while looking up the reviews of Stoddart's books, I discovered another author who has written crime fiction set in colonial India i.e. Barbara Cleverly. If I remember right, I think, I did try a book of hers, but could not finish it. I should give her a try again. Her books set in colonial India are: 


The last Kashmiri rose

Ragtime in Simla

The Damascened blade

The palace tiger

Joe Sandilands is the chief protagonist in the 4 novels above. He continues to be in many other crime novels but the remaining novels are not set in India and so I am not listing them here. If I get round to reading these, I will speak of what I thought of these books.


Today, January 24th, 2016, for the first time ever (sooo late!) it crossed my mind to look up crime fiction from Karnataka and Bangalore my home state and town. Googling for crime fiction from Karnataka, I came across a single name i.e. N.Narasimhiah and read a write up about him in the Hindu, after his death(http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/n-narasimhaiah-passes-away/article2748505.ece). I was depressed to see that, though he was an original crime fiction writer, he died in poverty and had difficulty paying for his medical bills! This reflects how unrewarding it is to be creative in countries like India! A crime fiction writer in any developed country would not die in poverty like in India! Who is responsible for this? The callous government who don't do enough to encourage the artists and the arts? The publishers who don't pay the writers, what they deserve? The readers for not reading locally written books? The writer himself for not being smart enough to survive the dog-eat-dog world of today?



I also discovered today (Jan 24th 2016) a crime fiction set in Bangalore, my home town! It's by Nilanjan P Choudhury and called 'The case of the secretive sister'. It's supposed to be funny and I am looking forward to reading it! I have to buy it on Amazon or wait till I go to India!



I read (March 2016) a crime fiction set in Bangalore, the city of my birth and where I lived for the first three decades of my life. It is Anita Nair's Cut like wound. And the best thing for me is that the hero is a Gowda like me! I never ever dreamt that one day, a  creative soul would create a Gowda detective hero and that readers all over the world would read about a Bore Gowda from Bangalore who eats ragi mudde and solves crimes!




Most Indians would have heard of the film maker Sathyajit Ray; However few outside Bengal would be aware that he has written crime fiction for children, both novels and comics. I discovered this aspect of Sathyajit Ray, only after I came to Canada and in my 40s! I then bought some of these books, when I visited Bangalore.  Sathyajit Ray created a character Feluda, who's a Calcutta based private detective. I did enjoy the few books and comics of Feluda which I read.(the list of Feluda books is in another article in this blog, titled, 'The complete list of crime fiction set in India...almost complete'.


I am looking forward to reading the short stories of Byomkesh Bakshi by Bengali writer Saradindu Bandyopadhyaya. Byomkesh is a detective and the stories are set in Calcutta. (Borrowing the book The Menagerie and other Byomkesh Bakshi mysteries from TPL) I will write my review after I read the stories featuring this famous fictional Calcutta dhoti-clad detective.


I would like to add a few other crime fiction comics, written for children in India, probably in the late 60s and 70s which I read as a child. These include Shooja and Daboo comics, which came in  Sudha, a Kannada magazine. I loved these comics! I also remember reading Bahadur comics, in English, published by Indrajal comics. The Shooja and Daboo comices had Kannada script (published as a serial in the Kannada magazine Sudha)while the Bahadur comics i read were in English. 


Today i.e. 26th November 2015, I discovered (I have been searching online for years!) that the author of the Bahadur comic published by Indrajal comics is Abid Surti,/Aabid Surti a man with several talents.
You can read about him in wikepedia(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abid_Surti)


Bharath Murthy, the author of The article An art without a tradition-A survey of Indian comics written by  published in Marg Magazine, Vol 61, No 2, December 2009  has said in this article that it is Aabid Surti who has created, in the 70s, the character Shuja, the Desi version of Tarzan  who became a beloved comic book character.


Yippee !My hours of persistence on Google finally paid off! I discovered today, (Nov 26th 2015) that Daboo, a favorite science-fiction/crime comic strip of my childhood, which was about  the adventures of a teenage boy and his professor friend in a Kannada weekly magazine called Sudha was written by a cartoonist called Pran Kumar Sharma.
To read more about this, you should  Google for the blog 'The world of silly boy', and look for the August 4th 2011 article, The adventure of Daboo

However, I still have my reservations about crime fiction set in India ; I have penned my thoughts in another article of mine in this blog, titled, 'Why I cannot read crime fiction set in India'.


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