Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Is crime fiction set in India unenjoyable as it's too close to home for me? Yes. 

 But as one sentence, does not an article make, even if covers, all that one wants to say,  I will be writing  a little bit  more than one sentence!

For reasons I myself do not fully understand, I can’t bring myself to read crime fiction set in India. I am trying to explore my mind and find out why. I am an Indian and lived in India almost all my life and know India pretty well. I know about real crime in India as much as a middle class, urban lady leading a relatively safe and protected life would know.

I am now trying to analyze why the hell I can’t bear the thought of reading crime fiction set in India and these are the reasons I come up with. Maybe the true reasons are buried in my unconscious and some psychologically gifted reader may have to dredge it out of the unconscious for me!
· Being Indian, I know the full extent of crime and corruption in India. In most crime fiction, there is justice at the end and even if it is poetic justice, I find it believable and therefore I feel satisfied when I read.

Knowing that 99% of the Police in India are corrupt, that the Justice system is excruciatingly slow and rotten to some extent, I am skeptical when I think of crime (even if it is fiction) set in India. The concept of a realistic but rosy ending to an Indian crime story where the villain is found and punished seems impossible even in fiction. Let me explain why.

I love fiction but it has to appear plausible or probable to me; and to even conceptualize about crimes being solved or the criminals getting their just desserts seems unreal in India....It is not that the crimes are so complex or the criminals are so terribly intelligent that it is impossible to solve crimes. The reasons the crimes are not solved and justice not got in India is because of corruption in the Police and the lack of interest of the police to solve crimes or book criminals.

To some extent, the lack of training, the low calibre of people who make up the police force, the poor pay scales of the policemen, the need to pay a huge bribe to get employed in the police force are all factors contributing to poor caliber  policemen . Various social & psychological factors in India such as inequality, castism, people's fear of getting involved in anything, etc. are other factors contributing to crime against people in India. Various offences are not even recognized to be criminal by the perpetrators, the victims, the general public or the people. For example, giving and taking bribes is so common that no one blinks an eye when it happens. People have become so accustomed to so many types of offences, that they just take it in their stride and do not object, let along complain to the police.

I have come across so many types of abuse in India where no one tries to stop it, protest, help the victim. So many women are molested in public, for example on buses, trains or streets but the people just watch or look away or some even enjoy watching the abuse! Rarely does someone try to stop it, protest or help the victim. In a country, where so many crimes and offences happen and people are indifferent, it is impossible for me to even imagine a heroic figure, fighting crime!

Reading about the crimes happening in India, daily, on the internet, I feel depressed, helpless and frustrated. The crimes against women, against children, against the Dalits in various parts of India wears me down. I hurriedly avoid items such as’ tiger killed in reserve’ or ‘elephant electrocuted’ as I find these items even more disturbing (e.g. killing of wild animals by poachers or villagers who are angered by wild animals which destroy their crops). The wide range and humungous quantity of crimes is so appalling. To think of a crime fighter against these overwhelming odds, seems impossible, implausible, improbable...take your pick!

I do know that in most cases in India, there is no justice for the victims especially if they belong to the poorer classes. In India, the victims are often further victimized by the police. The criminals commit crime with impunity; the police look away or are hand-in-glove with the criminals. It is 'stretching credibility' to even think of criminals getting punished and victims getting justice. So I cannot enjoy Indian crime fiction knowing fully well that there is no justice except between the covers of fiction books. It is simply impossible for me to suspend disbelief, even for the duration of reading the Indian crime fiction book.
One example to illustrate the above point is :There are millions of women of lower castes, rural areas, illiterate who work for the upper castes in states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, etc. These women are routinely abused and various crimes committed against them. Even if a few are foolishly optimistic enough to dare to complain to the police, the police will never ever take action against the upper class, upper caste goons. Instead these women may be further subjected to humiliation or worse, some more abuse in the police station itself!

One frequently heard set of true stories in India is about some poor soul dragged to the police station and accused of a crime and punished while the real criminal is out there! This is done for various reasons such as the police need to show they have solved a crime or they want to punish a person for some reason. So I am always skeptical when I hear of a crime being solved or a criminal being caught. Often, people belonging to certain communities or religions or castes are victimized in this way by the police. Knowing this, how can I enjoy Indian crime fiction? I know for a fact that women especially Muslim women, Hindu women of lower castes, and the poor and all people of lower castes would never ever go to a police station to complain....especially in rural areas where the police force is much worse. The police treat them worse than the criminals against whom they want to complain. To me, at least 50% of the Indian police are criminals in uniform, with greater power than the criminals.

· Once while talking to the wife of a 'rich' police officer, I commented on corruption in the police. She said, when others are making money, what is wrong if her husband makes money? Interacting with the wives and children of these 'well-to-do' police officers, I realized that the wives and children never question or confront the corrupt police man. They are silent. They enjoy the benefits of his corruption i.e. a lavish lifestyle, getting into good universities with his money or influence, getting into elite clubs, etc. The double standards in their families are interesting... The children of the family are not supposed to lie to their parents, steal, bunk classes etc. However, the corrupt police officer that is the adult family member, does all the things the children are not supposed to do … work, he takes bribes, is brutal, is unfair, intimidates, breaks rules, etc.

· Just looking at the affluence of the police officers which are in contrast to the actual salaries they earn, I perceive them as criminals than as crime fighters.

· The few times I have confronted corrupt people about their corruption, they smoothly explain, how they are actually doing a service, how they are less corrupt when compared to others, how much they have helped people (helping their relatives and friends using their contacts), how everyone is corrupt and how insane he would look if he behaved differently!

· One remarkable thing in India.... The honest people appear embarrassed and awkward in parties and get-togethers as if they are the freaks while the corrupt are able to socialize smoothly! The honest cannot afford to give expensive presents  at parties and have not helped relatives and friends using their the sense of self-consciousness & discomfort at parties. On the other hand, the corrupt in India who are utterly shameless, are cheerful, gregarious and boisterous in parties! 

There is an unexplored gold-mine  for researchers of psychology, sociology, political science, economics, etc   if they want to understand the  behaviour of honest people in India. It is simply impossible for honest decent people in India to be socially adept.

  Many people are either corrupt or worship the corrupt as they are 'successful' or are ignorant that a person is corrupt. If an honest person  is aware that a person he is dealing with is corrupt, he has to be so detached and mature and socially skillful to deal with the corrupt person in a manner where he does not yield to corruption and also be polite and not be abused. Very very few people have such social skills and self-confidence unfortunately. 

With so much privatization in India, post 1980s, I assume that there is less corruption in the private companies. But who knows? The corrupt government expects bribes from all private companies who expect to run in India and so there is some corruption when they are forced to bribe the government officials and they they have to make up for that expenditure somehow!

· When 99% are corrupt, the 1% who are honest, are the exceptions i.e." abnormal". If the criteria for normality is "Normal behaviour is the behaviour shown by majority of people", then, in India, the few who are honest are the freaks or mad or abnormal!

One major issue in India is that many crimes are NOT recognized as crimes even by the police! The attitudes towards many criminal behaviours are  typically  ignorant, patriarchial, retarded and illiterate! when a woman complains to the police (or anyone) that she is beaten severely by he husband, they will not 'take her complaint' but advise her to 'get along ' with him and send her back. I will add more examples to this later. Giving and taking bribes is another thing not considered as criminal behaviour but instead considered as a 'norm' by many people in India. 

· The Indian personality types I have come across are not like the crime fiction personalities I know and admire. I admire the heroes of the western crime fiction books I read.... I do know that these fictitious personalities are so interesting because they are fictitious and not real. Yet, at the time I am reading the book, they feel so real; I can suspend my 'disbelief ' and cry when they are hurt and feel happy when they are happy!

· I think the childhood life and upbringing and life styles of most Indians makes them develop personalities, not cut out to be the dashing heroes of crime fiction. To me, all Indians are so deeply trained to obey elders, respect their parents, that as adults, they end up being obedient rather than dashing, heroic and adventurous! Also the value system in India, the strong family ties, the presence of extended families, makes me think of an Indian as a domesticated person with an entangled family life than a hero fighting crime to save the world! Can there ever be an Indian "Lone Ranger"? Of course not! Every Indian has at least 3 dozen relatives.....except maybe orphans in orphanages.

· I can easily visualize an Indian detective who is struggling to cope with the bickering between his wife and mother, struggling to get a job, get a house and a car, get his kids educated and get his daughters married ; But I simply cannot visualize an Indian hero who will follow criminals, catch them red-handed and fight them using his muscles.

· Physically too I can only conjure up a puny, short Indian or a pot-bellied one than a James Bond type with muscles and brains!I find the characters in the western fiction extremely attractive . The fact that many are single or have a girl friend or boy friend or are having affairs with beautiful exciting people makes the reading exciting. Rarely is a crime fiction hero/heroine in American or European books married. An Indian private detective or police officer, who is single or having a girl friend or boy friend or an affair is implausible/impossible! And if like most real-life Indians, they are respectably married then they do not seem exciting !

Post 2000, I am discovering that many Indians have become body and health conscious. There are many gyms opening and a lot of the urban people are exercising, etc. Care of physical health and looks was not so widespread before the 90s. So with people, more looks and health conscious now, I assume, we can look forward to 'fitter' Indian detectives in crime fiction too!

· It is impossible for me to conjure up a realistic, exciting heroic Indian character solving crimes. The nearest I can think of an exciting heroic person is possibly Amitabh Bachan in an old movie called Zanjeer....That is not even a book but a movie.

· I do not see traits of gallantry in Indian men.... I have seen simply too many Indian men elbowing women to get seats in buses; seen men striding ahead empty-handed while their wives walk behind them carrying heavy grocery bags and maybe a kid too; So if I even read of a fictional Indian hero who is gallant, I will not believe!

· Lots of (Indian)people I know are superstitious and fear a whole range of people and things and it is impossible to imagine them as heroic. In my mind, an Indian crime fighter will probably go back home and have a cleansing bath if a black cat crosses his path when he is chasing a fleeing robber!

· In India, I have seen a majority of the people intimidated by those in power(in India, even a government office clerk has 'power' i.e. power to make your life miserable by not doing his i.e. your paperwork and slowing your file). I have seen simply too many people being polite and submissive to corrupt people in the government offices to get their work done; I have seen too many people tolerate injustice as fighting it will cause them more problems;How can anyone expect heroic crime fighting traits in this environment? People may curse these guys but will give in anyway. When my uncle refused to give a bribe to an inspector, he did not get permission to do the electrical work in his building for months! Can you imagine the impact of this delay on the construction work, the costs, and a hundred different things? Even highly educated professionals such as professors, doctors, engineers, give bribes to get their work one has the guts to protest corruption. So, how can one develop the guts to fight crime in this culture???

· Living in this Indian society, will simply crush several fighting qualities in people. And growing up in this society since childhood, the crushing is systematic and complete, especially if one is born in the less fortunate sections of society such as the lower castes, rural areas, being born as female or being born 'in some way different' than most, in some really backward and feudal areas such as Madhya Pradesh, Upper Pradesh, Jharkand, Bihar, etc. In the worst states of India, children who are brave, grow up to be criminals rather than upright moral adults as the culture they grow up in enables growth of criminal mentality than an honest one...I know the patriotic Indians who read this will be furious but let them go and look at what is happening in these wretched states

· I think any heroic traits Indians are born with will be fully crushed before we reach the age of 30 in Indian society. There is a pervasive apathy, a pervasive lack of trust and respect for the system, a chronic cynicism, near-constant wariness (and so many other ' survival behaviours' than' healthy behaviours') in most people all the time. The only ones who are fearless are those in positions of power. But I have seen even these aggressive assertive powerful people, grovel when they need something! For example I know of a powerful, politically connected doctor, grovel before an extremely rude school principal to get his kid into a 'good school'; he was boiling with rage within at the principal's rudeness but did not protest...he did not want to jeopardise his son's chances of getting into this school ! I have seen powerful ministers grovel before the high command of their political party or even before the so called "Gurus" or "Swamis" like Sai Baba.

· After seeing this over and over again in India, my brain absolutely refuses to accept the concept of a heroic detective or policeman fighting crime in India ! Growing in Indian society, all the good traits seem to be crushed out along the way.

The personality traits I have observed in most of my fellow countrymen are the antithesis of what a crime fiction detective or hero would have. Also the value system in India where the wrong traits and behaviours are glorified, valued and accepted and the really good traits are neither recognized nor respected makes it difficult for me to accept an Indian crime fiction hero. For example a person who stands up against corruption and therefore faces a lot of hurdles is considered as 'crazy' while a person who is street smart and greases palms to get things done is considered as smart. With this kind of a value system, what kind of a heroic crime fighter can India produce?

· One more thing I have noticed is that choice of a career in fighting crime is not the choice of majority of youth. Youth are pursuing other choices which seem to offer money without risks. Till now I know of just one kid who wanted to join the army and believe it or not, his family thought he was crazy to want this and dragged him in for counselling! Of course, I have seen many youth from army backgrounds (fathers in the armed forces) wanting to join the military or other such adventurous careers but these are few. Most youth today seem to be in pursuit of things other than least what I consider as adventurous.

I think Indian literature, other than crime fiction are wonderful to read. I have greatly enjoyed Indian tales depicting pathos, unrequitted love, sacrifices and tragedies caused by fate. I have loved the gentle humor of R.K.Laxman's cartoons and the delightful cartoons of Mario Miranda. I have enjoyed the fantastic short stories by countless Indian authors which appeared in the now extinct magazine i.e. The Illustrated Weekly of India and another (sort-of-porn) magazine of the 80s called Debonair. I am so sorry that though I loved these stories I cannot remember the name of even one of these short story writers! I have also  enjoyed the wonderful love stories set in India which are equal to or better than Romeo and Juliet. Heer Ranja, Prithviraj Chauhan and Sanyogta, Radha & Krishna, Shakuntala &Dushyanta, Salim & Anarkali,Shahjahan and Mumtaz, are unforgettable love stories. I love reading the epic mythological stories of the Mahabharatha and Ramayana. The characters in Mahabharatha are fantastic with all their virtues and frailties! I loved the Amar Chitra Katha comics about various Indian kings, mythological figures, freedom fighters, etc. I loved the illustrations too especially the covers!  I have enjoyed reading the realistic and wonderful novels of R.K.Narayan. I loved the short stories and dramas of Tagore and moved to tears when I read them.

But Indians as crime fiction heroes is something impossible for my mind to accept....I do not see the Indian personality as an ideal crime fighting figure. These sort of questions come to my mind when I think of an Indian crime fighting hero…..How can you be a tough guy when you are also  obeying daily your parents commands? How can you fight crime when you yourself are forced to give bribes in government offices to get simple things done; What will you do with the drug dealer you nabbed? When he has the entire police station in his pocket…. What will you do when you finally discover the guy stealing vehicles…if he turns out to be the son of a politician? How will you fight crime when half the crimes are committed by goons of politicians and you are intimidated into letting them go free?What is the point in a courageous & honest policeman putting a politician's hired goonda  in jail when the goonda receives VIP treatment in jail after intimidating the  sycophantic jail staff...the jailed goonda gets cellphones, television, alcohol and chicken biryani, and possibly prostitutes too... INSIDE THE JAIL!!!

I am now going to actively look out for crime fiction set in India and try to discover some good books and get back to this article. I would love to discover some Indian crime fighter out there either real or fictional, whom I find believable and fall in love with.
 I know that in the last few years, the number of English novels written and published in India has increased tremendously. But I am not sure how much of it is crime fiction and how many of them are really good.
I am adding this line March 2016: I recently read the book Cut like wound by Anita Nair. It is a crime fiction set in Bangalore and it has captured the reality of cime and corruption in Bangalore and yet has a believable hero!! To my utter delight he is a Gowda too! ( I belong to the  Gowda caste) I am so happy that there are crime fiction books from India, that too, Bangalore, my home town, that too with Gowda protoganists !!! Yippe!
 I humbly take  back what I said about 'not enjoying crime fiction set in India' after reading Nair's book

After writing the above, I thought a lot and find that three authors whom I admire have written crime fiction books which I really enjoyed. They are set in countries which are known for problems similar to India's and societies as (dare I say) pathological as India's. These are books set in Russia's Moscow i.e. by Stuart Kaminsky and Martin Cruz Smith and books by Zoe Ferraris set in Saudi Arabia's Riyadh. Thinking about these books, the crime fighters in these books, I can now believe it is possible for India to have a crime fighter who is plausible. We already have Vishu Puri, private investigator in Delhi, a delightful character created by Tarquin Hall. Who knows? Maybe, more such crime fighting characters, both plausible and probable may be created in future, to delight Indian and other readers.

Reading over what I have written again, I recall, that I have come across many people in India, who are honest, brave, kind, generous, gentle and non-corruptible, in the face of heavy odds. These are people, whose 'progress' in life has been painfully slow due to their values. They have not budged from their chosen paths in spite of their families pushing them to take the easy path. Recalling these people, I now think that it is possible for my dream Indian crime fighter(.... like the western characters whom I like) to exist!

I also want the readers to think about the fact that to be 'good' in a society like current day Indian society is infinitely harder than being good in a society like Canada's. In India, the overwhelming corruption one sees daily in all corners of society, the daily hassles, the daily struggle, the lack of so many basic facilities, the fight amongst many for a few resources, the poverty, etc rapidly erodes the good decent qualities in majority of the people.

Which brings to my mind, an Indian saying which says that the beautiful and sacred lotus can only grow in filth, and it cannot grow in clean waters. Similarly, maybe, some people who are growing in a society such as India's, which is full of dirt and obstacles, may end up with strength & the lotus. The dirt and difficulties may be instrumental in making at least some people better and stronger.

Many real and fictional crime fighters (and other 'good' people too) were born and brought up in dirty and difficult situations and this only made them stronger rather than crush them or corrupt them. So maybe, the Indian society may have the same effect and some lotus may sprout here too!

And talking of a crime fighter who rose above difficult situations, there is one I recall i.e. Modesty Blaise.I would take my hat off to the person who creates a real or fictional Indian Modesty Blaise! That would be, as my little sister puts it, "awesome"!


The Indian crime fiction  I have read:

 Bahadur comics (read them as a kid in the 70s and 80s). I remember enjoying them but not as much as Phantom comics(by Lee Falk) I read at the same time. I thought that the Bahadur comics were sort of copied from the ‘foreign’ comics. Bahadur’s girl friend whose name I don’t remember definitely did not have Indian features. Either the person who drew her sketches did not get the bone structure right or the girl friend of Bahadur was supposed to be a ‘foreign’ lady, I am not sure.

The Inspector Ghote series by H.R.F. Keating. These are written by a foreigner but set in India. I find the language too stilted and not much fun to read.

I remember reading the Shuja and Daboo comics in the Kannada weekly magazine called Sudha. The comics were in Kannada and though I hated reading in Kannada, I read them. I remember enjoying them a lot and Shuja seems to be a copy of Tarzan comics to me. Even here, the lady’s features were not Indian nor was her clothing. I enjoyed the Daboo comics a lot which was like crime with science fiction. I cannot remember the authors of these comics and would like to know their names if any of you who read this blog know. If anyone out there has made cuttings of these strips from the Sudha magazines, I would be happy to buy it from them.

I also enjoyed Tarquin Hall’s 4 books featuring Vish Puri a Private detective, Delhi based and a retired army officer with a set of hilarious helpers. But these books did not have me on the edge of my seat like Chase or Peter O’Donnell.

I have tried to read Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games recently but am having difficulty getting through it. It is well written and interesting but the size seems to be keeping me from reading it. Spoiler alert : The stuff in red below gives away a story.

 I read 2 crime novels set in India i.e. ''Six suspects by Vikas Swarup and Aravind Adiga's 'Last man in tower'. These two books accurately reflect crime in India. Aravind Adiga's novel is both extremely real and stunning! Stunning because one sees how ordinary middle class 'respectable' people are capable of crime as heinous as murder. They not only commit but get away with it! When I read, Last man in the tower, I was so depressed...I always was proud of the fact that the middleclass people, 'will somehow or the other' manage to hang on to their morals as they are not as desperate as the starving poor; but reading this book, one realizes that even the middle-class will commit heinous crimes.

Aravind Adiga's 'The white tiger' too depicts with realism, the crimes in Bangalore and India.

No heroes whom I like in these three books mentioned above! I think why I dislike or disbelieve crime fiction from India boils down to two reasons: Morality is disappearing in India and it’s impossible to believe that there are people who are both moral & crime-fighters; the second reason is that survival is becoming impossible without compromising morality or ethics to some extent. Ergo, if someone writes typical crime fiction with the good guy winning, it seems unbelievable and so you don’t like the story.

I have read and enjoyed the comics and books of crime fiction written by Sathyajit Ray. Though they are not my favorite, I think the comics (Feluda series) are the best Indian crime fiction I have read. Both the drawings and the plot were good. I discovered Sathyajit Ray’s crime fiction only recently on the internet in Canada; I bought the books in a recent visit to Bangalore at Crosswords.

I read a book called Delhi Noir i.e. short stories about crime in Delhi. It was an exciting book to read and realistic. However, I did not get the satisfaction I crave for i.e. the satisfaction one feels when the villain is punished and the good person is saved. In this book, the criminals more often than not, got away with their crimes! And I think, this is the most important reason, why I do not enjoy crime fiction from India. The reality is that the bad guy wins in India, 99% of the time . So I cannot enjoy crime fiction if it is realistic ; and I also cannot suspend my disbelief when the good guy wins!

In India, crimes of all sorts are rampant and crimes often go unchecked and unpunished; People have become blase about crime.

And 99% of the police are corrupt and so any book with a honest heroic police officer is BS and I unbelievable;

Apart from the books mentioned above, I cannot recall reading, crime fiction written by Indians or set in India. I remember reading a monthly English magazine about crime in India called 'Crime & Detective ‘with the most lurid photos on the cover with 'true' crime stories. This magazine’s atrocious language & grammar; the lurid photos and atrocious crimes were repugnant but also drew me! The writers also had their own unique' moral of the story', definitions of crime, their own unique perspective about laws and ethics! I gave up reading after a while as I found the crimes too disturbing and the language in this mag was terrible.

If you go to these weblinks given below, you will see others views about this magazine. But the best thing one can do is buy this magazine and read it to know first hand, how terrible it is!

This last link has a photo/comic strip about a crime and the literal translations from Hindi to English are hilarious. You can also see the weird stereotypes the writer has of men & women and city & rural people!

During my next visit to India, I am planning to buy these magazines...the sheer absurdity of the language and views of the writers, the stories, the over-the-top photos, the literal translations of Hindi idioms and phrases will help me pass time during the grey winter months in Canada!

I am going off topic but another entertainment from India would be reading the sex magazines available in shops at railway and bus stations in India. These are written and published by people who have no scientific knowledge about sex; these mags are full of misinformation and are hilarious to read. It is sad though, that many men and boys read these and get their information from these gold-mines of mis-information.(women and girls don’t dare buy these books in public). Reading the bill-boards of travelling hakims who sell potency drugs and other drugs to unsuspecting villagers is another form of entertainment in India. Of course, it is sad, but I cannot help laughing.(Now that I own a camera, I am planning to photograph their ads and put them up here !)

I have been told of a terrible television show in Hindi about crime called CID; It is supposed to be unsuitable for viewing due to the violent content, but yet seems to attract a wide audience. I think there is something about crime that attracts people! My friend’s teenage son watches this serial and she finds it disturbing to watch her son watching this show. But how can I console her? My aged dad enjoys watching this and when I ask him he defends saying that he can learn about the ways of criminals and be forewarned!

India produces literature in many languages and in English; I read only English.(It is not that I am too snobbish to read Indian languages. I am very slow while reading Kannada novels and it is so painful to read at the speed of 10 minutes per page.... So I have given up reading in Kannada, the only Indian language I can read) As far as I know, there are more social novels ( I like to call them social novels as they are about social life in India) than crime fiction. There are many romantic novels, books about Indian society, sociology, anthropology and other subjects. I know that a lot of new writers in India are writing crime fiction these days and writing in English too.

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