Of Byomkesh Bakshi and other mysteries

I wonder how many of you remember the days of DoorDarshan (that’s National television in India and what some of us fondly refer to as pre-cable days). Ah, now those were the days! When television was basically about a few (read, 3) good shows and endless hours of News delivered in that beautiful newsreader monotone (for God forbid, lest you manage to stay awake to actually hear some of it!). Nevertheless, I have to admit those early years of pre-cable TV viewing shaped me as a human being. Or so it would seem. I mean, the proof is in the pudding! (I swear there was even a show back then based on the stories of Chekhov! I mean, what child in today’s enlightened, information for all age can claim that! To know Chekhov before you ever knew Chekhov!)

And one of those shows most of India is fondly reminiscing about currently is the one to do with the abovementioned Mr Bakshi.

Played by a young Rajit Kapur, I remember the show being mostly too noir for a young child but one still got an unmistakeable thrill from watching him go about his sleuthing in the Bangal of British India. There was just something about Byomkesh! As was admitted by the man himself, Rajit Kapur, in a magazine interview recently. 

I will admit I am a sucker for homespun detective stories (and clearly have been since a tender, yound age); the kinds where the detectives were as indigenous as they came and the stories still carried the smell of the earth. You know what I mean? There were no intercontinental mysteries, no clues that were buried in foreign lands, no larger government conspiracies (I particularly, perhaps unreasonably I’ll admit, dislike those), no World War waiting to happen at every breathless plot twist. The detectives did not look like misplaced movie stars, carry sophisticated weaponry or necessarily wear three piece suits and a tie. Or maybe they did, but in that case it was so much a part of them that you didn’t give it a second thought. There was just plain old human nature; crimes of greed, of jealousy, of frustration; the crime passionnel. Perhaps, that’s why I prefer the stories of Feluda by Satyajit Ray and Miss Marple by Dame Christie. Don’t get me wrong though, I am and will always be a diehard fan of Sherlock Holmes though now (that I know them by heart) I’ll probably skip the ones in which Mycroft turns up.

And of course, Byomkesh Bakshi by Saradindu Bandopadhyay who gave us a true blue Bangla detective with that beautifully indigenous name. He’s dapper and dresses in a dhoti and kurta, lives in a very Indian neighbourhood and moves in a country, while it bears vestiges of foreign rule, doesn’t pander to it too much. He can read and speak English, of course but that’s just par of the course. His intellectuals are indigenous as are his villains; his romances are beautifully tinged with the culture of the motherland; and best of all, if you ask me, his women of beauty are nearly always described as ‘neither too dark, nor too fair’. This independence, if I may so call it, is what I find so beautiful; the fact that there is no hint of that racist streak which I feel certain must have run through India (dare I say it, even) back then. Which, in my opion, is a feat considering the first Bakshi mystery was written, I believe, in 1939 when India was still very much a British dominion. There is also, of course, that tendency to refer to scenes, people and their foibles as being very Bengali rather than Indian. But that too, if you ask me, is an honesty in the narrative that I find rather compelling. After all, the concept of a national indentity in India has always been a game of shadow and light. Except, when it comes to cricket, of course!


There is, of course, the eternal debate of similarities between Holmes and the very Bengali Bakshi, what with his sidekick of a friend, foil and faithful chronicler, Ajit. But all I can say to that is we must give credit where it’s due and while there may have been many, many detectives who came before and along with Holmes, Conan Doyle will always be to detective fiction what Bram Stoker is to vampire lore (yes, that includes the shiny ones of Twilight fame).

And so, nearly 75 years after Bandopadhyay first conceived of Bakshi, that gem of Calcutta noir, he is all set to return a “theatre near you”. And in spite of my initial giddy excitement when I first heard of the movie I find myself dragging my feet over finally getting myself to a show. Perhaps, it’s because one is reluctant to destroy an image one cherishes so much and perhaps, it’s because the movie somehow seems to me to be an antithesis of everything I loved about Byomkesh Bakshi. But what it is, most definitely, a celebration of is the sheer enduring quality of a character. I am thrilled that a whole new generation will be introduced to Byomkesh! Even if it is a slightly more edgy and new-age, trying to be interesting version of him. Hopefully, it’ll encourage them to reach for that book to discover for themselves what it is they most love about the sleuth.

Either way, welcome back Byomkesh!

said it…


Just something I tripped across today…

My personal favourite…


In memoriam…

image       ‘Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?’ – Going Postal

This might be a little late in the day but as a tremendous fan of Terry Pratchett and his profoundly quirky wisdom, I feel like my ode to him would feel incomplete without this bit …

So here’s what I’d like to do:
I’m going to create something like a digital anthology of all the Terry Pratchett’s that I’ve ever reviewed here. I’m also going to try and review a few of the many, many that I have so far not talked about.

What I would really love is if you guys could dig up old reviews you might have done or talk (in any form) about your favourite Terry Pratchett’s or maybe the ones that didn’t quite do it for you? And post them on here… And whenever you feel like it or stumble across this, is fine. It’s totally up to you.

I’ll be seeing you here …

Always … Terry Pratchett


Death was standing behind a lectern, poring over a map. He looked at Mort as if he wasn’t entirely there. YOU HAVEN’T HEARD OF THE BAY OF MANTE, HAVE YOU? he said.
“No, sir,” said Mort.
“Was there?”

I  remember it like it was yesterday.  I walked into that small hilltown bookstore – all haphazard stacks of books, bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling and a smell of some serious bookiness hanging in the air – and asking for some solid research books for fantasy fiction.

What do kids nowadays read?

And being pointed towards my first Terry Pratchett. And the rest, as all the clichés say, was history.

Of course, much before I’d ever closed the covers of that first Terry Pratchett 2 things were startlingly clear to me.

1. If this was what kids nowadays were reading we were, all unknowingly, rearing a generation of of some seriously, irreverently independent thinkers.
2. Somebody was having fun at my expense by giving me something like this in the name of research.

I mean, who in their right minds could lay claim to a casual talent of that calibre! For try as I might, not all of the magic on Discworld could turn me into anything even remotely Pratchett-ish.

Of course, it’s been a long, long journey since then. And I have finally learned from Granny Weatherwax that sometimes being a witch is as much about the hat and the robe as it is about some serious witchy talent. And some bloody good timing.

It’s going to be close to a month now since Terry Pratchett passed and I can not believe that I am only now getting to know of it. But no matter how many days or even years pass by I’m sure the passing of such a bright light will always find mourners. And so I had to steal a moment and some cyberpsace to scratch in my mark of respect …

Dear Mr Pratchett,

I know you’ll never read this  but I’m sure you already know how much you were loved and revered by millions the world over. And I do believe some things are better left unsaid.

So now that the last drops of ink have dried on the paper, the last story’s been unfurled and perhaps, the last map of Discworld carefully put away? We hope you know that decades and perhaps, even centuries from now we’ll still be wandering down the lanes of Ankh Morpork accompanied by sounds of raucous merry making from the Broken Drum. We’ll try and stay clear of the Night Watch and not pause to investigate any innocuous looking trunks or puffs of smoke we might find by the wayside. We’ll also turn a blind eye to any assassins we might find swinging from rooftops (after all, we know they’re highly principled folks) or any signs of suspicious seismic activity originating at the Unseen University. Especially, signs of suspicious seismic activity originating at the Unseen University. And if we do find ourselves drifting closer to that bubbling cauldron of magic we’ll make sure we have a bunch of bananas handy.

And no matter what, we will never ever wander by ourselves towards the dock of the Ankh. And if we are ill-fated enough to do so we’ll hope like hell somebody will come along soon to rescue us. Susan Sto Helit or Ronnie, the fifth horseman, perhaps?  But of course, everybody knows you can’t drown in the Ankh! No, sir!  And if we find our undrowned selves slowly sliding off the edge of the world … well …. Death ain’t such a bad guy now, is he? I rather like him myself. And we’re sure he’s glad to have you around now to smoke a pipe or two with after dinner!

P.S. – speaking of dinner. .. whatever you do, don’t eat the eggs Albert makes!

Yours & c.,
More people than you know.
Thank you for making the world a better place.

I’ll Be Seeing You

Meghan Collins, a rookie reporter, is on an assignment in a busy casualty department of a New York hospital when a young mugging victim is brought in. Stripped of her identity, there’s no way to tell who the hapless victim was or where she came from but the sight of her sends a chill through Meghan … the victim looks just like her! More

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