First things first. I am shallow. I do judge a book by its cover and this one is gorgeous. For some reason, Indian book covers are either overly depressing; with pictures of crying, sad children or completely over-the- top with an attempt to add as many colors and Indian motifs to a single page. And look at this cover, a blue monotone which is as always a color that is soothing to the eyes, with that sketch of a busy Delhi street that somehow manages to leave centre-stage to the title, juxtaposed on the adorable silhouette of Vish Puri, the most private, absolutely adorable detective in Delhi. The colors are just right, with the correct dosage of chaos and clean lines to ensure a memorable cover for the book. ( Pardon the long diatribe, but I am in my watercolor phase right now and am easily overwhelmed by good illustration.)
Next, comes the author. Tarquin Hall. In all honesty, I thought the author was a girl (probably because I heard some girl on TV called Quinn), till about five minutes ago when I Googled the name and came up with a very masculine looking firang, who doesn’t just write superfluous ( for some people ) fiction, but leads quite an interesting life as a journalist and non-fiction writer.
I find that people who view Indians from the Western perspective usually get us wrong in some way or other and I am proud to announce that this was not the case with Tarquin Hall. The author has captured the Indian, Punjabi male perfectly in his rendition of Vish Puri. The flamboyance, the devil-may-care attitude towards life, the love for his wife and the need to shield her from the complexities of his job, the inevitable bowing down to maternal whims and the keen sense of judgement and sharpness of intellect that seem to be characteristic of the race. No, I am not a Punjabi, but I have seen enough of that life-style, which spills over in some degree to its neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh, my home-state, making my comments carry some authority on the subject. It is difficult to capture the persona of a man of my father’s generation, who are a curious mixture of conservative thinking and acceptance of modern idea’s and the author is spot-on in his assessment of these difficult- to- pin- down human minds.
Also, a private detective would naturally see the hidden, ugly faces of human society which, one would expect, would lead to a detective of melancholy disposition; according to all the western detective novels we have read to date. And yet, Indians don’t carry unnecessary burdens of other people’s failures, we are too busy sorting out the muddles of our own existence whereas most English authors tend to ‘Americanize’ the Indian mindset, by making us seem overwhelmed by the suffering we see around us. It just doesn’t work that way for us. Practicality, every day living and hordes of relatives usually intrude on any philosophical leanings that we might have had and bog us down in social and emotional ties that are almost impossible to break. This is also the reason we were never great explorers or wildlife experts or war correspondents or even great inventors. Which of course does not mean that we don’t have those flashes of wondering about the ‘fallacy of life’ now and then, though they have been seen to increase with age.
In this debut novel, we are introduced to Vish Puri and his associates Handbrake, Facecream, Doorstop and Flush. ( The names are very British but then it is definitely possible with the Punjabi love of English nick-names like Bosky, Jamie, Sunny, Goldie etc.) I liked the inter play of the different characters as they come together in the eternal play of Indian class and caste divides which are an everyday reality. So, we have Vish Puri’s driver trying to impress his boss, Vish Puri holding his Punjabiyat in check in the presence of illustrious clients and the illustrious, educated clients mistreating their servants in turn. The case of the missing servant also introduces us to the problem of human migrations occurring in the country where poor, illiterate tribals are forced to move out of their homes and forests in search of jobs by the desecration caused to their way of living by big mining companies. Mary, the missing servant is one such unfortunate and it was interesting to find out along with Vish Puri, the mystery behind her disappearance.
I would suggest this book more for the anecdotes on middle – class Indian living and a rare insight into the Indian psyche. The writing style is simple and easy to comprehend even for first time readers, which counts in a country where people are not very fluent with English. I only wish these books were publicized more , since they definitely have the potential to beat Chetan Bhagat in the Indian Market. The only problem is the discrepancies in the pricing of the paperback books. Some are as low as Rupees 227/- on flipkart.com to Rupees 828/- for the same book. In India, the lower you price your books the higher the reading demographic will be.