Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Eager readers, reluctant detectives and Bombay life

I don't know Kiran Manral except on Twitter, but if you're on Twitter, it's easy to imagine you know a complete stranger. I bought this book out of interest, curiosity and loyalty, and waited two weeks to be able to sit down and enjoy it without guilt.

First piece of news: the voice of Kanan Mehra is not the voice of Kiran Manral on Twitter. It's far more breathless for starters and her mind wanders. Sometimes it wanders so far, you forget this is a murder mystery. Kanan Mehra exhausted me. So first off, congratulations Kiran for writing about someone who sounds completely unlike you do. I think that takes courage, imagination and a very, very keen eye.

Another surprise for someone who usually reads Kiran Manral in 140 character installments is that her way with similes and metaphors is exuberant and extravagant. The novel is strewn with them, rather like protagonist Kay's bedroom when she is choosing clothes for an outing. The profusion is striking at first, but gets overwhelming after a while. Nevertheless, it is consistent with the protagonist we are meeting here. Why would Kiran ask me for advice? No reason at all. But if she did, I would remind her that it is hard to enjoy an embarrassment of riches.

I enjoyed the depiction of 'society' (as in housing cooperative society) life very much. If you have lived in Bombay, and lived in a building with a buzzing society (inevitably), you will find many familiar faces. It's a particular universe that I want to suggest is unique to Bombay, combining the anonymity of big cities (the reluctant detective barely knows her murdered neighbour) with the social norms of a small town 'colony' that has grown around a company's factory (being particular about condolence calls). 

I am not sure why this book is being marketed as a murder mystery. What it does is paint the portrait of a particular kind of lifestyle and people who live in a particular kind of community. The murder is almost just a hook--a reason to show us how people call each other, share news, etc.--and I wonder if Kiran Manral was as reluctant to have this label attached as Kanan Mehra is to do detective work. In this, "The Reluctant Detective" is a lot like the Precious Ramotswe books (which I love) where the detective work is almost an excuse to introduce us to life and manners in Botswana.

If this is to be the first of many Kanan Mehra books, I can see that they have the potential to gently and humorously document a world which is quirky and full of people we might know. Maybe they don't need to unnecessarily kill people off for that to happen.

So buy this book and read it. It's the perfect journey read, or evening read on that work trip where you just want quiet time with a book after talking all day, or for a person who has just finished taking demanding entrance exams.

Thank you, Kiran, and I hope you will keep them coming! 

1 comment:

The Reluctant Detective said...

Thank you so much Swarna, for that lovely review.