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A lot of kids have grown up on crime thrillers or mystery novels written for kids and teens like Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton’s popular series Famous Five and Secret Seven and scores of other books. Tons of Indian kids have also been hooked by these writers and their young detectives. There are many Indian writers also who write detective stories for children as well yet they don’t seem to be very popular as compared to the ones written by the foreign writers. Not many know that one of India’s best film maker, Satyajit Ray, also penned a number of detective stories and created one of his own sleuths, the famous Feluda who would go around solving mysteries with his nephew Tapesh and later on Lalmohan Ganguli.
Satyajit Ray began writing these stories for the Bengali children’s magazine, Sandesh. The first story was titled Danger In Darjeeling and was published in 1965. Thereafter, there was no looking back. Feluda became very popular with its young Bengali readers and Ray wrote at least one story every year. In all, 35 Feluda stories were published from 1965-1996.
Enough about facts, now down to the review. The Penguin Publications came out in 2004 with a definitive two volume edition, The Complete Adventures of Feluda which contains all the stories. So whether you were hooked on to these stories as a kid and want to relive them now or simply love detective stories, these volumes are a must have. Translated from Bengali by Gopa Majumdar, they are chronologically arranged and show the progress of Feluda as a detective along with the marked progress in Ray’s writing too. The initial stories are simple and childish but later on the plots become more dangerous, complex and twisted. The characters become more fully etched and we come to learn more about this beloved detective’s personality-that he is a knowledgeable person, a voracious reader and a very talented man.
The detective’s real name is Pradosh C. Mitter and his nickname is Felu. His nephew’s name is Tapesh who Felu lovingly called Topshe. The suffix ‘da’ is used as a mark of respect when addressing an elder brother. The first volume has 16 stories which are very entertaining and exciting. It is a treat for any fan of crime fiction. Ray’s language is simple and lucid and keeping in mind the primary audience for his stories, he kept them clean and with minimal violence. Reading the Feluda stories doesn’t just proffer its readers dollops of thrill and fun but also a tour of India and an insight into the life the Indian people in those decades. In Volume 1 itself, the trio travelled from Jaisalmer to Lucknow, from big cities like Bombay to small places like Gosiapur, from Shimla to Gangtok and many more places. These stories do not just tell a tale of adventure and crime but take the reader on a journey across India.
Narrated by Feluda’s own Watson-Topshe, these stories connected easily with its teenage audience. Ray was a self professed lover of crime fiction and had read all the Sherlock Holmes story. It is therefore no wonder that those stories provided an inspiration to him and became a reference point for the format and style of his own detective stories. We see a little bit of Ray reflected in Feluda’s personality as well. Often his views are similar to those of the great film maker.
These stories are a great read and quite informative as well. They are a wholesome read for everyone.
Amidst the hullabaloo of Edward Snowden’s revelations of the US government snooping on its own citizens and those of foreign countries, George Orwell’s 1984 has been mentioned countless times and how he was right in predicting the government’s role of the Big Brother. Another author depicted a dystopian future wherein the government had a different sort of control over you-controlling your violent instincts. While the government spying on one’s phone calls, emails, social networking data is not a comforting feeling, the government actually controlling how you behave is even more disconcerting.
Clockwork Orange, a novel by Anthony Burgess, explores precisely this aspect of control. Alex, the anti-hero of the novel, is a the narrator and refers to himself as “Your Humble Narrator.” He narrates his and his pals’ violent escapades in a nameless town where such violence by teens is rampant. They engage in brutal violence-assaulting, stealing, beating and sexual violence during the night. On one such escapade, Alex and his gang decide to rob a single woman living with dozens of cats. However, the plan goes awry as Alex’s usual ruse of acting like a wounded boy and fooling the woman to open the door fails. He then goes through the window and threatens her but the old woman isn’t frightened so easily. She seems to get time to call the police and eventually in a fight, Alex gives a fatal blow. The police picks him up and he is shunted to the prison for a good 14 years. It is here Alex learns of a miraculous technique that will reform him quickly and let him get out of jail in no time. The prison chaplain, the only decent person around, warns of this so-called-miraculous Ludovico Technique and of its ethical ambiguity. Due to a turn of events, Alex is eventually subjected to this technique which is torturous in its own way and has terrible consequences for our Humble Narrator.
Written in the “Nadsat” language, which is the lingo used by the teens of that world, Clockwork Orange is a gruesome look at the politics of control and surveillance and raises questions about the need for an individual to have a choice in the way s/he behaves. Ludovico Technique essentially conditions Alex to have sickening feelings for anything related to violence. It ‘cures’ him of his bad behaviour by leaving him with no choice but to be good because being bad or even thinking of violence entails a rising of aversion in him. Burgess cleverly shows how the government’s method of reducing crime by relying on such ethically questionable techniques is not a foolproof method but only raises more problems rather than resolving them. For example, if Alex is faced with a situation where he has to defend himself he is absolutely helpless since he cannot resort to violence as he has been conditioned to be averse to it.
To complicate the plot further, Alex after being ‘cured’ is used by certain individuals for their own personal gains-namely to show that the present government is using such brutal techniques in the reduction of crime. Alex becomes a trophy prize over which politically motivated parties and individuals tussle, leaving behind the core of the problem-if the Ludovico Technique is not morally correct and the usual punishment of imprisonment also fails, then how exactly to reduce the rate of crime and violence in a world where youngsters are increasingly setting up sub cultures of crime and violence.
Clockwork Orange doesn’t answer those questions outright. Instead the story explores the ideas of the nature of evil and if it is really possible for the government to control the individual’s violent inclinations and urges through conditioning techniques. The book shows how the government treats people like machines, like ‘clockworks’ that can be tweaked to make a better, crime-free society. We have already seen in the 20th and 21st centuries how the media has been effectively used to tweak people’s way of thinking and getting their support on certain politically important matters (For eg, it is thanks to the relentless media proclamations of US’ war on terror that the entire globe sees the Middle East as merely a part of the world crawling with terrorists out to attack America while completely disregarding their own unique culture. Closer home, the media is often used in India to mobilise people’s opinion for the ambiguous notions of ”development” and “growth” while cleverly trying to put down all those who clash against these ideas). It is not just the media alone, mainstream culture-whether it is books, movies or art-all are effectively used by the government to mould people’s opinions for or against something. Therefore, it is perhaps not far away that the governments all over the world will be able to control its citzens’ behaviour. And that would indeed be a scary prospect.
Though small in size, Clockwork Orange may not be a breeze to read thanks to the “nadsat” words that Burgess uses which can be understood only by referring to the glossary every once in a while. It can be frustrating because while you want to get on with the story(which moves at a good pace), you have to pause and find out the meanings first but be patient and it will definitely be worth it. It will take time to accustom yourself to the language but once you are attuned to it, it will be an easy and enlightening read. Try and read this one-it is relevant and will always be because no government has come close to curbing violence among its people. So while you figure out what “droog”, “carmen”, “chasha,” malchick,” ‘mesto” etc mean, don’t forget to also ponder over the subtexts of the story.
Mumbai-a city you can have a love-hate relationship with, a city in which people think dreams are built (do they ever think that they are shattered there too?), a city fast moving, on the go, a whirling vortex that will push you into anonymity at times. Yet still we all live, die, dream and enjoy and curse in this bunch of islands reclaimed together to assume the shape of a city. ‘Sacred Games‘ by Vikram Chandra is wholly enmeshed with this whirling vortex of a city whose one claim to fame is being the commercial capital of India. The story focuses on Sartaj Singh, a lone Sikh inspector in Mumbai police and in his forties, who gets an anonymous tip off on Ganesh Gaitonde, a dreaded Hindu don of Mumbai who any respectful inspector would kill to catch and get a promotion. Similarly Singh sees a window of opportunity in this tip off and soon gets to Gaitonde’s shelter from where he chats with Singh through the intercom telling him a winded tale of the start of his criminal life. Sartaj is unable to convince him to surrender and so eventually bulldozes the place and much to his chagrin finds Gaitonde and an unknown women dead already. Thereafter, the book weaves its way in a parallel of Sartaj’s investigation into Gaitonde (after Gaitonde’s death, the Indian intelligence comes to investigate this mysterious presence of the gangster in Mumbai and how he might have posed a threat to national security. Sartaj is recruited to help in the investigation) and Gaitonde’s narration of his life to Sartaj. The latter is rather eerie as it feels like the dead is speaking directly to Sartaj. Within these parallel stories lie countless number of subplots-Katekar’s (Sartaj’s partner) life and death, Katekar’s wife and his two sons, Sartaj’s other numerous investigations such as the case of blackmailing of Kamala Pandey, Sartaj’s mother’s ponderous moods, the Partition and how it affected Sartaj’s mother’s family, Senior inspector-Parulkar’s tactics to stay on the job, Jojo’s dreams of becoming an actress and several more. There are chapters in the novel called insets which can become novellas and short stories in themselves. These insets are related most often to the subplots like Sartaj’s mother’s sister, Navneet, being lost in Partition. Gaitonde’s life story reveals the grim underbelly of Mumbai’s mafia and how much of the city functions only because of them and the fighting between Gaitonde’s Hindu gangster company with the Muslim Suleiman Isa’s company seems faintly reminiscent of real life fighting between Dawood Ibrahim and Arun Gawli in Mumbai. Vikram Chandra has himself said that he did meet up real life ‘bhais’ in Mumbai and perhaps a lot of it is inspired by real life itself. We can only speculate and guess. What we can be sure of is that from this epic novel you can definitely get a lot of excitement and entertainment and thoughts to ponder over.
‘Sacred Games‘ is a massive book-900 pages long-quite daunting to look at and even more difficult to hold for long and if you are one of those who bought a hardback copy (like me) my utmost sympathies. But the size shouldn’t mislead you. The book is very engaging, eloquent and epic in every sense. It is difficult to categorize this novel-it is a mesh of a Bollywood film (and can be adapted into one as well given Bollywood’s penchant for action), thriller, detective novel, city novel etc. Pinpointing to one exact genre is next to impossible because of the sprawling nature of the book’s story which covers such a wide range of subjects and is written in multifarious styles that could be from any genre. ‘Sacred Games‘ is a wholly Indian book, a completely Bombay/Mumbai book reflecting Indian moods, issues, problems, daily existence, language. There is a generous sprinkling of Hindi terms, Bombay Hindi, Hinglish and Marathi too which could be hard for a foreigner or even an Indian unfamiliar with the special mix of Bombay languages to understand. On the author’s website, you can find a glossary for the novel which may or may not be useful. Click here to get it. A little background knowledge about the 80s’ and the 90s’ scenario in India would also help in better understanding as Chandra routinely refers to actual events though he never names them explicitly such as the Partition, the Indo-China war of the 60s’, the Bombay riots of 1993 etc. The book is definitely for a true Mumbai inhabitant, one who will immediately recognize these events, feel a connection with the persistent smoke, traffic, noise and the islands of peace of the city, one who will know about the criminal underbelly of the glitzy city.
The detailing of ‘Sacred Games‘ is splendid. Chandra has done a fabulous job to string together vastly different lives/characters and put them together in the story thus creating a rich, multifaceted tapestry of Mumbai and its many quirks. Sartaj Singh is one of his best creations. He gives the inspector a humane personality which most mainstream portrayals of policemen lack. They tend to demonize them and constantly depict them as cruel,lecherous and sadistic in their behavior (which may be true of some but generalisation is always a dangerous thing to do). Gaitonde is suffused with a very Godfatheresque aura having the same paternalistic outlook towards his people and business as Don Corleone did.
The plot, the writing, the variety are all very fine and good but what eludes the book is any challenges on the author’s part. Vikram Chandra simply spins a yarn and puts it down in a 900 page book which is thrilling nonetheless but there is none of Chandra’s own opinions reflecting through in the novel. ‘Sacred Games‘ is too realist, doesn’t challenge anything. It only states that yes-the city is and will always be ruled by mafia-police-ministers nexus, women will forever be seen as sex objects, Bollywood will always be a dreamland etc. Catherine Belsey, a famous British Marxist feminist critic once asserted that realism only legitimised the actual society and their authors never challenged the several practices of the society: they only depicted it as it was. This is true of ‘Sacred Games‘ as well and the most damning of the ‘realist’ depictions are the inferior status of women in Indian society. The novel is very male centric and women are either only whores or depicted as dispensable dependable objects. There is a tacit subtext of the novel that women only exist to please men’s needs, to do their duty (Sartaj’s mother’s assertion that it is her right to feel happy in being alone after her husband’s death because she has done her duty is rather badly misogynistic. It implies that happiness only comes for women after they have been dutiful all their lives) for society i.e. to get married and procreate and take dowry with them. There are hardly any major, strong women characters barring Anjali Mathur, Mary and Jojo Mascarenhas and Iffat Bibi. This stereotyping fails to do anything except assert the ‘real’ world and does not challenge it. Moreover, there is a sense that Chandra seems biased against the Muslim community. It is a delicate thing to write about Muslim-Hindu mafia or the Partition but it shouldn’t have to hold fingers against a particular religious group. Manto wrote on the most sensitive topics around the Partition but he showed the inhumanity of it all rather than blaming either Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus.
Taken together, ‘Sacred Games‘ can be quite a task to read, but take the book one chapter at a time then there won’t be any problems in finishing this epic novel at all.
Crime was never so bloodthirsty, brutality never so horrifying,loyalty never so exaggerated, mafia never so goddamn cunning than in the super famous, ‘The Godfather‘ penned by Mario Puzo. Everyone or almost everyone has read the book. It is included even on BBC’s top 100 books to read! For sure, it is a phenomenal novel that traces the American-Italian mafia in New York City with a chilling, nasty, story involving murders, shootings, family, loyalty, and the ubiquitous Mafia.
The story begins on a light note with assorted Americans asking Vito Don Corleone for help at his daughter, Connie’s wedding in 1945 just after WWII. However there is an unmistakable undertone of the macabre right from the beginning. The reader would quickly know that Don Corleone is a dignified, respected superior wields a powerful influence in New York, that his is an empire of crime and that he is a man not to be meddled with! This immediately sets the tone for something explosive to happen, something thrilling. The story moves on while giving the reader a quick, brief bird’s eye view of the characters and the situations. Then, a meeting with Vincent Sollozo, who wants Don’s help in starting a drug business, goes awry as the Don refuses to help out feeling that the drug business is too risky. Don being too old fashioned would rather stick to gambling, bookmaking etc. An all out war ensues between the five mafia families of New York wherein a lot of blood is shed and Don’s two sons, Sonny and Michael are unwittingly dragged. There are losses on both the sides and the Corleone family goes into decline and eventually the Don offers peace quite reluctantly only after a great personal loss which he promises not to avenge. But, being a foresighted man, he sees to it that all of Corleone’s families losses are restored and all revenges settled in the future. His son, Michael, takes up this job quite successfully and recovers the power and influence of the Family as it was in the pre-war days.
This 450 odd pages family cum Mafia saga is an intricate novel that will engage all sorts of readers of all ages. While it is at times violent and rather graphic, it is nonetheless a brilliant work of fiction that chills the bone with its lightning speed narrative and excessive doses of murders, crimes, beat ups and revenges. The writing style helps increase the speed-it is precise, to the point, does not meander and sticks to the point and Puzo does not go into elaborate descriptions when unnecessary. The pace of the story thus never slows down- a must for any thriller novel to be worth a read!
The story though quite gruesome and seemingly murderous, is quite sophisticated with an awesome plot, an astonishing ending, a complex chronology and an elaborate and labyrinthine narrative that marks the zenith of an extremely captivating crime novel.
What is rather difficult to overlook is the male centered plot of the novel. Women characters have no substantial role to play except be loving, obedient, and religious.
Other than that, ‘The Godfather‘ is a must must must read for all as it is carefully written with an eeriness that is omniscient and suspense that will make everyone keep turning the pages. Its a recommendation you don’t want to refuse!
When the world hears about Pakistan, the first thoughts that comes to mind are terrorists, fundamentalists, terrorism etc thanks to the biased media.Nevertheless, a peek into Pakistan’s literary world shows that the country is much more than just that, much more complex with a labyrinth of different people and a varied society. Similarly, a glimpse into Mohsin Hamid’s debut novel, ‘Moth Smoke‘ will reveal something beyond that, will narrate a story of an ordinary man whose story could have be set in just about any country of the world. Its an engaging read depicting Pakistan’s society in an unmistakable Gatsby like manner.
The prologue of ‘Moth Smoke‘ indicates that the story is loosely based on Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s sons’ rivalry. But with a twist. And that is that the protagonists are in an era of nuclear testing in the year 1998 in the modern city of Lahore. And the only resemblance they have to Shah Jahan’s sons are their names and rivalry-Aurangzeb and Daru. And in the end, it is Aurangzeb who turns out triumphant as was the case in the Mughal era when Aurangzeb defeated his brother.
Esssentially, the main protagonist is Darashikoh Shezad or Daru who is a banker living in Lahore. He gets fired from his job and from thereon begins his slow, drug filled downfall. He falls for his best friend Aurangzeb’s (Ozi in short) wife Mumtaz which have severe consequences for him. Daru is unable to find a job which results in loss of self respect, loss of electricity, loss of a faithful servant, loss of family, loss of almost everything that was once important to him. He begins to sell drugs to get his income ticking and even partners in a crime. With Ozi and Mumtaz as friends, he is able to get by and even get into classy, super rich parties where Hamid shows the rot that festers not only in Daru but also in Pakistan’s elite. Behind all the alcohol and drugs and sex lies a decline that is hard to miss.
But the story is more about Daru’s decline. ‘Moth Smoke‘ is about love, passion, idealism and jealousy. Hamid takes an old storyline-an unhappy wife, an uncaring husband, a caring friend and an steamy extra marital affair- and sprinkles his own charm over it to weave a novel story about love as an obsession and the lengths people go to achieve it and destroy those who take it away from them.
A prominent motif of the novel are moths who enter Daru’s house constantly after his electricity is cut off. They circle around the candle flames knowing that is is dangerous , that it will singe their wings. Yet they continue to romance with it, enjoying the risk that entails. Similarly, Daru loves Mumtaz knowing very well that she is a flame who can annihilate him because if Ozi came to know about their relationship it would bring on his ire on Daru.
The other themes could be corruption in society, nuclear war, the problem of unemployment among the educated youth, the elite’s superficial appearance and several more. Just like a variety of themes, ‘Moth Smoke‘ also has a number of characters apart from the love triangle like Daru’s servant-Manucci, the rickshaw driver/criminal-Murad Badshah, Daru’s family, Daru’s professor-Julius Superb and several more that add to the eclectic Pakistani contemporary society. We hear their stories through their own voices and also get to know about Daru’s personality a little more from these multiple narrators.
‘Moth Smoke‘ is a commendable novel, written in an unique style, blending in history with the present, presenting the story as a presentation in the court, mingling several voices to tell a single story yet at the same time bringing in tales of a great many myriad people! A promising read that touches upon an old theme in an excitable novel way. Go ahead and grab it!
Reading 933 pages of the ‘Shantaram‘ novel can be tedious especially when you do not have the time and are only reading 2 or 3 chapters per day. Nevertheless, ‘Shantaram‘ is an interesting novel. A novel that takes the reader through Mumbai’s ugliest places and the grim and the dust of the city to the paradise of Goa to the cold, brutal Afghan mountains.
‘Shantaram‘ I think is a partly true story of the author, Gregory David Roberts who escaped from an Australian prison. The novel speaks of his entry into the then Bombay and his journey through the city. The protagonist mingles with people in Leopold, is forced to stay in a slum, starts a clinic there and even comes to enjoy his life in the slum. He joins the mafia to earn cash, gets involved in gang war and the war in Afghanistan. He comes to love India and learns valuable lessons of life as well. The book ends on a hopeful message giving a grand message simultaneously.
Its a one of a kind novel where India in general and Mumbai in particular can be seen from a different perspective of a foreigner. India or Mumbai are neither degraded nor are they glorified unnecessarily but are portrayed objectively with plus and minus points. For once, it is good to see an author describing Mumbai’s slums, Arthur Road Jail etc. and not romantically babbling about only Marine Drive, Gateway or Taj. (I mean Mumbai is much more than those things).
On the other hand, the novel was a tad too long. Gregory Roberts could have easily shortened the story. There are a few loose ends like whether the author goes back to Australia or stays back in Mumbai and if he does, what does he do–be with the mafia or start something else. (Hopefully he will write a sequel soon with lesser pages though).
So I say that ‘Shantaram‘ is a good book but read it when you have all the time in the world. Reading the book slowly drags the story and takes the pace out of it.