Friday, November 25, 2016

Forgotten Book: Satyanveshi Vyomkesh by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay

Despite my love for mysteries, I haven't read much of our Indian detectives. But this month, I was determined to read the exploits of Byomkesh Bakshi, a detective created by Bengali writer Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, in 1932 and to whom I was first introduced to by an eponymous TV serial that was telecast in 1993.

Though, I call him a detective, Byomkesh himself prefers the term Satyanveshi (Seeker of Truth) and in fact, Satyanveshi, is the title of his first adventure when not only did he get introduced to the reading public but also to Ajit Bandyopadhyay, who became his friend and chronicler of adventures.

The volume that I read contains the first fourteen stories of Byomkesh's career, from Satyanveshi to Aadim Dushman. The last story though published in 1955, is set in 1947, with India not only gaining independence but also being partitioned. Set in Calcutta, the last story describes  the horror of those days with riots breaking out, killings becoming common, and the communalisation of the law-enforcing agencies.

The other stories describing a haunted fort, a ghostly seance, a disappearing diamond, a poisonous spider, a deadly gramophone pin are all pretty gripping and I am keen to read the second volume of his adventures.


Those who cannot read Bangla or Hindi, needn't worry, Byomkesh Bakshi has been translated into English too.

Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books, today @Sweet Freedom


First Line: Satyanveshi Vyomkesh Bakshi se mera pehla parichay samvat 1331 mein hua tha.

Original Language: Bengali
Trans. Sushil Gupta
Pub. Details: Delhi: Vani Prakashan, 2012.
Pages: 599
Source: CL

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


DEAD OF NIGHT is a British horror film that was released in 1945. It is what is called an anthology film with different sections of the film being directed by different directors.

The film begins with the arrival of architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns)  at the house of Elliot Foley (Ronald Culver) for some renovations needed in the house.

 From the beginning, Craig looks a little bewildered

 and his bewilderment seems to increase as he is introduced to the other people assembled in the house: Mrs Foley, the mother of Elliot; Racing car driver Hugh Grainger (Anthony Baird); pretty young-miss Sally O' Hara (Sally Ann Howes); self-possessed Joan Cortland (Googie Withers); and famous psycho-analyst Dr. van Straaten (Frederick Valk).

It is a strange gathering and we are never quite told their relation to one another except that they are acquaintances and puff out smoke like engines (the amount of smoking that goes on caused a fug in Delhi.I kid you not. :)

Stranger still is Craig's behaviour for he suddenly bursts out saying:"Still there. So it isn't a dream this time." It seems he has met all these people before in his dreams. The guests try to analyze how this could be as he is a stranger to them all. Meanwhile Craig wants to leave the house as he is sure that something awful will occur if he stays in it. To put him at ease, the others start recounting their own paranormal experiences. Thus, Grainger tells them of his dream of a hearse driver who later materialized as a bus-conductor; Sally tells of her encounter with a ghostly child; Joan reveals the possession of her husband by a haunted mirror.

 As the guests demand a rational explanation from Dr. van Straaten and Criag tries once again to leave the house, Elliot defuses the tension by constructing a story of two men obsessed by golf but tension soars up once again as Dr. van Stratten narrates the case of a Ventriloquist and his dummy.

Based on stories by E.F. Benson, John Baines, H.G. Wells, and Angus MacPhail, this movie has all the necessary chills needed to keep you on the edge. From the surreal images as the credits roll in to Dr. van Straaten's habit of continuously removing and putting on his glasses to the smell of fear that seems to emanate from Craig to the different reflection seen or not seen in the mirror to the  loopy grin of the ventriloquist's dummy, everything foreshadows an ominous end.

Also adding to the uneasiness is a feeling that whether it is all only a big gag. The doctor remarks that it seems to him as though all of them had concocted all this to destroy his most cherished beliefs. Another person wonders that as they are just characters in Mr. Craig's dream, they will as a consequence all vanish once he wakes up (which incidentally echoes the Indian philosophy of everything being 'maya' or illusion. This entire world, all the people and their actions are just being dreamt by Brahma and once he wakes up the world will disappear)

I enjoyed the movie tremendously. The stories of the haunted mirror and the Ventriloquist dummy

(always something creepy for me) make you want to scream while the Twiddledee-Twiddledum action of Potter and Pitter as the two golfers was real fun.


Recommended strongly.


Submitted for Tuesday's Overlooked A/V @ Todd Mason's Blog Sweet Freedom. Plz head over there for the other entries.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

German Literature Month VI

What with the rush associated with Diwali (hope you all had a nice one & wishing you the best in the new year), I completely forgot to write a sign-up post for the VI edition of the German Literature Month, hosted by Caroline @Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy  @lizzy's liiterary life.

I will start the event with a reading of E.T.A Hoffman's The Golden Pot and Other Tales

 and then pick up the books as the month advances. One book that I am really keen on reading is the one that I picked up from Delhi Book Fair, this year: My Father's Keeper.


Details of the reading event can be found here.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Short Notes: The Boat by L.P. Hartley

At the beginning of the second world war, Timothy Casson, returns from Italy - where he has spent much of his adult life and where he finds himself more at home than in England - and settles at Upton-on-Swirrel. A freelance-journalist, Casson chooses his home because it has a boat-house where he keeps his boat and dreams of sailing down the river. Only the village is more concerned about its fishing and does not quite allow Casson to use his boat. At first Casson waits for the permission to be granted but as one slight follows another, things come to a head....

I found the book to be uneven, at times I could not put it down, at others it simply seemed to drag. Definitely not as interesting as Hartley's The Go-Between but okay as a portrayal of English class-consciousness and the changes that the war was bringing to a closed community.

Two interesting facts that I came to know was that a late morning-snack or early lunch was called 'elevenses' (it was the same in Death in the Wrong Room) and Italians were being referred to as 'ice-creamers'.


First Line: "This is a quiet little hole," said the cook.

Publishing Details: London: Putnam & Co., 1949.

First Published: 1949

Pages: 540

Source: CL [823 H25B]

Other books read of the same author: (Among Others) The Go-Between

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The #1947 Club: Death in the Wrong Room by Anthony Gilbert

Anthony Gilbert is the pseudonym of Lucy Beatrice Malleson (1899-1973), member of the Detection Club and author of some seventy novels, a majority of which feature Arthur Crook, a lawyer from London, whom Gilbert deliberately created, in 1936, as a foil to the aristocratic amateur detectives who dominated the literary crime scene at the time.

Death in the Wrong Room, featuring Arther Crook, was published in 1947 and reflects the changes that came in England during the war years. This review is offered as part of the #1947 Club being hosted @ Stuck in a Book.

Colonel Anstruther retires from the British Army in India and settles down at Sunbridge with his daughter Rose and faithful family-retainer Jock. Rose entertains a little but otherwise the family has little contact with the others. But then Rose - described as having stepped out of The Primavera -:


 falls in love with Captain Gerald Fleming and elopes with him. The colonel builds himself a new house, named The Downs, which becomes the talk of the town. Six years after her elopement, Rose returns to her parental home and is welcomed by the Colonel and Jock but her father warns her that her husband should not follow her. Rose reassures her father that there was no cause for such a thing happening: Captain Fleming was dead. An incorrigible gambler, after having run through his wife's money and jewels, he had finally shot himself. "Living is very expensive," Rose tells her father, "but life itself is very cheap." Rose once again takes up her maiden name and life continues as it was before. Soon afterwards the colonel's brother Joseph Anstruther joins them. Crime is his hobby and he thinks that The Downs is the ideal site for committing a murder.

But then comes the war and life changes. The rationing begins, servants become a fickle lot, and finances become strained. Meanwhile Sunbridge sees an influx as the Blitz drives people away from London to the countryside. Realizing that sooner or later they will have to give shelter to these 'refugees' on government order, Jock hits upon the brilliant plan of taking in lodgers. The lodgers could stay in one wing of the house, use one of the two staircases, have meals and tea at different times than the short the Anstruthers will never have to sully themselves by interacting with the lodgers. The plan is put into action and the lodgers come and go, paying the Anstruthers but never really interacting with them, all the transaction being handled by Jock.

But then towards the fag end of the war comes Lady Bate with her niece Caroline. A harridan, she takes offense at this arrangement which not only doesn't allow her to meet the family on an equal footing but also makes her share the arrangements with the other two lodgers: the chatterbox Mrs. Hunter and the deaf Miss Twiss, whom she doesn't consider her equals. As Miss Bate's resentment simmers things start turning uncomfortable. Meanwhile Caroline meets the handsome Roger Carlton who, after being introduced to her aunt, impresses the old lady so much that she starts thinking of changing in her will in his favor, much to the chagrin of Caroline. As things reach a breaking point in The Downs, Joseph Anstuther's prediction that it was an ideal place for committing a murder come true.

Unlike two of Gilbert's novels read earlier: The Clock in the Hatbox and Death Knock Three Times, this doesn't have a knock-out punch in the end but it still made me feel apprehensive and very-very aware that I was reading it while all alone in the house and made me very conscious of the creaks and other noises. And the humour is delicious. Gilbert is very good with tartar old ladies and the conversation among LadyBate, Mrs. Hunter, and Miss Twiss is a joy to read. Also the novel is very good in depicting the snobbery of the English upper crust even as the sun-set for them and the British empire.

With this, I have read six of Gilbert's novels and all of them have been more or less good with the two mentioned above being absolutely brilliant. I don't know why publishing houses do not bring out her books. Rather than an umpteenth edition of an Agatha Christie, I would like authors like Gilbert to be republished.


First Line: THE HOUSE stood on the side of a hill, with a windmill for background, and behind that a wide expanse of pale sky with nothing to interrupt the view but a few trees, and in the far distance, a tall pointed spire white as limestone against the grayer clouds.

Publishing details: NY: Detective Book Club
First Published: 1947
Series: Arthur Crook #17
Pages: 188
Source: Open Library

Other Books read of the same author: (Among Others): The Clock in the Hat Box


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Baker's Dozen: From the Delhi Book Fair 2016

 I love reading about the newest book acquisitions of others and recently there have been quite a few blog posts about this. TracyK set the ball rolling when she posted about her visit to the Planned Parenthood book sale: here and here;  Prashant talked about his unusual restrain when visiting Books by Weight exhibition: here & here; Bev hit a gold mine at the Hossier Hills Book Fair; Peggy Ann got extremely lucky at a flea market while John continued to unearth buried treasures: here and here.

Inspired by these posts, I thought of making a list of books I purchased at the Delhi Book Fair last month. So here are 13 non-fictional texts that I picked-up, mostly at throw-away prices from the fair. They are in no particular order, except the the books featured first and last are the ones I am most excited about. The descriptions are mostly from GoodReads.

In 1959 German journalist Norbert Lebert interviewed children of prominent Nazis: Hess, Bormann, Goring, Himmler, Baldur von Schirach (Hitler Youth creator) & Hans Frank (governor of Poland). Not knowing what to do with the interviews, he boxed & stored them. After his death, his son Stephan--also a journalist--inherited the files. Fascinated by what he found, he set out to re-interview the same people 40 years later. Revisiting his father's subjects, Lebert explores how each of them deals with the agonizing question: What does it mean to have a father who participated in mass murder? For the most part, the Leberts found that the children remained intensely loyal to their fathers, regardless of their crimes. Gudrun Himmler, for example, lives in a Munich suburb under her husband's name, keeping secret contact with other nostalgic Nazis. In fact, Niklas Frank is the only one who rejects his heritage. But when he writes in a popular German magazine of his rage against his father--charged with 2,000,000 deaths--hundreds of letters pour in from outraged readers. Whatever your father did, fathers must always be honored. Remarkable in both its content & its narrative power, "My Father's Keeper" is an illuminating addition to the dark literature of the Nazi past & of how the past haunts the present.


He was a 1930s golf legend and Hollywood trickster who adamantly refused to be photographed. He never played professionally, yet sports-writing legend Grantland Rice still heralded him as “the greatest golfer in the world.” Then, in 1937, the secrets of John Montague’s past were exposed—leading to a sensational trial that captivated the nation.


The formation of Pakistan and the search for an Islamic identity are inextricably interlinked, says journalist Haroon Khalid. Of the wider issue of global politics, he reasons, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism has been a side effect. And religious intolerance places the minority communities of the country in a precarious position.

They have to come to terms with a rapidly changing situation. A White Trail is an ethnographic study of these communities and the changes they are having to face.


In the Inspirational and often hilarious memoir, the author recounts her experiences in India using Hindi as the lens through which she is given a new perspective on the country.


 In November 2013, Sachin Tendulkar played his final test against the West Indies at the Wankhede. Final Test traces those fateful two and a half days as Sachin takes to the pitch one last time.


 Not many people have heard of IIM and IIT graduates becoming bestselling writers or chief ministers. The professional career path chosen by many people is as plain as daylight and can be predicted many years into the future. But Sonia Golani's book, My Life, My Rules: Stories of 18 Unconventional Careers, catches the imagination of the reader and provides valuable insights into the inconceivable ways a person's career can proceed. It is a collection of eighteen different stories, each featuring an individual who has dared to walk the less-traversed path.


 A sparkling collection studded with wit, passion and insight, the essays are personal reflections on genres of cinema: Hollywood blockbusters, Hindi noir, horror — and any other kind you may have sat through wide-eyed in a million small-town halls or metro multiplexes — and the effect they had on individual lives.

Ranging from the sparse, undemonstrative work of Finland's Kaurismäki brothers to a boisterous Punjabi masala movie that may or may not be about a foot fe- tish; from a writer's first — and hilarious — experience of watching a film in a theatre, to one who performs a Helen dance in drag at a Brooklyn square … each of these essays reveals to readers a completely different side of their authors.


 Have you heard of Footpath(1953), perhaps the most Left-leaning film in which Dilip Kumar gave one of his most nuanced performances? of director-actor Chandra Shekhar's Cha Cha Cha(1964), a fascinating musical where the 'Harijan' hero becomes a fabulous pop dancer? of Gaddar(1973), perhaps the finest example of film noir in popular Hindi Cinema? Of the Amol Palekar-directed Thoda Sa Roomani Ho Jayen (1990), a rare true-blue musical with Nana Patekar at his best?Of Sehar(2005), one of the most underfeted gangster movies by Bollywood? Of Antardwand(2010), a movie on shotgun weddings that gobsmacks you with it's authentic portrayal of mofussil Bihar? National Award winning film writer Avijit Ghosh takes a second look at 40 such compelling Hindi movies that have been largely forgotten. Speaking with the directors, producers, cinematographers, music directors and actors behind these, he explores how and why they have been fallen through the cracks of our memory.


The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the fountainhead of Indian literature and religion have served as model and source of theme and treatment for countless number of works in Sanskrit and other regional languages...


 By turns humorous, sympathetic and hair-raising, this delectable travelogue-cum-memoir is the unique account of a young Englishman travelling through the India of the 1920s for the first time.


Emphasising collaborative learning strategies, the authors explore and challenge the nature of learning within the national curriculum, looking at ways of including diversity in science, history, maths and poetry.

12 & 13: Two books which I am very happy to have purchased, dealing with the pain and sufferings of people put behind bars for their convictions.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Love in Mysteries: Trent's Last Case & Before the Fact

Recently Curt Evans @ The Passing Tramp wrote a very interesting post where he discussed certain rules laid down by writers Kurt Steel and S.S. Van Dine as regards the writing of mysteries. One rule that struck a chord with me was this one laid down by Van Dine:

#There must be no love interest in the story.  To introduce amour is to clutter up a purely intellectual experience with irrelevant sentiment.

I don't know why but somehow I too find that a romantic angle involving the detective often puts my teeth on edge.

So while reading E.C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case, when I came across these lines, it set alarm bells ringing:

But I am under an intolerable dread of Mabel being involved in suspicion with regard to the murder. It is horrible to me to think of her delicacy and goodness being in contact, if only for a time, with the brutalities of the law. She is not fitted for it. It would mark her deeply. Many young women of twenty-six in these days could face such an ordeal, I suppose. I have observed a sort of imitative hardness about the products of the higher education of women today which would carry them through any thing perhaps. I am not prepared to say it is a bad thing in the condition of feminine life prevailing at present. Mabel, however, is not like that. She is as unlike that as she is unlike the simpering misses that used to surround me as a child. She has plenty of brains; she is full of character; her mind and her tastes are cultivated; but it is all mixed up with ideals of refinement and reservation and womanly mystery. (258-259)

Delicacy, Goodness, Brains,Character, Cultivated Tastes, Refinement, Reservation, Womanly Mystery!!!!!!!!!!!!! No wonder our hero Philip Trent falls in love with the woman even before seeing her and of course her first glimpse is enough to strengthen his ardour all the more. So even while suspecting her of being part of the crime, he cannot really bring himself to pronounce her guilty because there is one part of him which confesses to the woman that: a man who, after seeing you and being in your atmosphere, could associate you with the particular kind of abomination I imagined is a fool.

And so our hero not only does not make public the evidence he has collected, he loses his integrity to such an extent that the murder he was investigating becomes a matter of joke. To be discussed with a laugh while partaking food and drinks.

Give me a break!

The other novel which discusses another aspect of love is Francis Iles' (Anthony Berkeley) strange Before the Fact. Lina McLaislaw is known for her brains but that is before she meets Johnnie Aysgarth. She becomes so infatuated with the man that she overlooks all his faults: lying, cheating, stealing, extra-marital affairs and even murder. All that seems to matter is that she has to save Johnnie from making that fatal mistake that would put him in the clutches of the law. So Lina who thinks of Johnnie not only as her husband but also as her child continues to pamper his wishes.

A very-very strange story but with an acute description of emotional manipulation. Did Iles write it as a warning to women? The sub-title calls it a "Murder story for Ladies". But I doubt whether any woman would be as accommodating (and dumb) as Lina.

First Line: Between what matters and what seems to matter, how should the world we know judge wisely.

Title: Trent's Last Case
Author: E.C. Bentley
Publishing Details: NY: Random House, 1941
First Published: 1913
Pages: 164
Source: CERF [823.808 C 3351 TH]

First Line: Some women give birth to murderers, some go to bed with them, and some marry them.

Title: Before the Fact
Author: Francis Iles
Publishing Details: NY, Random House, 1941
First Published: 1932
Pages: 233
Trivia: Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion is based on this novel.
Source: CERF [823.808 C 3351 TH]