Saturday, January 16, 2021

Colourful characters

Reading Time: 4 minutes

From fictional detectives to Pakistan’s cricketers

Tarquin Hall.Indian Link
If you are a fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s feisty Botswanan detective Mme Ramotswe or Colin Cotterill’s philosophical Laotian coroner Siri Paemboon, you are bound to like Tarquin Hall’s affable sleuth Vish Puri. Puri is the Delhi-based detective from the Most Private Detective Agency, a creation of British-born writer Hall, who now calls Delhi home.
Tarquin Hall.Indian Link
Vish Puri is quaint in many ways; he is an admirer of Chanakya, the minister and kingmaker to the Guptas, and arguably the founder of the art of statecraft – a claim often attributed falsely by European writers to Machiavelli, whom he preceded by more than a 1000 years. It was Chanakya, again, who wrote a manual for spies and invented the tradecraft of spying.
In his first book in a series, The Case of the Missing Servant (2008), Hall assembles a cast of very colourful characters around Vish Puri, including evocative ones such as Facecream, Flush and Tubelight. Hall captures the nuances of Delhi – and Indian society – to a T. He works through the maze of the Indian caste system, the oddities of Indian middle class life, cricket scams, an arranged marriages without committing a gaffe – and that is saying a lot.
The Hindlish spoken in the novel is also reproduced fairly authentically, however, I have a caveat – Hall goes a bit overboard with it. Where conversations must have, in all probability, taken place in Hindi, Hall recounts them in quaint Hindlish which unnecessarily infantilises the characters. By the time you have read pages of “So much interference is there, na?” “Just an emergency type situation is there” and “Don’t do tension” – the humour palls. Fair enough, Hall admits he is essentially writing for a Western audience that does not know India. However, McCall Smith and Cotterill are doing much the same thing without parodying their protagonists.
Tarquin Hall.Indian Link
Those who have lived in Delhi can take comfort in familiar landmarks and areas such as Puri’s Khan Market Office, the trans-Jamuna colonies, Gurgaon and the like. Puri’s extraordinary family – the Chopra clan – are quite likable, but it is his mother I found most intrepid and endearing. Without giving much away, suffice to say that while her son is out investigating murders and mayhem, she quietly solves a mystery of her own, quite unbeknownst to her son.
Hall’s other books in the Vish Puri series include The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing (2010); The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken (2012) and The Case of the Love Commandos (2013).
Osman Samiuddin must already have a large following among cricket fans as he has been a regular contributor for over a decade to online cricket websites such as ESPN Cricinfo, The National and others. He has now written a superb book The Unquiet Ones: The History of Pakistan Cricket (2015).
unquiet ones.Indian Link
This book is not only a definitive account of Pakistani cricket, but also a history of Pakistan seen through the prism of cricket. It begins with the first tour of England in 1954 and ends with the recent match-fixing scandals. Samiuddin describes both the tree and the woods; he paints a wide canvas, but also packs the book with innumerable anecdotes and details.
Samiuddin describes how Pakistani cricket teams have been riddled with contradictions. When they won the World Cup in 1992, Imran Khan was barely on speaking terms with his senior players. Yet, it was the heyday of Pakistani cricket, this was the team that invented the ‘doosra’ and the reverse swing.
There are wonderful snippets from Pakistan’s cricketing glory days and astute observations on Pakistani society as well. Even those not remotely interested in cricket (as is the case with this reviewer), will find this book engaging, precisely because it goes beyond the sport, and provides a window into Pakistani society and polity. I particularly enjoyed the brilliant piece on Pakistani masculinity seen through its cricketing heroes.
osman saimuddin.Indian Link
The chapter on match-fixing provides first-rate analysis of the shenanigans, and anyone who reads it will walk away with a clearer picture of the whole phenomenon.
Samiuddin is knowledgeable, passionate, humorous and articulate. Each of the five major chapters is narrated through one or two of its prominent players. There are delightful descriptions of Minto Park (now Iqbal Park), the 2009 Senate hearing, the travails that even talented players like Misbah once underwent, the transformation of the sport from the humdrum 1960s to the glitter of the present times.
As one writer remarked, “With Samiuddin, Pakistani cricket has finally got the chronicler it deserves.”

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Chitra Sudarshan
Chitra Sudarshan is an academic and a public servant.

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