I am keen on mystery and detective stories. If it involves any kind of detection, I will read it and I will watch it and I will listen to it. I appreciate equally Hercule Poirot’s gray cells and Kinsey Millhone’s step-by-step approach. I absolutely love Jason Bourne, both in books and movies, kicking ass to uncover conspiracies. I cheer when Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander team together.
Bottom-line, I love all detectives—police detectives, armature sleuths, private investigators, by chance detectives, cold war spies, local sheriff detectives, lawyers acting as detectives, and even forensic detectives. It can be a spy novel or a cozy, I read and watch them with the same zest.
These detectives can be violin-playing, boiling soft-ly or medium-ly or hard-ly, mustache obsessing, yoga doing, hat-wearing and cigarette smoking, constantly knitting, brooding, jumping-through-buildings-without-a-scratch, pariahs, charmers, doing anything-for-love, rich, poor, down on luck, or lords. I accept them all.
But all, at least all that I know of, are the detectives who live in the English-speaking world. The ones who speak another language, especially if they get popular, are translated into English. The day is near when Netflix will have English audio for the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy. (I weep.)
In all my reading, watching, and listening, I haven’t come across fictional Indian detectives. But still, you hear things. In my three decades in India, I lived in two different states, three different geographical locations, more than ten apartments; I worked at least five different jobs, but I never learned that there are Indian mysteries. In all the bookstores and roadside-booksellers, I never saw a mystery book by an Indian writer.
I believe that the counterparts of Sherlock Holmes and Sam Spade don’t exist in Indian literature. That Indian literature, like Indian movies, is all about romance.
December 2015 was a revelation for me. My husband and I watched a Hindi movie Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! I was floored that someone in Bollywood wrote a mystery movie which wasn’t a copy/ remake of a Hollywood mystery movie. I learned from my husband that Byomkesh Bakshy (written in Bengali) is a popular literary detective. That there are many sleuths in Indian literature.
He was puzzled that I wasn’t aware of Indian fictional detectives. I was embarrassed.
But my reasoning is simple. All (past) Indian mysteries are in Indian languages. And there is gazillion spoken languages in India. As I write this, I can’t find out the exact number. Every source claims something different. 2013, Hindustan Times article states that there are 780 spoken languages in India. If I count by each state, then there are 22 written languages in India. 45% of people in Indian speak some kind of Hindi dialect.
Growing up in New Delhi, at home my family spoke Hindi, but I learned Hindi as a language only for few years in high-school. I can comprehend and speak only colloquial Hindi. Last time, I read anything in Hindi, I was in eighth grade. Now I can’t read Hindi at all. Sometimes, I rely on English subtitles to fully grasp Hindi movies.
So I blame my ignorance of Indian mysteries on Indian writers of detective books and my education.
A year back, my husband bought many Indian mystery novels from India. But they are in Hindi. I doubt he is going to read aloud every line for me.
Today many mystery novels in India are in English. There are few detective television shows and mystery/ detective novels. But nothing has penetrated the English-speaking world. I know that literary Indian mystery books will not get translated in English. There is no market for them.
I feel that I missed a movement. I can start to learn reading Hindi. But truthfully I have neither the patience nor the inclination. So my solution is to wait for Bollywood to produce movies based on old fictional detectives. And for that, I will watch whichever Hindi movie that has the word ‘detective’ in its title.