A retired diplomat who writes detective stories has woven his latest against the backdrop of Kolkata.
The two main characters are a retired Somali ambassador, waiting to return home, and a woman private detective with a bionic arm who has taken an early retirement from police. Together, they seek to solve a variety of cases. The book is a collection of short stories.
At The Bengal Club on Friday, Krishnan Srinivasan, former Indian foreign secretary, discussed his recent book, The Ambassador and the Private Eye, with Debanjan Chakrabarti, director of the British Council for east and northeast India.
Oindrilla Dutt, columnist and broadcaster, was the moderator. She asked Srinivasan the reason for entering the “murky world of crime fiction”.
Srinivasan, who has extensively written on foreign policy, said he finds writing fiction “easier”.
“You can do what you want (in fiction). You can manipulate characters. Fiction is like a pastime for me, a pastime that I find pleasurable,” he said.
Excerpts from the conversation
Dutt brought up the protagonists. “Koel Deb, the private eye, is a feisty, adventurous, fearless, Harley Davidson-straddling young sleuth with a bionic arm. Then there is ambassador Michael Marco, who is a retired Somali diplomat looking for a way back home. What made you come up with this unlikely pairing,” she asked.
The author said it was difficult to introduce some logic into fiction writing. “It is something you do on the spur of the moment. It is not something you think of as paradoxical. If you ask me about the contrast between an ageing, retired, out-of-work African in Kolkata and this very young ex-police who is an handicapped person, I would say that life is full of contrasts,” he said.
“I have made, perhaps not deliberately but sub-consciously, a commentary on India’s racism. I think, unfortunately, Indians are very racist in regard to col-our. Therefore, my ambassador figure is a black old African. The other subliminal point that I make is that the Indian woman is capable of anything. She was the original multi-tasker. This (the character of Deb) is my tribute to the Indian woman,” said the author.
Eye for detail
Chakrabarti said he loved the book’s “playfulness” and the “eye for detail”. “Koel has taken early retirement after her accident…. She has empathy for women and underdogs. Whereas Michael is more of the consulting detective who sits in his chamber and solves cases. He is more of a classical English detective. Then, the world that they inhabit… is a bit like American thrillers. These are some of the sub-genres that stick out. That, I found very fascinating.”
The book features Bengalis, Bangladeshis, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Kashmiris. The moderator asked Srinivasan if it was “a deliberate ploy that you wanted to show the cosmopolitan nature of Kolkata”.
The author said it was not planned. “I wasn’t looking to make the stories multicultural. But by and large, it is set in Kolkata and Kolkata is amazingly cosmopolitan.”