Book review : It’s all in your mind

Its all in the mind-1

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Title : It’s all in your mind

Genre : Detective short fiction

Author : Prithwis Datta

Pages : 244 (Paperback)

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I know the author of Its all in your mind well. Frequently in the distant past, he has turned out to be a monumental pain-in-the-ass, physically aggressive, ready with his punches and his gattas. We have a word in Bengali for guys like him – khunshootay, meaning literally, predator. If that conjures up an image of the alien in the movie ‘Predator’ who kicks Arnold Schwarzneggar’s butt, you’re close.

A gatta is Bengali for a bare-knuckled whack on the top of the head, delivered to someone younger and shorter. Very painful, the spot remains sore as hell for the better part of a whole day. Very hard gattas, repeatedly received at an early age, can lead to early dementia. I forget my name sometimes these days.

I hasten to add that the author is no longer that Reinhard Heydrich clone. He is more benign now, leading a quiet life in retirement, amid his books, his writing and his volunteer work at the Mumbai Ram Krishna Mission, with a well-fed look (he is married to the best cook on the planet).

Yeah, I know everything about him. Why shouldn’t I? Prithwis Datta happens to be my elder bro.

A review is a critique after all and critiquing the work of a sibling can be prickly. It is hard to remain dispassionate. You don’t want to hurt his feelings, even though he said,” Give it to me straight.”

“C’mon, I want a no-holds-barred assessment,” his email had exhorted. If he had said that when I was 10, that would have been a gold-plated invitation to let him have a thwack for all the torment that he had inflicted upon me.

But like I said before, he has changed and wouldn’t hurt a fly today. Thwacking him now would be decidedly Republican American and I am a bleeding heart liberal Canadian.

So here it is, Mr. Prithwis Datta Sir, for all the gattas and other miscellaneous atrocities (like when, running from you, I tripped and fell and chipped my front left incisor).

No-holds-barred…….

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The author has always been a good storyteller. I should know. I heard the Sherlock Holmes stories from him first, before I read them. My middle bro and I would listen, in rapt silence. So when he told me he was writing short fiction, I was certain he would create a page turner.

And a page turner it sure is, a collection of whodunits with it’s main protagonist, a cop in the Mumbai police, Shekhar Sadwal, known simply as ‘SS’ among his peers in the force.

Sadwal is a Detective Inspector in the Crime Branch, which makes him a non-gazetted officer, the highest level one can get to if he begins as a grunt. To get to that position, one can begin at the entry level as a constable, a rank that takes high school certificate holders, much the same as here in Canada.

Beyond inspector are the elite IPS ranks, starting with Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP). ACP is the entry level for an elite cadre known as The Indian Police Service (IPS), whose recruits are university graduates who get there through a highly competitive nationwide entrance exam. These are the phi beta kappa guys who are all cerebral and bristling with high-level connections. Theoretically a grunt like Inspector Sadwal can break through the glass ceiling and become an ACP through merit or connections or both. But an officer like Sadwal probably enjoys being on the streets where the action is.

Sadwal has the confidence and the ear of an outwardly genial but hard-as-nails boss, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Aslam Farooqui, an IPS Officer  who steps in when necessary, without being overly intrusive in the investigations. Interesting character, Aslam Farooqui. I see shades of District Attorney, Arthur Branch, played by Fred Thompson in the original Law and Order series which used to air on NBC in the 90s.

 Its all in the mind-2

Former Commissioner of Mumbai Police, Julio Ribiero, second from left, at the launch. Prithwis is the gent in the middle.

The author has crafted Inspector Sadwal like the way Big Mike did the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Very vivid, the character seems to jump straight out of the pages on that 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet cop motorbike of his.

Sadwal is a large man, stocky and gruff but genial. He loves snacking between meals. Batata vadas (mashed potato patties, deep fried, the Indian equivalent of hash browns but way spicier) are his favorite breakfast or late afternoon snack. He is a cop who loves his job and is damned good at it too. Except for an occasional glass of beer or wine, he has no vices. His morals and his crime fighting zeal are on the very top of his priorities. In him, I see Edward X Delaney, the street-hardened detective inspector in the Lawrence Sanders’  ‘Deadly sins’ crime series.

But here is the incongruity, at least in the eyes of someone like me who has settled abroad for a long time and can make a comparison. Inspector Sadwal is too virtuous. I find it hard to imagine an Indian cop who does not reside in that blurred region between virtue and vice. But heck, the excellent story-telling and the strong plotlines eclipse this tiny mismatch.

There is another thing about the collection that jars a bit, given that the backdrop is Mumbai, India – the narratives have a western feel about them, even though the names and place settings are Indian. The investigations of the crimes in the stories seem to happen a bit too smoothly. Indian law enforcement is made to look like a well-oiled machine. Autopsy reports are on Sadwal’s desk within hours and his colleagues all appear highly professional, contrary to the general perception of Indian cops. I wish that the author had thrown in some chaos into the investigative setup.

Still, I appreciate the fact that the stories tend more toward Arthur Hailey and Lawrence Sanders than Agatha Christie. You don’t have to wait till the end to get to know who did it. That is not the author’s point at all. It is the whole package, the life and times of an Indian cop and the ways that crime is committed in 21st century Mumbai.  if you are planning on a short trip and need something fast-paced to occupy you, this is definitely a  book that could make time zip.

There is no e-book version yet. If the publishers want to jump start sales, an e-book is a must. Heck, I paid more for shipping than for the cost of the book itself.

Prithwis did confirm that he will reimburse the shipping costs to me when we meet next, in the form of a crate of beer or a movie. But then you don’t know my elder bro like I do. There is one thing you cannot do with his spoken word – take it to the bank.

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