As intriguing the title of this topic of BLF was, so was the discussion of the book ‘A Death in the Himalayas‘ by Udayan Mukherjee. Udayan Mukherjee, who has spent two decades working in CNBC was in conversation with Aruna Nambiar, who is also a well-known author of ‘Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth’. Section 144 in the Bangalore city did not spoil the mood of the fest and the audience were glued to their chairs in this very interesting unfolding conversation about the book.
The dark cover of the book with the title in the red font stating ‘A Neville Wadia mystery‘ creates an enticing curiosity in itself. Aruna, who has read the book claimed that the book has all the elements of a good murder mystery. It has lots of suspects with motives but no alibies.
Another salient feature of the book is the classic throwback, almost literary feel, that the book associates with.
Udayan believes that one has to be a voracious reader to be a writer eventually. Unlike other children who had superheroes like Spiderman and Batman, his heroes were always writers since childhoods. He confessed that the world of television never gave the same pleasure as writing did.
Udayan lives for the most part of a year in a little village in the Himalayas and spends months together in his solitude working on the book writing. He told the audience that seeing a big crowd overwhelms him as there are times where for more than a month the only people he meets in the Himalayas are his wife and the caretaker. Aruna and Udayan discussed how it is not important to compare writing one book in four years in a city to writing four books in one year in a quiet place like the Himalayas. A lot of factors including discipline and the busy city life affects the writing process.
Before speaking about the book and its plot, Udayan spoke about how locales and milieu of a place are equally important for his books as the ending of solving the mystery itself. ‘A Death in the Himalayas’ is a book about a Scottish British author Claire Watson who wrote a contemptuous book on the plight of minorities in India. How it made her unpopular with government and politicians and made her take refuge in a Himalayan village. The book unfolds further when Claire is found dead in a stream in a jungle one fine morning. Clair’s neighbours were a Parsi couple from Mumbai, Neville Wadia and Shahnaz Wadia. Neville is a retired police officer who gets involved in resolving the mystery of Claire’s death.
Udayan explained that, according to him, the key to a murder mystery is not just the plot. One might not remember the story but the characters stay. Two most interesting characters in the book are the protagonist Neville Wadia and the actual inspector in the investigation. Neville Wadia is portrayed as a handsome sixty-year-old retired top cop. He is slender, refined and charming. Aruna teased Udayan asking if he sees the character as his alter ego.
Udayan explained that he wanted to depict Neville as a gentle soul and does not want him to come across as the stereotyped boorish police inspector. Neville is a reclusive, quiet-looking good soul who wants to help people in distress. Shahnaz Wadia, playing Neville’s wife, is also shown as a very intriguing and nice woman. To offset Neville’s personality, Satish, the actual inspector, is portrayed as a rugged character.
While the book is a crime thriller, it also is a literary delight. The entire setting is a very integral part of the book. The Himalayas should not be considered as just a pretty locale to set up the plot. On the contrary, how Himalayan villages bring with them the aspects of insecurities, conflicts and politics of the village. It touches on topics about social problems of a village, including illegal land acquisition and outsiders coming to the village.
The conversation unfolded a very different aspect of the Himalayas and how they lend themselves to murder mysteries. Himalayan people are shy and reclusive. The physical appearance of mountains has an eerie aspect to it. Sometimes afternoons can be quieter than nights.
It was interesting to hear the social problems that the mountain people face, how they need city people but also resent them and the intrusion. In the book, Claire is a quintessential outsider and so is not accepted by the villagers.
Udayan talked about his views about north Indian villages. Two key things that struck him were misogamy and xenophobia. These also play an important role in unveiling the story. The title of the book could have very well been ‘A Death of the Himalayas’ instead as Udayan feels that we are ruining the Himalayas. This book seemed to be very layered and uncovering it will be a mysterious delight.
Udayan then took the audience’s questions and explained how beauty and evil coexist in a quiet place. Mumbai has a noise that interferes with the writing and hence he finds writing in the Himalayas more productive. His favourite author is P.D. James and the detective character Adam Dalgliesh. He loves some of the well-known French mystery writers as well. Udayan has kept it at a lower price because he wants this book to be read as a literary crime novel.
About the Author: Neha Agrawal is an expressive-impulsive woman with the halo of positivism and energy, a smile that emanates from the heart and wants to reach out to the world. She loves books, children, rawness, originality, and nature – not in any particular order. A budding poet and a writer under the handle #fursatkealfaaz on Instagram. She currently writes for TheSeer.