Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Secret Gardener

Swaminathan, Kalpana. The Secret Gardener. New Delhi: Penguin, 2013

I had the book with me for a long time. I even tried to read it once. But couldn’t just enter into the world of Sita and her ageing aunt, Lalli, the famous Tamil detective in Mumbai, and her ragtag group of allies, policemen Savio and Shukla and police doctor Q. I had not read the first two books, part of an apparent series.

Then yesterday, I picked up the book again, read the first few pages and I was on. Literally. By midnight, I was halfway through and I could not stop. I had a faint idea who may be the perpetrators of the crime, and I had to finish the book. I did. And now, I am a fan of Kalpana Swaminathan.

This is a detective novel, and I am sure the book will disappoint many for not being ‘detective’ enough. There are plot holes. There are co-incidents (even the major turning point of the novel, of Jai finding his way to Lalli’s house is a co-incidence) and there are not enough action.

But then, this is not just a detective novel, it’s an Indian detective novel. Now, this is important. Especially, Swaminathan considers it important. She takes the model of a classic detective tale (complete with the final ‘parlour scene’ where the detective unravels the mysteries), and makes it very Indian. In the parlour scene for example, they have a South Indian dessert, which is described with delectable detail. Even her images are Indian. And she is not just interested in the crime and the criminal, she is interested in other things, marital rape, for instance, or child welfare, or horticulture, or food. And her comic timing is seriously judicious. She does it sparingly, but with such panache, I was smiling.

Since this is a detective novel, I cannot give away the plot, but I can only tell my friends, fans of the detective novels of a certain JK Rowling, please, please, read The Secret Gardener.

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