Thursday, December 17, 2015

A comedy of crime

Hari: A Hero for Hire
Zac O’Yeah
New Delhi, PAN
Pages: 332
Price: Rs 350

Zac O’Yeah’s new novel Hari: A Hero for Hire, like its predecessor, Mr Majestic! The Tout of Bengaluru, has been billed as a detective novel/crime thriller. At one level, it is an accurate description. Yet, this seems to limit the appeal of this comic masterpiece. Hari: A Hero for Hire is not a page-turner whodunnit, but a brilliant comedy of manners, set among the working class community in Bengaluru’s bustling Majestic locality.

Hari Majestic (he is so called because he was discovered under the seat of Majestic theatre) is an orphan and an ex-tout who wants to be a detective, so that he can be a hero and find a girl to marry. He is inspired by mainstream Kannada movies, where the upstart hero always overcomes adversity and wins the girl.

So, after the success in the first case (as described in The Tout of Bengaluru), Hari decides that becoming a detective is his calling. He starts an agency and hires help from his friends: Triplex, a drunk, Gaadi, an auto driver, and Doc, a small-time cyber café owner. Hari also gets a case, to find the secret lover of a married woman. Things predictably go wrong, with the client baying for his blood.

In the ensuring skirmish, Hari breaks his leg and is admitted to a specialty hospital, where bigger mystery awaits, an organ trade racket. And, like a good Sandalwood movie, the long-lost mother must return before we have a wedding and a happy ending!

Never mind the convoluted narrative, the book is joy to read, because of O’Yeah’s sparkling prose peppered with wit and dollops of observational humour. The whodunnit plots aside, the Hari Majestic novel seems to exist solely because O’Yeah, originally from Sweden, has to say things about Bengaluru, his adoptive city.

And, boy, what things! The book is an assault on senses, sound, sight, smell and how we interact with each other, seen from a serio-comic point of view, tongue firmly in cheek. Nothing is sacred in O’Yeah’s prose. Yet, there is an innate understanding and off-hand humour in his description of things that we may take for granted.

I am usually suspicious of foreigners writing about India, because the results tend to be one-sided. But in O’Yeah’s prose, he shows a keen understanding of his characters within their socio-economic milieu. And, the best part is that the author does not laugh at his characters, he laughs with them.

It’s difficult to write good comedy, and it takes a genius to fill pages of a crime novel with humour of all shades. Zac O’Yeah is that writer and Hari: A Hero for Hire is that book.

(This review was first published in Sakal Times, 28 November 2015.)

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