Monday, January 23, 2012

Kurt Wallander

He came into my life much after the others. I was acquainted with most of the popular English detectives fiction had created. I was familiar with the poet Dalgliesh, the politically correct Wexford and the inimitable Morse who listened to Wagner as soon as he got home after duty. Holmes and Miss Marple were like an old uncle and aunt I had visited numerous times as a child. I revisited them occasionally when nostalgia took a sudden somersault and made me reach out for an old dusty paperback lying forgotten on the bookshelf. I was not too fond of the cocky Belgian Hercule Poirot and empathised with his creator for having gotten fed up of him. But since the eccentric sleuth was always found in English company, I thought of him as British too.

Wallander was an unexpected delight. I chanced on him, a couple of years ago, after I had finished reading the millennium trilogy in one hungry week. Till such time I had delightedly devoured the adventures of the tattooed hacker Lisbeth Salander, I didn’t know there were excellent crime fiction writers in Sweden. So when I discovered half a dozen Henning Mankells placed cheek by jowl to half a dozen Peter Jacksons in a bookshop, curiosity made me pick up one of them. That was it. I was hooked.

I had a curious sense of resonance with Inspector Wallander. He could have been a friend I had known in school. He suffered from diabetes, he drank too much and ate too much of junk food. He was overweight and although he wanted to exercise and lose weight, he could never bring himself to do it. He had a troubled relationship with his father, his ex-wife, his daughter and some of his colleagues. The early promise he had displayed as a detective had never been fully realized but he didn’t seem to care much about that. Happy to involve himself fully in whatever crime he was called to investigate.

There was nothing much to like about Wallander. Most of the works featuring him showcased a middle aged man transitioning into the autumn of his life, not very graciously. He wasn’t unduly bitter about that but seemed to be surrounded by a cloud of sadness. Yet there was nothing pitiable about him. His fears of growing old and redundant could very well have been mine. Maybe bringing friends into the picture was the kind of a red herring Wallander had to deal with in every case. Maybe I was afraid of acknowledging his life could very well be mine if I don’t learn to let go. By the time, Mankell wrote the last book in the series, Wallander was pushing 60. The mystery he was asked to solve had to do with a troubled man and the grumpy detective, playing the mirror image was also troubled by his failing memory. It’s only when I came to the end of the book, did I realize that it was the last case of Wallander that I would have the privilege of reading. It made me sad.

But as luck would have it, a friend lent me ‘The Pyramid.’ This one is a collection of short stories of Wallander’s early cases, starting with the first one that helped him turn into the enigmatic detective we met in other works. From the end, I went back to the beginning.

In one of my plays, one of the characters ruminates about life. She says “We live and we die. Everything that happens in between is incidental.” I relived that moment with ‘The Pyramid.’

Thank you Henning Mankell for elevating detective fiction to literary delight!

P.S. Fox Crime is currently airing the television serial on Wallander. If you are not acquainted with him, you can start with viewing them.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Get a life, you Morons

So now it is a woman’s fault if she gets raped or molested. It is all because of how they dress, according to a senior police official in Andhra Pradesh and a senior minister in Karnataka. I have forgotten their names because who bothers to remember the names of semi literate idiots and morons with medieval values.

Some half wit makes these public pronouncements and the press is only eager to lap them up. They always result in these silly debates about whether or not women contribute to their own harassment. When do we change the focus and talk about how sick and perverse men can be? Do we discriminate even when it comes to pettiness? We can throw sweeping generalizations at women but not at men?

A few years ago, a young law student, Priyadarshini Mattoo, was stalked to her house to be raped and murdered by the son of a senior police official. Was it because of the way she dressed? Ruchika Girhotra was all of fourteen when she was molested by another sick police officer who had a daughter as young as the victim. In both the cases, the system led by men did its best to shield the culprits. That they failed owed more to a public outcry than any change of heart in either the criminals or their supporters.

As a man I find these kinds of statements stupid. Because I am always hearing from the women in the family about the harassment they face. If my wife is driving on the roads, some bus or autorickshaw driver would try and bully her. If my niece is walking to her work, she would have that odd day when someone tries to molest her with a look or a touch. It’s not because of how they dress. It is because they are women...plain and simple. Apart from feeling helpless and angry there is little I can do when I hear these stories from them. So I can well imagine how furious women get when they hear such statements by the two faced moral brigade.

Besides what kind of logic is being advocated here? Are we saying men are no better than animals? That they can’t restraint themselves the moment they see an exposed body part of a woman? That they turn into canines who think it is raw meat for the taking? In that case, how do they restrain themselves at home with their mothers and sisters? After all, it is impossible for anyone, man or woman to be fully clad at all times. I wonder sometimes whether Rathore’s daughter was as much a victim of the perverted man as Ruchika was. Does that explain why the wife was so eager to defend the heinous crime? Who knows what other disgusting truth would come tumbling out if we dug further.

They are even trying to bring out a statistical correlation between harassment and inappropriate dressing. We are fine with that. Why don’t you compile the statistics of the women who have reported being raped and what they were wearing when they were abducted or attacked? I am sure they will stop talking about statistics after that.

I am not talking radical feminism here. I am as opposed to the concept of a slut walk as I am towards these demented men. I am traditional enough to not want the women in my family dress in skimpy clothes and go out. But I am also smart enough to see through what is being said and understand the real agenda behind it.

The fact is things are changing drastically in this country. Men are learning that they need women in whatever space they find themselves in. Women are competing with them in their work spaces, making their own decisions, earning their own money and spending it in whatever way they may deem fit. That is threatening. And so they thought of this indecently clad argument to put women in their place.

But it is so laughable and idiotic that even men are not buying it.