Friday, June 29, 2007

Song Of The Last Resort

An edited version of a review that appeared in the June 29 issue of TimeOut Mumbai.

THE GARDENER’S SONG Kalpana Swaminathan

It’s time to be re-introduced to the 63-year-old Lalli (earlier involved in The Page 3 Murders), a retired police detective known to Mumbai’s men in khaki as L.R. (“Last Resort”).

This time, it’s to do with the murder of the aggravating Mr Rao, who lives in the same building as Lalli and her niece. As Rao is universally considered to be a meddlesome pest, all of the residents are suspect. Lalli’s niece tracks and recalls their prior movements, and it’s left to her razor-sharp aunt to fill in the blanks and apprehend the criminal.

The inhabitants of a building as a microcosm of society: it’s a device that’s been used before, two examples being Manil Suri’s The Death of Vishnu and Vikram Kapadia’s play, Black with Equal. What sets this apart is that Swaminathan structures it around a Lewis Carroll poem: she ingeniously takes absurd scenes – bears with no heads, a banker’s clerk, a bar of mottled soap – and transposes them into the quotidian lives of suburban Mumbai residents, markers in the mystery to be solved.

Swaminathan’s prose is almost Narayanesque, skewering pomposity with glee. Which makes up for a small complaint: Lalli doesn’t seem to do all that much, apart from making gnomic utterances, looking incisive and then, of course, masterfully making sense of the imbroglio. She should be dispatched forthwith to investigate the Curious Case of Bob Woolmer.

Worth your while? Yes, if you’re looking for a delightfully non-taxing way to spend time at home while it pours outside.

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