Byomkesh in English
Madhusree Chatterjee

The collection of three translated stories of Bengali writer Saradindu Bandyopadhyay featuring private investigator Byomkesh Bakshi is aimed at drawing the attention of a young readership to classical Indian detective fiction. Translated from Bengali to English by Arunava Sinha, The Rhythm of Riddles has three mystery stories. set in Kolkata.

Sinha says, "Byomkesh Bakshi was an altruist, one of those rare detectives who believed that the criminal need not always be handed over the police. They could be reformed or pardoned. He was a samaritan, more social reformer."

The advocate-turned writer Bandopadhyay was deeply influenced by Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Father Brown (G.K. Chesterton) and Auguste Dupin created by Edgar Allan Poe. He also realised that if he had to relate to an Indian audience, he had to create an Indian character, who lived in a familiar suburban milieu. Sinha says almost all mystery novel writers, who created enduring detectives as their central characters, were inspired by Holmes.

"He was a gentleman detective and the police did not like him much," the translator says.

A similar willingness to side with the helpless and sometimes hapless criminal runs through the three stories on Byomkesh. In the story, The Rhythm of the Riddles, Natabar Nashkar, a lodger in the three-storeyed residence of Byomkesh, is found murdered in his room. The trail of investigation leads the detective to fellow boarder Bhupesh Babu, who confesses to murdering Natabar to avenge the kidnapping of his son.

The crime becomes a symbol of redemption. The murderer is a "hero" symbolic of the triumph of the helpless middle class against organised crime.

A lot has changed from the time these stories were written but what has not changed is the nature of crime, Sinha says.

"Just like they do now, twisted people had no compunction stealing, robbing and even killing," he says. Bandopadhyay's stories reflect his roots. Born in Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh in 1899, the writer lived through the two World Wars events that coloured his mystery stories. In 1938, the writer moved to Bombay to write screenplays for Bombay Talkies and lived in the city for 15 years. IANS