It is tough being a writer of crime fiction in India. Especially if you happen to write in English.
I have actually had other writers – of more ‘literary’ fiction, generally – look at me with faintly raised eyebrows, as if wondering if I’ll be able to respond intelligently, should they condescend to address a few sentences to me. I’ve had readers ask, “Since you’ve done so much research, why don’t you use it to write something constructive? Like a book on what India might have been like if Dara Shukoh, instead of Aurangzeb, had succeeded Shahjahan?”
(That reader actually added that crime fiction, after all, was a ‘hobby’).
So it is a very refreshing change to be part of something that doesn’t tolerate crime fiction, it celebrates it.
From February 24th to 26th this year, the English Department at Delhi University’s St Stephen’s College organised and hosted Body of Evidence, an International Conference on Crime Fiction. Hachette India, along with Quill and Canvas, set up a bookstall – with a mouth-watering range of books, especially crime and detective fiction – on the lawns next to the library.
That was fun (though I ended up buying only two books, since most of what I really liked, I’d already read) – and even more fun were the three days of sessions. Okay, I should probably amend that to the one and a half days of sessions that I sat through. I wasn’t able to make it on the 25th, and could stay only for half of the day on the 24th, but I liked – really liked – a lot of what I heard and saw during the time I was present.
Body of Evidence (St Stephen’s called it a ‘ConFest’ – a combination of a ‘conference’ and a ‘festival’) included a number of interesting papers and presentations by students, academicians, writers, journalists and other crime fiction enthusiasts. Most of those that I listened to were of exceptionally high calibre: analytical, smart, and entertaining.
Among my favourites were ‘Masculinity in the Construction of Feluda as a Detective (Surangama Dutta, Jesus and Mary College); ‘Mary Higgins Clark: Crime in New York and the World of the Urban Heroine – an Overview’ (Arjun Rajkhowa, St Stephen’s College), Anarchy in the UK: Crime, Capital and the Child in Michael de Larrabeiti’s “Borrible” books (Aishwarya Subramaniam, Freelance writer and reviewer), and a delightfully visual presentation, by Avinash Mudaliar of Indiatimes, on ‘Reinvention of Crime Fiction: The Recurrence of Classic Crime Fiction in the “New Age”’.
The evenings – which I admit (very sheepishly) to have missed – consisted of more relaxed events: a quiz, a movie screening (of The Perfect Murder) and a play (Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound).
So – what was I doing here, besides enjoying myself? Well, for one, I was part of a discussion panel that met on the last day. Jaya Bhattacharji Rose chaired the session, and on the panel were Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Partha Basu, and yours truly. It was a wonderful, relaxing chat – one of the most pleasant and insightful panel discussions I’ve ever been part of.
And yes, the last day’s sessions began with an address from me. When Dr Giti Chandra, the Conference Convenor, had asked me if I’d like to do that, I’d immediately sprung at the chance – because here was my opportunity to share my love for historical detective fiction with others. My talk, while it did (naturally) touch on my own books about Muzaffar Jang, was wider than that in its scope – I talked about some of my other favourite historical detectives, about TV and film adaptations of these detective stories, and of the main challenges one faces when writing in this particular subgenre of crime fiction.
If you didn’t know about the ConFest or couldn’t attend it, do pray that it becomes an annual feature of the St Stephen’s calendar. It’s a brilliant, informative, delightful way to interact with people who do take crime fiction seriously.
And, if you’d like to know what I said, click here to read the speech I’d prepared as a reference.