The scene-setting first story of many is set in the interwar years just off Calcutta’s Chinatown, where Ajit and Byomkesh first meet. Ajit is established in this story as the chronicler, a young man who has decided rather early on in life to opt out of the rat race and be a writer instead. The story is vintage Bengali noir, heady with murder and cocaine and the moody menace of Chinatown’s dark alleys. It ends with the two bachelors becoming firm friends and moving in together into Byomkesh’s digs on Harrison Road.
The Gramophone Pin Mystery
A slick, classically noir mystery with a cyclist assassin who kills for hire. Dark streets, gaslights, disguises, cat burglar chic black clothing for Byomkesh and a novel way of killing. As I said just now, slick.
The Venom Of The Tarantula
When a crippled old sinner addicted to tarantula venom outwits his doctor and continues to drug himself despite being under strict observation, Byomkesh is called in. He is however, busy with another case and sends Ajit to reconnoitre. A touch of comedy ensues as Ajit propounds his theory on how the old man gets his fix. In the end, the solution leaves one spellbound. Did I mention tripping on spiders?
Where There’s A Will
A medical murder of a recalcitrant provider of five dependents with a penchant for making one of them the sole beneficiary leads to Byomkesh meeting his wife, Satyabati. Obvious really, since she is truth and he is a seeker of the same (Satyanweshi is how Byomkesh describes himself. The word is an amalgamation of satya which means truth, and anweshi, which means one who seeks.) A simple detective story, but hey, Byomkesh falls in love, so a must-read.
An Encore For Byomkesh
A chemically coated matchstick which kills instantly on burning, an old enemy’s return for vengeance, which he announces to Byomkesh via a veiled threat, and a strange hiding place – this story sends chills down my spine.
Byomkesh And Barada
A ghost story. No wait, a murder mystery. It takes a while to spot the genre in this face-off between two quintessential Bandyopadhyay characters. The detective wins in the end as a murderer is unveiled and a hidden bequest revealed. As always, no one quite hides things in the open as well as Bandopadhyay does.
Set during the darkness of the Partition, this story recreates the traumatic lawlessness of the wild days in Calcutta after the famine, in the thick of communal riots – though the actual crime has nothing to do with these. On the night of Kali Puja of the year 1946, amidst of the din of crackers, a middle-aged man is murdered. You’ll find love, lust, primal rivalry, yet another novel hiding place, blackmail. The denouément occurs as India gains her independence. And yes, Ajit gains a bookshop in this one, the beginning of his journey as a publisher.
The Moth and The Flame
Hidden desires flow through this story like an underground river. Zamindar Deepnarayan Singh dies, leaving behind his very young, beautiful and accomplished widow, Shakuntala, who is pregnant. The post mortem reveals curare.
Of all the Byomkesh novellas, this one has the richest plot. Nishanath Sen, a retired judge, sets up a sanctuary of sorts in the outskirts of Calcutta for a motley crew of misfits. Here, old sins cast long shadows and no one is quite what they seem. The judge himself is a grey personality, having married the widow of one of the convicts he had sentenced to death. Multiple strands of narratives intertwine and enough motives exist to kill him several times over. There is lust, love, forbidden romance, greed, hidden identity, resentment, retribution.
Respond to this article with a post
Share your perspective on this article with a post on ScrollStack, and send it to your followers.