Vish Puri: The Case of the Missing Servant

Tarquin Hall’s book is a bag in which mixing is happening (Translation: It’s a mixed bag). Vish Puri and his compatriots are always talking in the present continuous. Their parts of speech also are all over the place. It’s because this is how they talk in Delhi, na! It’s all Hinglish, yaar. I am not knowing anyone from Delhi, Jaipur or Ranchi who is speaking like Hall is saying. A few pages into the book it is getting so annoying that I am abandoning it constantly because I am not understanding this writer-wallah’s caricaturing.

Once you get over the tiresome dialogue, the book isn’t half bad. Tarquin Hall has an eye for detail. He captures the chaos, noise and bustle of everyday life in Delhi and Jaipur beautifully.

The road led past the Jal Mahal palace, beached on a sandy lake bed, into Jaipur’s ancient quarter. It was almost noon and the bazaars along the city’s crenellated walls were stirring into life. Beneath faded, dusty awnings, cobblers crouched, sewing sequins and gold thread onto leather slippers with curled-up toes. Spice merchants sat surrounded by heaps of lal mirch, haldi and ground jeera, their colours as clean and sharp as new watercolor paints. Sweets sellers lit the gas under blackened woks of oil and prepared sticky jalebis. Lassi vendors chipped away at great blocks of ice delivered by camel cart. In front of a few of the shops, small boys, who by law should have been at school, swept the pavements, sprinkling them with water to keep down the dust. One dragged a doormat into the road where the wheels of passing vehicles ran over it, doing the job of carpet beaters.

Vish Puri is the Indian Hercule Poirot. (The sobriquet of “Indian Sherlock Holmes” goes to Feluda, of course). He is as rotund, full of himself, fastidious about his appearance and hilariously brilliant as his Belgian counterpart. He hates being compared to Sherlock Holmes, preferring to educate the masses on Chanakya, author of the Arthashastra and chief advisor to Chandragupta Maurya. Even Rani, Puri’s secretary, who handles both his cases and ensuring that the office boy doesn’t steal the milk with unimaginative efficiency is the Indian Miss Lemon.

As far as murder mysteries go, this one is no Doyle or Christie. It’s less about the whodunit and more about the atmosphere created. Puri has to track down Mary, a servant girl who has gone missing and has possibly been murdered. There’s an allegation levelled against her employer, a prominent and conscientious lawyer, a seemingly rare breed in the Indian judicial system, of having done away with her. It’s up to Puri to clear the good man’s name while his Mummyji does some sleuthing of her own to protect her son’s life. All this wrapped up neatly in the lives of Delhi’s nouveau riche.

As Puri would say, this book is timepass. It’s not unreadable, the book isn’t fast-paced nor does it drag. All in all, it seems to sit in the middle of the pack every way you slice it. Read it when you have nothing better to do. As for me, I am loath to abandon a book that I have started but now that I’m done, I shan’t pick up another Vish Puri.

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