Saturday, April 2, 2011

Goodbye, Inspector Ghote

H.R.F. Keating died a few days ago and with him passed his gentle and shrewd detective, Ganesh V. Ghote (Inspector in the police force of Bombay).  All good things must come to an end sometime.  Keating's detective stories are impressive partly because many were written with amazing authenticity much before he ever set foot in India and also for their ability to entertain without invoking any high tech or overly complicated methods or plots.  The crimes (and their solutions) revolve around people - the simple actions (and not so simple words) that enable Inspector Ghote to doggedly and ultimately get his man.

Yes, he will be missed - not just for all he did but the way he did it.  Inspector Ghote represents a vanishing breed - the relatively gentle, idealistic generation of the sixties and seventies.  The descriptions of the city and its inhabitants carry a twinge of nostalgia - a bitter sweet memory of how (deceptively) simple things were.  Some things change (Bombay itself has become Mumbai), but many remain the same - the myths, superstition, social norms, the middle class aspirations, the sharp economic divides.  All this was brought to the fore in a very kind, perceptive manner by the author, often with a sharp twist of humour that was so characteristic of his writing. 

Though many of his stories were set in Bombay, there were some that accurately described various other places - colonial towns, villages and modern cities in India.  He captures the essence of each place beautifully - chaotic, temperamental Calcutta, spiritually complex Benaras, colonially propah Ootacamund and more. 

Ironically, Keating's books were never widely sold in India.  They are rarely stocked (his last book has not even been released here) and one can only find them in old libraries and second hand bookstores.  This is both unfathomable and unfortunate.  The ways of the publishers and marketing agents remain a mystery- one perhaps too complicated even for Inspector Ghote to attempt to unravel.  But let us not dwell for too long on such mundane matters.  Inspector Ghote has had a long and successful stint in one of the most challenging police stations of the country, one filled with glamour, grime and... groans?!  It's time he took a break from it all.  We wish him well!


Nora Franglen said...

Ironically, too, Inspector Ghote, being too gentle a detective, perhaps, for this hardbitten age, was not as widely popular in the UK either, which I was always saddened by. I am always gripped by the moral dilemmas with which Inspector Ghote has to tussle in each of his cases.

Nora Franglen said...

I have just read this addition to the obituary on HRF Keating in the Guardian Newspaper: “When my husband was posted to Bombay, now Mumbai, in the late 1060s, I asked our Parsi office manager if he could advise me on any up-to-date books about everyday life in the city. He immediately recommended HRF Keating and his Inspector Ghote books, on the grounds that Keating knew more about Bombay than he and his Bombay family did.”

And I have also noticed that Penguins are re-issuing some Inspector Ghote books in their Modern Classics series, with a wonderful preface written by Alexander McCall Smith. – well worth buying for the Preface alone!

Sujata Varadarajan said...

Thank you for the comments! I think that H.R.F. Keating and Alexander McCall Smith are possibly the gentlest amongst crime fiction writers and I will wait for the Penguin publications.

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