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Archive for October 23rd, 2012

Barnabas

Title : Barnabas

Author : Sangeeta Nambiar

Publisher : Westland

Price : 250/-

is particular

The book has a lot going for it, but the simmering undertones of resentment towards the British was what caught my attention the most. A pity that this particular angle wasn’t explored much.

The story is about Barnabas C. Mehta, named thus because his father was always ready with the necessary ‘bandobast’ for his white master. The white master, Curtis, treats Barnabas like his own son, the one who will inherit Curtis’ vast knowledge and his love for the spirits! It is Curtis who encourages Barnabas to pursue his deduction skills and also prints formal visiting cards for Barnabas, if only to open the doors for the son of a servant cook, which otherwise would have been impossible in a British dominated Mumbai.

Barnabas takes up the investigation of the missing wife of a wealthy dockyard owner, Stanton.  What initially appeared like a well-planned escape plan by the wife, takes a more gruesome turn when dead bodies turn up unexpectedly. The investigating office declares it an open and shut case, but Barnabas believes otherwise. Following his instincts and clues gleaned through painstaking ways, he leads the case to ‘closure’.

Most of the book, as expected, is dedicated to Barnabas’ efforts in piecing the clues together. There is a simplicity in his approach which is in sync with his surroundings. His dilemma regarding the British is also understandable. Like he says, who in living memory remembers how it feels to be truly ‘independent’? Would Indians be able to manage on their own, when neither the current generation nor their ancestors had any experience in running a country? These questions reflect the conflicts that I’m sure many youth in those days must have faced.

The characters are well etched, except maybe the detective’s father, whose loyalty to Curtis clashes with his loyalty to the nation. I wish we had a clearer view of what Chetan (the father) truly felt about his years of service and the life that Barnanas led, thanks to Curtis.

Being  a die-hard Agatha Christie fan, I kept a sharp lookout for red-herrings, which the Dame was famous for. Surprisingly, there weren’t any. I don’t mean to say that the story was predictable, but the fact is, halfway through the book, I knew who had done it. I even deduced why it was done. The only thing that kept me glued was the ‘how’!! And it was rather gripping to read through it.  What truly made the book stand out was the innate Indian-ness of the detective and the blockers in his search for truth. That he meekly gives in to silence when he would in fact like to rip the other person apart, speaks volumes of the subjugation of Indians, in their own land.

“Barnabas” is a very well-written book. Like I mentioned before, it is a simple book, barely giving in to anything fancy. Read it while going on a trip or during a meal break. It will keep you adequately occupied. You won’t be disappointed.

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