Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Intrepid Lady Sleuth

No series on detectives will be complete without a review of lady detectives. Or at least, I thought so...

But, when I started searching for lady detectives in Indian fiction, I found a veritable dearth of them. Despite real life examples like Kiran Bedi and reel-life examples like “Udaan” (my recollections of which are very hazy, except that it was a nice serial), lady sleuths in mainstream Indian literature are very rare to find. Of course, so are sleuth's ladies (only Byomkesh' Satyaboti and Bahadur's Bela come to mind), but that's for another article.

That's why there is no plural in the title...

Uma Rao:

Daughter-in-law of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, wife of a Superintendent, Uma Rao is your traditional housewife, or as “traditional” as you can get while being on first name basis with ministers on both sides of marriage. But, when she starts to write her thesis on criminals, it is not just her introduction to criminals, but to sleuthing as well.

When she finds a hijra vehemently denying that he killed one of the members of his community, she decides to help the person she believes is innocent. With the help of a constable from her husband's office, she uncovers the truth behind the murder, in the process finding the roots of crime reaching the highest echelons of Bangalore's society. Flush with her success, she goes on to find the true murderer of a wealthy English Lady (literally), who has come to India to meet her brother who is living in an ashram.

The brother turns out to be a member of Homicide Squad in Britain, and so, when a famous actor (working in a production of “A Midsummer Night's Dream” on Independence Day) disappears and is murdered after reappearing, the British counsel gets the help from Uma Rao, who is watching the play. They find out that the wife of the actor is not the real killer, despite their marriage supposedly being on rocks.

Written by Sahitya Akademi Award-winner Mahesh Dattani, the three plays show us a housewife turning into a sleuth, first only because she wants to help a person whom she assumes to be innocent. Later on, as a famous detective, whose renown reaches even British isles, she turns what initially is a thesis into a quest for her own identity.

Of course, her journey to fame and independence is not without obstacles. She has to venture into the most dangerous districts in the underbelly of Bangalore, face attempts on her life, and since that is not enough, face conflict with her husband who is not so happy with her foray into practical side of crime fighting. But despite that, the “intrepid sleuth” brings the criminals to justice.

As I said before, despite a lot of research I could not find any more lady (or girl) detectives in mainstream Indian literature. Have I forgotten (or not found) anybody?

But, I did find an interesting difference between male and female detectives which is not limited to Indian literature. Men (or the detective stories with main characters as men) don't waste much time on their romantic entanglements or marital descriptions. e.g. Byomkesh is married, but Satyaboti, in spite of being an intelligent lady (which is why Byomkesh is attracted to her in first place) does not merit many lines in his stories (at least, his stories which I have read/seen till now). On the other hand, stories involving lady detectives have a lot more conflict of romantic (or marital) kind, which does tend to hog limelight from crime fighting sometimes, with the main character giving way to her emotions. Why do you think this difference?

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken...

Quote of The Day:

But love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things.

- Sherlock Holmes (The Sign of Four)


Princess Stefania said...

I put FaerieLand up?!
That must have been an accident. And it was unfinished!
Oh rats and drat!
Confusticate and Bebother this silly blogger!
Did you really see it?

Neihal said...

where did u read about her. Never heard. :(

but I agree with ur views on depiction of women professionals not just detectives.

Fleiger said...

@Princess: Well, eagles are well-known for their sharp vision... And then, I am currently neck-deep in detective stories, remember? ;)

@Neihal: I heard the dramas on BBC series "Ladies of Mystery". Remind me to sing the praises of BBC some time for this and a lot more.

Why do you think this depiction? Somebody suggested chauvinism, but I don't think that's the whole answer. Do you?

Princess Stefania said...

I can't think of any female detectives in Indian literature (but then, I don't know much about Indian literature).
Dangerous districts in the underbelly of Bangalore? You must be talking about the shopping malls, when they have their mega sales. Perilous realms indeed.

And that wasn't even a post. It was an email, and I was trying to see whether it was worth turning it into a blogbit.

Fleiger said...

@Princess: Hmm, the foreign ones in the series will include Miss Marple, Agatha Raisin, Molly Lefebure etc. etc. Do give me names of the ones you like. And where's the post which you thought of last time?

And I wasn't joking when I talked about sharp vision ;)

Fleiger said...

@Princess: The "dark underbelly" included Shivajinagar and the dangerous areas nearby. But then, I can think of how it is dangerous to enter a mall with "Sale" signs without your rugby gear.

Princess Stefania said...

I've decided to go the apothecary way. Pixie Dust showcases my finest experiments with the shrubberies and all things leafy.

I'm stumped! Really. I can't think of any female detectives. Miss Marple leaps to the mind of course, and then there's the fairer half of Enid Blyton's mystery books, and odds and ends Agatha Christie created... but I really can't think of anyone.
Agatha Raisin and Molly Lefebure? Tell me more. And then more and more and more.

silverine said...

You are tagged with the The First Kiss Tag! :)

Fleiger said...

@Princess: Will do... when the "Detectives" series returns after the summer break ;)

@Silverine: Hmm... the tag is added in the list.