Review Society

The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra: Kaveri cracks the case

Representational image of a female detective

Representational image of a female detective

By the 1920s, Bangalore, under the benevolent rule of Maharaja Krishna Raja Wodeyar IV, had grown into a big cosmopolitan city. Hospitals, schools and colleges, industries, well-planned residential localities, streets with electric lighting and public parks coupled with the salubrious climate had turned Bangalore into an attractive destination for Europeans as well as for Indians from other States. Into this Bangalore of 1921 arrives Kaveri Murthy, the 19-year-old protagonist of Harini Nagendra’s debut novel,  The Bangalore Detectives Club.

“We view the world of the 1920s from a woman’s perspective and celebrate her as she breaks stereotypes and transgresses class and caste barriers with elan. Kaveri’s character — a sari-wearing, coffee-drinking lady sleuth who also loves to cook for her husband — is as interesting as it gets”

She has recently got married to Dr. Rama Murthy — “a promising young doctor from a wealthy and prominent family” — but Kaveri is not the usual housewife. She loves mathematics, swimming, reading detective fiction and hopes to get a degree in Mathematics. As the young couple build a life in the city, the murder of a local pimp at a dinner reception in the Century Club sends Kaveri on an unexpected adventure. How Kaveri, with the support of her indulgent husband, helps Inspector Ismail solve multiple crimes forms the plot of this charming thriller.

Bangalore of yore

Nagendra’s descriptions of day-to-day life in the city, reflecting her years of research on its ecology, take us back to the Bangalore of yore, with its gulmohars and magnolias, bungalows with verandahs and gardens, Blighty’s tea room, horse-cart rides, and leisurely strolls in Lalbagh and Cubbon Park. Less-remembered historical facts such as a zoo in Lalbagh with a resident orangutan are also recorded, taking the reader on a nostalgia trip. However, a few things, like the unlikely use of “Chennai” by a British doctor or the presence of paneer patties in the 1920s, jar in an otherwise historically accurate novel.

The Bangalore Detectives Club book cover

The Bangalore Detectives Club book cover

Also, apart from minor forays into ‘forbidden’ colonies, the atmospheric evocations of the city largely reinforce privileged representations of early 20th century Bangalore. Wasn’t there a Bangalore beyond the gardens, clubs, vegetarian food and bungalows?

The female gaze

Where the novel scores is in the unmistakable female gaze, albeit a bit naive in its idealism, that Nagendra lends to Kaveri. We view the world of the 1920s from a woman’s perspective and celebrate her as she breaks stereotypes and transgresses class and caste barriers with elan. Kaveri’s character — a sari-wearing, coffee-drinking lady sleuth who also loves to cook for her husband — is as interesting as it gets. The portrayal of Ramu and Kaveri’s marital relationship and Kaveri’s endearing personality are sometimes more absorbing than the details of the crime itself. The Kaveri dictionary and Kaveri recipes at the end reflect the care and affection with which Nagendra has created her. 

Kaveri Murthy is a much-needed South Indian addition to the short list of Indian female sleuths. And if the prologue is anything to go by, there are many more Kaveri and Ramu detective adventures in the offing.

The Bangalore Detectives Club; Harini Nagendra, Constable,₹499

The reviewer is an independent researcher and filmmaker.


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Printable version | Jun 9, 2022 7:33:00 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/society/review-the-bangalore-detectives-club-by-harini-nagendra/article65439085.ece