Mesmerizing Classic Bengali Detectives -Kazi Falguni Eshita
Sleuths have been a part of the Bengal’s popular fiction for well over a century. The detective story in Bengali literature is known as the goyenda kahini (translation: ‘detective story’) and its beginnings lie in the 1890s, when Priyanath Mukherjee, a retired police official, started serializing his personal experiences every month, for a magazine.
Called Darogar Daptar (“The Journal of a Police Inspector”) it became an extremely popular serial that continued for well over a decade even though it was a workmanlike account and did not boast of much literary flavour. Incidentally, the appearance of Darogar Daptar coincided with the publication of the first Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Strand magazine.
The popularity enjoyed by Priyanath Mukherjee and his series inspired other writers to explore this genre. Slowly, the Bengali detective, or goyenda, came into being: super-smart, sharp-eyed, extraordinarily analytical. This character was, of course, honed to perfection by the tall, brooding gentleman of 221B, Baker Street in far away London, but the cult in Bengal grew and its hold over our imagination hasn’t slackened in the past 150-odd years.
According to a recent census conducted by a literary magazine in Kolkata, there are 91 detectives in Bengali crime fiction and the tribe is steadily increasing. Let’s look at some Bengali Detectives today:
Kiriti Roy: The way Nihar Ranjan Gupta described his creation Kiriti in his novels, made the character come alive in front of the reader’s eyes. Kiriti is six feet tall, his clean- shaven face and spectacles made him really attractive. He has his hair combed back in a pretty fashionable way. Kiriti really reminds me of Sherlock Holms, because he has a similar coat, cap and smoking pipe. Bengali Sherlock, I’d say. He also has some foodie friends, always around him. Like Byomkesh, his friend, Subrata, narrates Kiriti stories.
Feluda: This popular character happens to be one of my personal favorites. Created by well-known novelist Satyajit Ray, Prodosh C Mitter, aka Feluda stands 6 feet tall. He’s a slender 26-year-old, very attractive indeed. He knows when to use what as a weapon, starting from guns on to black pepper powder. Assisted by his cousin Topesh, Feluda sometimes solves mysteries by solving riddles. He’s a master of disguise, and very calm and cool-headed too. Feluda is equally famous on and off the silver screen as well.
Byomkesh Bakshi: Saradindu Banerjee’s Byomkesh Bakshi is about 23 or 24 years old who looks quite well educated. He works under a pseudonym, Atul Chandra Mitra. Byomkesh’s friend, Ajit, narrates the stories. Unlike other Bengali detectives, Byomkesh raises a family. If Feluda is for teenagers, Byomkesh would attract adults, as he is also pretty reserved unlike Mr. Prodosh Mitter.
Mitin Mashi : The character MitinMashi (Aunt Mitin) is the brainchild of Suchitra Bhattacharya. She’s in her mid-30s. She lives in Dhakuria, Kolkata with her son and husband. She works as a private detective, assisted by her niece, Tupur. The Mitin Mashi stories are mostly for teenagers, but some stories are for adults as well.
Arjun: This detective is an inquisitive teenager, unlike his compatriots. Created by Samaresh Majumder, Arjun lives in Jalpaiguri in West Bengal. He has a very strong relationship with his family and friends. Arjun also has a mentor, a local policeman called Amal Some.
Kakababu: This special character stands high in Indian children’s literature. His real name is Raja Roychowdhury. He had become physically challenged through an accident, but he never lets that rule his life. Assisted by his nephew Shantu and his friends, he goes on thrilling adventures to solve crimes. Writer Sunil Ganguly will live forever in the reader’s mind through Kakababu.
If these characters look new to you, go ahead and get a book. You may look for them over the Internet. I’m sure none of them will disappoint you.