Childhood Memories of Reading (Part II)

Well… those detective novels.

The first name that comes to my mind is Neelakantan Paramara, since I discovered Kottayam Pushpanath much later.  Paramara was a popular author even during my mother’s childhood: unlike other famous detective novels of the time, which as I said earlier were plagiarised from English novels, he wrote original novels.  His popular detective was Bhaskar, who used walk about the Ernakulam streets in a “bush coat” and “felt hat”, smoking a cigarette!  (Can you imagine this happening in the seventies?)  The immediate image that comes to my mind, when I visualise Detective Bhaskar, is this:

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Yes, good ol’ Prem Nazir in detective guise.

This “international uniform of the C.I.Ds” (quoting Sreenivasan from Pattana Pravesam) is derived from the hard-boiled private-eye movies of Hollywood: what is normal there becomes laughably comic while transplanted to Kerala soil.  However, I found nothing strange in this and for quite a long time, thought this was how detectives dressed.

Paramara’s novels had fantastic names (“Pathalagruhathile Dhoomakethu” – The Comet from the Nether Dwelling; “Manthrakkinattile Sundari” – The Beauty from the Enchanted Well; etc.) and even more fantastic premises (in one story, the criminal gang used corpses animated by batteries to kidnap girls!).  I remember there was always a secret gang, located in some inaccessible place (again, a staple of Malayalam movie thrillers), and the gang leader would be totally unsuspected till the end of the novel in true whodunit tradition.  Paramara also had an obsession with sex, which I can analyse with hindsight: there were always girls with “thighs like slabs of butter” in the gang hideaway, and the villains would always be “fondling the girls around the waist”… yes, yes, I know, there was much less censorship of what kids read in those days.

Kottayam Pushpanath, whom I discovered in middle school, was more ambitious and international in his approach.  He had two detectives, one national and one international: Detective Pushparaj and Marxin.  Pushparaj tussled with baddies in Kerala and the rest of India, while Marxin’s arena was mostly in the Carpathian mountains – and he used to meet Dracula quite frequently.  For the famous vampire came to life again and again in Pushpanath’s novels, till one had a doubt whether he was borrowing from Bram Stoker or vice versa!

(I still remember one of Pushpanath’s novels [Hotel Seiko] set in Cochin, where people who took rooms in the hotel just disappeared.  Ultimately it works out that the manager is feeding them a secret poison which makes them shrink into nothing!  The clue which sets the detective on the correct path is a brassiere, left by a young woman, with the hooks still fastened which proves that she disappeared while wearing it!  Talk about science fiction scenarios.)

I think all these detectives borrowed equal parts from the classic English sleuth and James Bond.

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