Feluda’s sketch by Satyajit Ray (Courtesy: Feluda@50 HarperCollins)
IT IS NO SURPRISE that we continue to look up to the West on many counts. We continue to admire their universities, their libraries and sense of history, architecture, beautified parks, and most of all the opulence. We have fashioned our shopping malls, which have become synonymous with development in most Indian cities, on the Western model and follow Hollywood religiously. The Oscars and the BAFTA are more credible than our own film awards and Lord’s is still cricket’s mecca despite having a refurbished Eden Gardens at hand. Yes, we have the Indian Premier League (IPL) but most commentators are still foreigners and almost all the franchises have foreign coaches and support staff. There are more Indians who now follow Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo than there are who follow Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Kerala Blasters. The English Premier League (EPL) has a huge viewership in India and many of the leading EPL clubs are looking at the huge Indian market to add to their support base. In an increasingly globalised world, which allows for free movement of capital and knowledge, we are citizens of cosmopolitan international cities with unrestricted choice.
On the one count where we shun the West rather abrasively, however, is in our selection of sleuth. It is not for choice though. From the father of all detectives, Sherlock Holmes, to Agatha Christie’s little Belgian superman with grey cells, Hercule Poirot, to the quintessentially British Inspector Morse, or the Swedish Kurt Wallander, detectives with impeccable credentials have dominated the Western cultural imagination for decades. For us, however, these men were never the primary draw. Yes, we have all read Holmes or Poirot, Simenon and Chandler, watched Morse and Wallander, but never do we want to become anyone but Feluda. While some would prefer Byomkesh, there’s little doubt that for the more globalised and progressive middle-class intelligentsia the choice is a non-starter. Feluda is the quintessentially Bengali brand in the world detective supermarket. We love his mannerisms, his boy-next-door image, tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, his ability to excel in sport and physical exercise and, finally, his modesty and social commitment.
There are very strong reasons for this. Sherlock Holmes, brilliant and agile as he may be, has his many quirks and mood swings. His experiments on the beautiful Saint Bernard, Gladstone, integral to the Guy Ritchie Holmes movies, don’t often go down well with dog lovers like me. And more recently, Holmes has been subjected to multiple experiments, which have not often been well received by the discerning viewer. Elementary, the Holmes adaptation with Johnny Lee Miller starring as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr Watson, is well crafted but many have problems in accepting Dr Watson as a woman.
Poirot on the other hand is a dandy and is fond of the real luxuries of life. Whatever he is, he isn’t a sport. Physical exercise is not for him and while he stays in the best of five-star hotels and loves exotic food, these are things the middle-class Indian will find difficult to identify with. He is in every sense a snob. Poirot always has an air of superiority and is forever conscious of who he is.
Morse, in contrast to Poirot and Holmes, is an alcoholic, a clear ‘no no’ for us in India. You might be brilliant but you can’t be an Indian idol if you are an alcoholic. Yes, he drives a beautiful red Jaguar and fancies his single malt but Morse can never be the average Indian that Feluda always was and will be.
Finally, in Wallander we see a work-obsessed detective who has no family to go back to in the evenings. His daughter Linda might love him but she too doesn’t prefer to stay with him. Wallander’s alcoholism, which has only grown over the years, has landed him in trouble on a number of occasions and he too suffers from serious mood swings. A loner with a broken marriage who lives with his ageing dog, Wallander is no Feluda.
In sharp contrast, Prodosh C Mitter has every quality that we aspire to have. He is the best sport, if I can call him such. He is good looking, tall and handsome, well read and well behaved and is a man of the world. He is at ease in doing a Kung Fu stunt as he is in trying his hand at cricket. He is great at playing mind games and knows many a card trick. He is pensive on occasions but never rude to Lalmohanbabu or Topshe, nor is he an alcoholic. He perfectly embodies the sportsman spirit in the way we have known it. He still uses public transport and never had a fancy for life in the fast lane. Feluda was never a womaniser and has the highest regard for family.
Prodosh C Mitter has every quality we aspire to have. he is good looking, tall and handsome, well read and well behaved and is a man of the world. He is at ease in doing a Kung Fu stunt as he is in trying his hand at cricket. He is great at playing mind games and knows many a card trick
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Also, in Feluda we find the archetypal foodie, which we all are. From the traditional chanachur to his other culinary tastes, no Kolkatan will ever have a problem identifying with Ray’s immortal Rajani Sen Road resident. For example, in Chinnamastar Abhishap, Feluda did give in to Lalmohanbabu’s request and visit the Great Majestic Circus but did so only after he had finished his lunch comprising of chicken curry and arhar dal cooked by the chowkidar’s wife in Hazaribagh. And may I say he had read up on circus history and could have easily performed had he been called upon to do so.
Personally too, Feluda will always be special. It was Feluda who had given me company on my way back from Oxford on October 1, 2000 when I had to rush back to Kolkata having lost my father. He was the one who said to me to never give up. No match is over till it’s over is the message Feluda stands for. I may not have read a single word on the entire flight but was indeed holding my favourite Feluda Samagra (collection of stories) in hand. It was the only book that I could think of reading on a fateful journey like that, something that best sums up my personal fondness for the man. He is the perfect sport. Again, it was Feluda who stayed with me when I made it back to Oxford in January 2001, nervous and apprehensive after having missed a term. In sport, it is okay to lose and that’s what Feluda taught me. He is an inspiration and suffice to say, I am not alone in thinking so. There are millions of Indians who just love him and his traits.
So, if we are asked: “Who is the best detective of all?” Pat will come the answer: “Elementary, my dear Watson. It is Feluda. And always will be.”
As we celebrated Satyajit Ray on his birth anniversary on May 2, this has been a personal tribute to his immortal creation, one who has taught me all the values that I have grown up associating with sport.