Monday, May 6, 2013

Thrills without frills

I had reviewed this children's book for the Sunday supplement.

Name: The Lu Quartet
Super Sleuths and Other Stories

By: Nalini Das

Translated by: Swapna Dutta

Published by: Hachette India

Pages: 417

Price: Rs 399

I have grown up on Nancy Drew mysteries, like several other teenagers, wishing I could idolize a desi girl detective pitting her wits against unscrupulous minds. Well, I learnt pretty late of a team of four school girls, who were a perfect foil for each other, in solving cryptic clues.
The four school girls had impressed the readers of Sandesh, a Bengali magazine for children, with their intelligence and presence of mind, throughout the 60s, 70s and early 80s.
Kakoli Chakrabarty (Kalu), Malabika Majumdar (Malu), Bulbuli Sen (Bulu) and Tultuli Basu (Tulu) – together referred to as Gandalu (in Bengali) or Lu Quartet – are boarders in a residential school at Kanchanpur.
Their first case, Lu Quartet - Super Sleuths - is innocuous enough. Malu hears some mysterious noise in the night, which Kalu and other two dismiss as “fanciful”. But, Malu is proved right and they solve the case with surprising results. The characters, they meet in this first case, also pop up in other mysteries, the girls decide to crack.
Since the girls are boarders, they usually encounter mysteries, in their holidays or in their hostel premises. That might seem a little tame to those who are used to hi-flying, jet-setting girl and boy detectives.
But, these girls were growing up in the late 1950s, and so their initial cases are about detecting mysterious noises in the deserted mansion, tracking down hidden treasures and fighting off non-existent spooks. Once the girls enter high school they graduate to tackling criminals involved in adulteration of pharmaceutical drugs, smuggling and kidnapping. And, helping the quartet, when they need it the most, is Angad, the chimpanzee. Quite a departure from a canine friend, often featured in most of the children's detective novels!
The credit goes to the author, Nalini Das, who succeeded in getting the Indian flavour right. The locales, where most of the mysteries unfold, are refreshingly new to the urban readers – Shillong, Cherrapunji, McCluskiegunj, Darjeeling, Guwahati and Mandu – to name a few.
Das also needs to be applauded for envisioning how the future generations of Indian girls were going to be – independent, courageous, wise, with a sense of fun – and portrayed her characters accordingly.
The book is also enlightening in the sense that it has references to the Burman crisis, around Second World War, and how the ethnic Indian population had to flee the country on foot. Now, when was the first time you read about this? In history textbooks?
And, what does one say about the quality of the translation except that the stories seem to be written originally in English language?
If you anticipate the delicious sense of thrill when all the puzzling pieces are falling into place, then this book is for you.

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