Thursday, 13 August 2015

Why a crime fighting elephant in Mumbai needs courage, curiosity . . . and chocolate

Today’s guest blog is by debut author Vaseem Khan. By day he is the Business Development Director for the Department of Security and Crime Science and the national Security Science Doctoral Research Training Centre at University College London (UCL).  The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is the first in the series of the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency novels set in India.

The long and varied history of the crime novel has witnessed crime fighters of every shape, size and disposition, ranging from a fastidious little Francophone Belgian whose head was ‘exactly the shape of an egg’ to a ‘rotund, badly-dressed Catholic priest’. Both Poirot and Father Brown are established stars in the literary firmament, but in my debut novel The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, Mumbai police Inspector Ashwin Chopra - forced into early retirement and unable to relinquish the final case of his career – the death of a poor local boy - is confronted by the somewhat surreal dilemma of taking in a baby elephant, sent to him by his enigmatic uncle. The elephant – one-year-old Ganesha - soon proves to be a more than useful ally as Chopra sets off to tackle the case, and thus becomes the latest in a long line of colourful crime fighters to have graced the genre.  

Fans of the novel have asked me why I chose an elephant as Chopra’s sidekick. Aside from the fact that I am passionate about these amazing animals, there are some very practical reasons why a pachyderm makes a more-than-competent crime-fighter.

Elephants are supremely intelligent creatures, one of just a few who are legitimately classified as being ‘self-aware’ (meaning that, at the least, they pass the ‘mirror test’). They also possess excellent memories, a trait that has been well documented, and amply employed by such renowned detectives as Inspector Morse – elephants really do not forget. Elephants are also known for their complex social interactions and ability to feel empathy. As a writer this emotional range is important to me – part of the charm of my series (as readers have expressed to me) lies in the relationship that gradually develops between the somewhat rigid and stiff-shelled Chopra and the, at first, despondent infant elephant that has been vouchsafed to his care.

Of course, we mustn’t forget that Ganesha is a child and like all children skates along on an ocean of emotional turbulence, which provides plenty of scope for melodrama. For instance, he is endowed with an unbridled sense of curiosity. As we shall see, this occasionally leads him into trouble, at which point his other singular and endearing quality will stand him in good stead – courage.

And in the city of Mumbai Chopra and Ganesha will require courage in spades. Like most Indian metropolises Mumbai is facing a cultural onslaught from westernisation – which brings both good and bad, as I describe in my novel. Mumbai is the city of dreams. People come to Mumbai to make their fortune, to become famous on the sets of the world’s most prolific movie industry, to start micro-businesses in the city’s slums.

But where there are dreams there are also nightmares.

Chopra stands on the shadow line between old and new India. Old India is tradition, religion, the caste system, ubiquitous poverty; new India is wealth, skyscrapers and western sensibilities eroding the ancient way of life. The sights, sounds, smells, and even tastes of this modern India flesh out my canvas as Chopra and Ganesha pursue an exotic gallery of villains and evildoers.

It has been tremendous fun writing these novels, imbuing them with the warmth and colour of India from the ten years I lived there. Finding time from my job at University College London’s Department of Security and Crime Science has been tricky – but I’m an insomniac so I guess there is a silver lining to sleepless nights after all!

One questions remains to be answered . . . Do elephants really love chocolate?

Elephants are herbivores and as such their diet consists of bark, grass, shoots, leaves, and fruit. But urban elephants – often faced with lean pickings – have been known to widen their palates in the pursuit of survival. And besides, every crime-fighter needs an addiction. Holmes had his morphine, John Rebus has his whisky. Is it so hard to accept that our crime-busting little elephant needs his chocolate fix before embarking on another gruelling day on the mean streets of Mumbai?

After all, of all places in this world, India is where the impossible becomes merely improbable – such as the existence of a very gifted, crime-fighting, chocoholic baby elephant.

More information about the author and his writing can be found on his website or you can follow him on Twitter @VaseemKhanUK and find him on Facebook.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries.  The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved.  And the second is a baby elephant.  As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought.  And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs...

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan is published on 13 August 2015 (£12.99 Mulholland Books)

1 comment:

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