A murder she wrote, not the mystery

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Meenal Baghel has turned the Neeraj Grover murder case into an engaging narrative, but her characters remain the enigma they are in real life, says Ashish Khetan

Metro diaries: Meenal Baghel
Metro diaries Meenal Baghel, Photo: Mohnish Dabhoya/Timeout Mumbai

WHEN SOMETHING as bizarre and shocking as the sensational Neeraj Grover killing takes place, the public’s moral code is shaken and there’s a natural impulse to enter the mind of the devil. Not for sadistic voyeurism, but to have some understanding of those circumstances under which an ordinary person can commit the most unimaginable crime. In this case, the events — stabbing the victim to death, then having sexual intercourse in the same room as the blood-soaked body and finally, butchering the body to pieces — played out in a metropolitan middle-class setting.

Death In Mumbai: Meenal Baghel
Death In Mumbai: Meenal Baghel Random House 248 pp; Rs 299

Meenal Baghel’s Death in Mumbai,which has been written with the purpose of providing insight into the horrific killing and the central characters around it, achieves that end, but only partially.

Baghel picked an excellent subject for her book. The killing of the young TV executive by his lover’s fiancé remains to this date an extremely riveting story. Her legwork is apparent in the fact that the narrative has been woven with the help of accounts from close family members and friends, who provided an insight into the characters, their childhood, their personalities, their aspirations and ambitions that brought them from their small towns to the big city, and how each uniquely negotiated the challenges tossed up by the world of glamour. She has kept the pace of the book by arousing curiosity around her characters and keeping the reader interested in the events leading up to the climax.

The chapters on Ekta Kapoor, Moon Das and Ram Gopal Varma serve as good sideshow.

NOW WHILE the author has managed to stitch together the events leading to the killing adequately, the killing itself gets short shrift. The murder is almost glossed over, with the author offering little more information or insight than what is already reported in the media. The reader would have liked the author to recreate what actually transpired in those final crucial moments. She has taken very little writer’s licence in logically deducing Maria Susairaj’s motives behind provoking her fiancé by disclosing to him the presence of another man in her house at an odd hour of the night, thus setting the stage for the tragedy.

Or why she played the loyal partner to her fiancé after the killing, when just the night before she was cheating on him. Or, why she told the author of her desire to work out her relationship with her fiancé despite the fact that they were pitted against each other in court. Perhaps no definitive constructs could be formed to explain the many perplexing and mysterious aspects of Susairaj’s personality but some deductive inferences of her motives were definitely warranted. Also, while Baghel has described Susairaj ably through the opinions of her friends and family she has not sketched out enough of her own impressions of her from their interactions. Maria Susairaj remains as much an enigma to the reader as she was at the beginning of the book.

Ashish Khetan is Editor, Investigations with Tehelka.
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Read Between the Cults

Haruki Murakami’s new book vacillates between obscurity and absentmindedness, says Arul Mani

The realist: Haruki Murakami
The realist: Haruki Murakami, Photo: Rex Features

IT IS 1984, and Aomame, who is stuck in a traffic jam on an expressway, ejects from taxi and scrambles down an emergency exit, a transit that allows her to meditate on the unsuitableness of miniskirts for such adventures and on a Sapphic moment from her past. Her impatience is explained when she eventually makes her way to some hotel room and sinks a needle into some irascible man’s neck — professional assassins must indeed suffer from deadline anxiety like the rest of us.

In a slower part of Japan, an adolescent has submitted an autobiographical account of growing up in the Sakigake cult and her editor decides that the aspiring writer Tengo is the right person to reshape the narrative. Tengo wrestles awhile with the ethics of this commission, but this gives way to a sort of fascination when he meets the author, Fuka-Eri. Our protagonists eventually rea lise that these innocuous decisions have caused them to slip through the gaps of one reality into another — Tengo from his careful reading habits and Aomame from the attention she pays to po lice men’s holsters and to news bulletins. In addition, perhaps for the benefit of us dumbass readers, there’s the some what underwhelming spectacle of a sky with two moons.

Meanwhile, the success of the book leaves the cult very unamused. The dowager, who sends Aomame out on her missions of feminist justice, gives her a new job — killing Sakigake’s founder, a man given to raping minors. The cult sends an investigator to track Aomame down. Many mad pursuits thus ensue over 925 pages as the characters grope their way out of the labyrinth that has descended about them out of a blue sky.

Some of the mechanisms within this three-in-one novel are worth a second look. The narrative develops an engaging slowness that makes visible the self-contained lives its protagonists build around fragments they have retrieved from diverse worlds, in secession from families, religions and other sanctioned ways of belonging. One of the conceits we are offered, in the shape of Fuka-Eri’s book, is the power of fiction to shape and transform reality. We are also persuaded to ask what it is that we reveal of ourselves when we look at crazy cults with our rational eyes.

1Q84 Haruki Murakami
1Q84 Haruki Murakami Harvill Secker 925 pp; Rs 999

The desire to make everything signify obscures what is interesting and also results in much that is twee. The Little People, engineers of mischief in the book, make Bollywood tribal-dance-ish appearances that invariably end with the words “Ho!Ho!” Much energy is expended on heavyhanded literary gags — Orwell’s 1984, Chekhov’s gun and the weird sisters duly appear several times to no great effect. There is an over reliance on explication by piling detail on detail. With these, the author may well fancy that he is executing some delicate brush stroke, but the reader will perhaps only hear the metallic scrape of a trowel. Much of this loving attention to detail is also absent-minded, with the result that we are offered Aomame’s reflections on her small breasts about a dozen times. And the sex has a rapturously Nippon-weird quality about it — I read with bated breath about an immaculate conception by proxy.

When I came across the title to Murakami’s latest emission a few months ago, I missed the 1 in the title, and wondered idly if it had something to do with low IQ. I may have been more prescient than I could have imagined in that moment of middle age and semi-blindness.

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