Dashiell Hammett / Hardboiled / Writer [It’s a Crime: New Indian Express]

October 26, 2016

When you see Gabriel Byrne’s character in Miller’s Crossing carefully getting the two local warlords to go to battle with each other, there is the hand of a long-dead writer of hardboiled detective stories at play. The Coen Brothers have always been fans of Dashiell Hammett; in fact their first movie was named ‘Blood Simple’, that memorable turn of phrase in Hammett’s “Red Harvest” to describe the panicked, jittery, excitable mindset of people who are exposed to continued, senseless violence.

Who was Dashiell Hammett? What was Dashiell Hammett? Perhaps the best way to describe Hammett and his revolution, was to quote the other great writer of hardboiled mysteries, Raymond Chandler.

“Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. He had style, but his audience didn’t know it, because it was in a language not supposed to be capable of such refinements…. He is said to have lacked heart, yet the story he thought most of himself is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hardboiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

Read the rest of it here or here.

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Black Mask Magazine / Hardboiled / History [It’s a Crime: New Indian Express]

October 19, 2016

The Black Mask Magazine (or, how Detective fiction grew up)

In this and the next few articles, I will attempt to describe the fork in the road which split detective fiction into the cozies and the hardboiled genres in the 1920’s; and specifically focus on the hardboiled genre and a few of its leading lights.

Detective fiction started as a genre in the mid-1800s, with Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ and other adventures of the detective C. August Dupin. Some exceptional novels and short stories followed, most notably those of Wilkie Collins and Émile Gaboriau. The last years of the 1800s saw the arrival of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes and the Golden Age of detective fiction. Mostly, these mysteries eschewed too much of blood-and-gore, and were neither committed, nor solved by the common man. All that would change with the advent of the hardboiled detective and the Black mask magazine.

Read the rest here.

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How Many Roads

We did not listen to English songs in Asansol. Actually cross that out, ‘we‘ didn’t, ‘they‘ probably did – the kids who stayed in bungalows and whose fathers were managers and directors in the industries that made our town an industrial town. This isn’t some class-system story, these boys and girls weren’t much different from us: we didn’t consider them as such, and neither did they, really. But there was this veneer of less-gauche, less-small-town-ness about them.

So I read about Dylan in the pages of Anandamela, that omnipresent part of the childhood of so many Bengali kids, perhaps half a decade before I listened to any song of his. Dylan, The Beatles, Bob Marley, and such names – I know who they were, what they did, and why they were important. But I didn’t know their music.

I eventually got to Dylan indirectly – in a concert by Kabir Suman, the ‘Dylan of Bengal’. He had come by to my town to perform in a concert, and I remember how he mentioned the next (and till then unreleased) song to be ‘a literal translation of a very famous song by a very famous American singer’. Suman didn’t mention the singer by name; he didn’t quite think that the name of Bob Dylan would resonate in that Springsteen-esque middle-of-nowhere town of ours. Truth to be said, he was perhaps right.

And so I heard of ‘Koto’ta Path Haant’le’, the Bengali translation of ‘How Many Roads’.

I would love to say, especially with the news we had today, that my life changed on hearing the song, or that like Springsteen again, someone kicked open the door to my mind, but it really didn’t. It was a fine song, like so many other fine songs that Kabir Suman himself had written (I was and still am a fan). But as starts go, that was that.

A year or so later, I somehow got hold of a recorded tape of various English songs, and recorded it on a blank tape. Among such fine songs as ‘Jamaica Farewell’, ‘Country Roads’, and ‘No Woman No Cry’, there were also ‘How Many Roads’. I was perhaps in the ninth standard then.

After that, I had heard a fair bit of the great singer/songwriter. A woman I once dated was a serious fan, and my knowledge (and perhaps appreciation) of Dylan increased a lot during that rather brief while. Many lines, and many verses he’s written speak to me; as they would to perhaps many of you. Indeed, if I have to quote a single verse of all music, I’d perhaps quote from The Times They Are a-Changin’:

Come mothers and fathers / Throughout the land

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters / Are beyond your command

Your old road is rapidly agin’.

Please get out of the new one / If you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin’.

So that was my ramble about Bob Dylan. He is a genius. He can read my mind, and say the exact words I am not able to spell out. I am poetry-illiterate, just as I am music-illiterate; but I do know this much. The only other person who would do this, is another Nobel laureate who was a songwriter. Tagore.


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Babumoshay – Shonkho Ghosh

শঙ্খ ঘোষ : বাবুমশাই

‘সে ছিল একদিন আমাদের যৌবনে কলকাতা!
        বেঁচে ছিলাম বলে সবার কিনেছিলাম মাথা

আর      তাছাড়া ভাই
আর      তাছাড়া ভাই আমরা সবাই জেনেছিলাম হবে
        নতুন সমাজ, চোখের সামনে বিপ্লবে বিপ্লবে
যাবে    খোল-নলিচা

যাবে    খোল-নলিচা পালটে, বিচার করবে নিচু জনে’
        -কিন্তু সেদিন খুব কাছে নয় জানেন সেটা মনে
        মিত্র বাবুমশাই

মিত্র বাবুমশাই বিষয়-আশায় বাড়িয়ে যান তাই,
        মাঝে মধ্যে ভাবেন তাদের নুন আনতে পান্তাই
নিত্য    ফুরায় যাদের

নিত্য    ফুরায় যাদের সাধ-আহ্লাদের শেষ তলানিটুকু
        চিরটা কাল রাখবে তাদের পায়ের তলার কুকুর
সেটা    হয় না বাবা

সেটা    হয় না বাবা বলেই থাবা বাড়ান যতেক বাবু
        কার ভাগে কী কম পড়ে যায় ভাবতে থাকেন ভাবুক
অমনি    দু-চোখ বেয়ে

অমনি    দু-চোখ বেয়ে অলপ্পেয়ে ঝরে জলের ধারা
        বলেন বাবু ‘হা, বিপ্লবের সব মাটি সাহারা’
কুমির    কাঁদতে থাকে

কুমির    কাঁদতে থাকে ‘আয় আমাকে নামা নামা’ ব’লে
        কিন্তু বাবু আর যাব না চরাতে-জঙ্গলে
আমরা    ঢের বুঝেছি

আমরা    ঢের বুঝেছি খেঁদিপেঁচি নামের এসব আদর
        সামনে গেলেই ভরবে মুখে, প্রাণ ভরে তাই সাধো
তুমি     সে-বন্ধু না

তুমি     সে-বন্ধু না, যে-ধূপধূনা জ্বলে হাজার চোখে
        দেখতে পাবে তাকে, সে কি যেমনতেমন লোকে
তাই     সব অমাত্য

তাই     সব অমাত্য পাত্রমিত্র এই বিলাপে খুসি
        ‘শুড়িখানাই কেবল সত্য, আর তো সবাই ভুষি
ছি ছি   হায় বেচারা।’

ছি ছি   হায় বেচারা? শুনুন যাঁরা মস্ত পরিত্রাতা
        এ কলকাতার মধ্যে আছে আরেকটা কলকাতা
হেঁটে    দেখতে শিখুন

হেঁটে    দেখতে শিখুন ঝরছে কী খুন দিনের রাতের মাথায়
        আরেকটা কলকাতায় সাহেব আরেকটা কলকাতায়
সাহেব   বাবুমশায়।

[shankha ghosh gives a note on this poem:
আশা করি সকলেই বুঝবেন যে, এই ধরনের রচনা পড়াবার বিশেষ একটা সুর আছে।]

[Taken from this site]


PS: not everyone would know the rhythm of this piece, so here’s a link to a Youtube video which does that.

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Aami Bohu Bashonay – Tagore

আমি বহু বাসনায় প্রাণপণে চাই, বঞ্চিত করে বাঁচালে মোরে।
এ কৃপা কঠোর সঞ্চিত মোর জীবন ভ’রে ॥
না চাহিতে মোরে যা করেছ দান— আকাশ আলোক তনু মন প্রাণ,
দিনে দিনে তুমি নিতেছ আমায় সে মহা দানেরই যোগ্য ক’রে
অতি-ইচ্ছার সঙ্কট হতে বাঁচায়ে মোরে ॥
আমি কখনো বা ভুলি কখনো বা চলি তোমার পথের লক্ষ্য ধ’রে;
তুমি নিষ্ঠূর সম্মুখ হতে যাও যে সরে।
এ যে তব দয়া, জানি জানি হায়, নিতে চাও ব’লে ফিরাও আমায়—
পূর্ণ করিয়া লবে এ জীবন তব মিলনেরই যোগ্য ক’রে
আধা-ইচ্ছার সঙ্কট হতে বাঁচায়ে মোরে ॥


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Sabbatical / Recommendations [It’s a Crime: New Indian Express]

14 September 2016

Okay, time for a break.

I have been writing this detective / mystery fiction recommendation column for almost ten months now, and now is the time for a sabbatical. You would not find my column here for the next three weeks. But as the former Governator of the state of California would have said, ‘I’ll be baack’!

But while I am on my break, here are a couple of quasi-recommendations. Here are a few interesting writers of mystery / crime and detection whom I have been reading off-and-on during this last year. I have not yet been familiar enough with their works to write a full recommendation of them, but I shall be in time.

Read the recommendations here.

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My teacher – the grassroots soldier

First posted on Facebook, September 11, 2015.

A personal anecdote today, okay? A bit of a teary-eyed personal anecdote.

Debabrata Ghosh was the Arts & Crafts teacher at St. Vincent’s. He also used to stay at our neighborhood in Apcargarden, Asansol. As in most small towns (or as it was in those days), neighborhoods are communities, so my parents knew him well. He was a big, gruff, heavyset man with a bit of a temper. I was terrified of him in the lower classes in school (not least because I had no skill whatsoever at art and crafts). I also hardly played sports those days. I was a docile kid.

One day, my mom came back from office, and asked me, “Why don’t you play football?”
“Uh, football? I cannot run. I am slow, no?” What I did not say was that the fitter, slimmer kids would invariably be better players. Then, the one skill I had, that of merging seamlessly into the background, will be useless. This was the reason I was hardly ever bullied at school.
“Oh that is rubbish”, Ma said. “Listen, Debu Ghosh is running a football coaching class in the neighborhood park. Go and join. I saw him while coming back from office, and he told me that if he, at 100kgs of weight, can play and teach football, surely you can as well. I have enrolled you.”
Oh God! I was terrified. All will be lost now.

And truth to be said, all was lost. Ghosh Sir was an impossibly hard taskmaster. He made us run and run, and shoot and shoot, and trap and trap, and receive and receive, and tackle, and head, and shoulder-charge, and overlap and cross and take free-kicks and do push-ups and sit-ups and do a hundred drills. Endlessly. The other boys were all better than me at football. It was horrible. Horrible.

Then one day, it was not that horrible anymore. I did not become fast overnight (that would come later), but I developed the art of the tackle. I figured out the nuances of trapping and receiving. I developed a reasonably decent shot, I could shoot equally well with both feet, and I could even do it on the run.
Suddenly, one day, I was not the plump boy who was to be picked last anymore. Suddenly, one day, I could give a passable impression of a footballer. Suddenly, one day, I was part of the pack. Suddenly, one day, I had a nickname – I was Chima, named after the fearsome Chima Okorie of East Bengal Club. Suddenly, one day, I was playing for the neighborhood team, for the school team.

Suddenly, one day, I belonged.

In later years, Ghosh Sir from school would become Babu-da of the neighborhood. He was still large, still gruff, he still had a temper. He was also the person who helped make me fall in love with the sport. A few days before I would leave my Asansol for good, I went by to his house and touched his feet.


We are old Asansol-ites. We are old Vincentians, Me, then my cousin, and then the other cousin. The middle cousin, Prith, sent me a PM today morning. “Bro, check out my recent fb update. On one of the SVS legends”.
I saw the video that is attached to this post. And choked up a little.

Debabrata Ghosh, our Babu-da, is still changing lives. Like he changed mine, a quarter-of-a-century ago.

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