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Solving Crimes, Desi Style

05/10/2015 8:01 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Arrested young women in handcuffs

That the police bumble goes without saying. If that weren't the case, people around the world would not be celebrating the International Agatha Christie Festival. After all, Miss Marple, Poirot, Sherlock, and in recent times, Cormoran Strike -- the hero of Robert Galbraith's new series -- reach where the unthinking police can't. Perhaps, this is a Commonwealth affliction. After all, any casual viewer of any of the American dramas around the criminal justice and legal systems will come to the conclusion within minutes that these American investigators are sharper eyed than the wide-winged eagle coasting on the currents on the lookout for a mouse on the fields below.

"We have barely heard of DNA profiling, instead relying on reading facial expressions, occasional shrieks and loud clanging music to arrive at complex conclusions."

But in India, we do things differently. We are like that only. Here are a few ways in which the thrill, chill and detection tropes are developed locally.

Every victim deserves an antim sanskar

When we find a bag of bones, do we immediately seal it in a vacuum chamber for the duration of the investigation? No, no, we promptly bury it again, possibly calling a priest to chant the antim sanskar mantras. We debate the ethics of it and possibly, and morbidly, retain a small pouch of crushed calcified minerals and collagen fibres, in case we ultimately do a test.

The perpetrator had a bag

The joke of the shoeprint is old. In the time an American policeman would look at the shoe print, identify the unique markings, determine by the impression the fleeing person was injured in the left leg, chemically analyse soil samples, and run a scan on all stores where shoes of similar but unique markings were sold in the past week or month, our average desi pandu, in the style of Ali Akbar Fateh Khan of Dhoom, determines intelligently that shoeprints indicate that the perpetrator could afford to buy shoes and wanted to show the world his arriviste status, killing the jealous shoeless victim. The shoeprint is damning proof indeed. We come up with similar lofty claims on finding a bag. Why else would we buy a large suitcase but to stuff a dead body?

We write a mini thesis on mitochondrial DNA profiling

What the heck? We have barely heard of DNA profiling, instead relying on reading facial expressions, occasional shrieks and loud clanging music to arrive at complex conclusions. So, when we need to befuddle the viewer or reader, we introduce words like mitochondrial DNA and spend an inordinate time defining and debating it. That pouch of crushed bones meanwhile remains hidden in the back of the drawer of the front desk of the local thana. By the time we agree on what to do with it, we discover that it has disappeared, adding further loops of complexity to our plot.

Relatives are religion

Our mythic hero or heroine in the Western trope is a loner, spending long hours obsessing over the puzzle, nursing dark secrets and a tortured past, relieved by occasional flirtations. Not so for our 'Dabangg' thanedar. The criminal may wipe away the abovementioned shoeprint rutted in the mud-and-dung lane, but our man will find time to attend mundans and naamkarans, or bring tea for dadi or listen to bua gossip about the crime he is solving. That is when he wasn't found singing songs amid the trees of Karjat. Definitely more new age, with better work-life balance than those overworked Americans.

He said it, she said it

Does our investigator really have the time to run across the town, and then sit alone or with a team in some stale-smelling lab analysing specimens on a microscope left behind by Lord Macaulay himself? No, far better, after having returned from puja and pet puja, to holler at the accused. Everyone confesses, haven't you heard?

"[T]he corner chaiwallah or the seller of stoles and counterfeit baniyans on the footpath knows more than any FBI-styled officer aiming to uncover the truth."

Fingerprints? Ask the chaiwallah

Can our investigator really delude himself that he can find a clean fingerprint worthy of being analysed? The corner children, the home-cleaning bai, the streetside beggar, and the neighbour's secret mistress have likely all touched the spot. Does our guy have a series of secret informants who hide in alleyways and stalk suspects using deception and disguise? He doesn't need to. Despite our populous existence, the corner chaiwallah or the seller of stoles and counterfeit baniyans on the footpath knows more than any FBI-styled officer aiming to uncover the truth.

Moped chase anyone?

Where do we have the curved roads, twisting hills, multilane highways, or even interconnected rooftops of a grand bazaar or old town that can hold the weight of motorbikes and cars? No, we chase on mopeds instead, preferably with a sidecar, where the beloved is peeling peas, tossing the skins on the street, with a Swachh Bharat activist chasing behind.

Of course, all's well that ends well, the Bard said. We agree one hundred percent. Eventually, our police hero will dump the pea-peeling beloved on the side of the road and zoom his moped to the very limits of its groaning capacity, catching the suspect, binding him to the back seat and driving back to his chowki to choke out the confession. That is if he isn't transferred first.

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