Book Club: The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
Vassem Khan has shared an essay with us entitled: "India, crime and a baby elephant who loves chocolate – a winning combination!"
I spent 10 wonderful years in India at a time when she was making the transition from a traditional economy to the global powerhouse we know her as today. I saw firsthand the effects of globalisation which brought both good and bad to the country. Ashwin Chopra, the lead protagonist of The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, is, like many Indians, ambivalent about these changes. He retains a nostalgia for ‘old India’, its traditions and history. But Old India is also beset by problems such as poverty and caste prejudice. New India, on the other hand, is skyscrapers, call centres and shopping mallsy. This inherent conflict provides a vivid and dynamic backdrop to my Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series.
In this first novel Chopra tackles a murder in the city of Mumbai. Chopra, an honest police officer in the Mumbai police service, is forced into early retirement and on his last day in office is confronted by the dead body of a local boy, a poor boy. Chopra quickly realises that his seniors don’t wish the boy’s death to be investigated, and so he sets off to solve the mystery, aided in his endeavour by a one-year-old baby elephant named Ganesha, sent to him by his enigmatic uncle.
When I first arrived in Mumbai, every aspect about the city was exotic, a relentless assault on the senses. I’ve tried to encapsulate this in my book, what Mumbai looks like, sounds like, smells like, even tastes like! Later, I put my rose-tinted spectacles aside and noticed other things. My first trip to the Dharavi slum, for instance, left me open-mouthed – a million people crushed into a tiny space! Poverty is endemic here, but what truly astounded me was the acceptance of such poverty. Readers have told me they are glad I did not shy away from depicting these grittier social realities in the book. It adds an authenticity that serves as a counterpoint to the undeniable charm and humour in the series.
The British have a particularly long association with the subcontinent, thanks to the three hundred years of the Raj. Inspector Chopra himself is an anglophile at heart, a man willing to look at the past with a measured eye. Some things can be neither forgotten nor forgiven, but as time marches on many in the subcontinent recall those years of British rule with less bitterness than one might expect. Indeed it has been incredibly heartwarming to me how many people have come to me after reading the book to tell me how it brings back to them the India they have ‘inherited’ from their own parents and grandparents. Others enthuse about one day visiting the ‘exotic’ subcontinent. I believe the British public have a longstanding love affair with India. Long may this mutual love affair continue, I say.
One question remains to be answered . . . Do elephants really love chocolate?
Little Ganesha, as Chopra discovers, has a taste for chocolate bars. Elephants are herbivores and as such their diet consists of bark, grass, shoots, leaves, 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 my crime-busting little elephant needs his chocolate fix before embarking on another gruelling day on the mean streets of Mumbai?
In this Indian-set mystery, Inspector Chopra inherits an elephant and an unsolved murder on his last day at work. A joyful, charming read for fans of Alexander McCall Smith and Rachel Joyce.