On the final day, the Jaipur Literature Fesival (JLF) brought three quite different writers together to explore an alleged double rape and murder case, a fictional detective series and an actual Sherlock Holmes investigation…
By Mamie Colfox
PEOPLE’S interest in the darker side of humanity was explored in a session with crime authors Sonia Faleiro, Vaseem Khan and Shrabani Basu, who spoke to writer Nikesh Shukla yesterday (June 12) on the last day of the three-day Jaipur Literary Festival in London (JLF) at the British Library.
Faleiro’s narrative non-fiction book ‘The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing’ follows an investigation into the Badaun gang-rape incident in 2014, in which two teenage girls were found dead hanging from a mango tree in their village in Utter Pradesh.
Her reasons for writing the book began after the 2012 gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh on a bus, which was widely condemned and started a protest on women’s rights in India and went around the world.
She explained: “There were seismic changes in India. The world changed for us, and we started talking about sexual violence”.
One of the most heart-breaking effects the Badaun incident sparked for Faleiro was that these two young teenagers were just like every other teenager. After speaking to over 100 people in their village, including relatives, those accused and the police, it became clear that instead of having their whole lives ahead of them, the girls would be defined by their deaths.
“We are defined by our lives, not our deaths”, she explained. Rather than be remembered for the lives they could have led, they will forever be identified as the two girls who lost their lives.
Local police were accused of covering up the incident and the Indian government were forced to monitor the investigation. Following this, in November 2014, the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) declared that the two girls were not sexually assaulted or murdered, but that they took their own lives. This came after reports that it was gang rape, and then an honour killing. Many remain unconvinced. Faleiro does not say who might have been responsible – but her book is written with huge compassion and sympathy and paints a vivid portrait of women and girls, who are often at the bottom of social hierarchies in India.
Khan spoke about his second historical crime novel in his ‘Malabar House’ series called ‘The Dying Day’, which follows a female police officer, Persis Wadia, who Khan “introduced as India’s first female police officer” in his first book in the series, ‘Midnight at Malabar House’.
Set in 1950s Bombay, the story begins when a six-hundred-year-old copy of Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’ goes missing, and along with English forensic scientist Archie Blackfinch, Wadia tries to uncover why dead bodies are found on their hunt for the document.
His ‘Malabar Series’ is, “my take on India, and how India took the reins after independence”, proceeding Gandhi’s assassination and the horrific events of partition.
The crime novelist spoke about growing up in the UK, before moving to India at 22 (for work as a management consultant), which inspired him to write novels on his return to England.
“When I got back from India, I wrote a crime novel about a police officer who inherits a baby elephant” he told the audience. The inclusion of the elephant was a light-hearted experiment, he admitted, because he never thought the book would be published. It was also a symbol of India and the book became the first in a series called the ‘Baby Ganesh Agency’.
Journalist and writer Shrabani Basu’s rather unusual non-fiction thriller ‘The Mystery of the Parsee Lawyer’ investigates the unfair conviction of Indian lawyer, George Edalji, in 1903, who was accused of murdering horses in a small village in Staffordshire.
He appeals to Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle to clear his name, and Doyle accepts. It is the only case he ever investigated personally.
Research for the book took five years, and included archived letters, police reports and home office files.
Shukla asked Basu what interested her about this case, to which she replied candidly, “George was brown. His family had been subjected to race hate from when George was 12, so it was an important story to tell”, to which Shukla agreed, stating the “small village syndrome of the English”.
Basu added: “Arthur Conan Doyle’s books are stereotypes so I wanted to know why he took up this case”.
Shukla opened up a discussion on why we are drawn to crime, and there was a general consensus amongst the authors that it appeals to the darker side of human beings.
Nikesh Shukla on writing…
Shukla went from interviewer to interviewee when he spoke to author Nikita Gill about his book ‘Your Story Matters‘, an informative book of how to write.
Shukla explained the importance of stories. “Stories, essentially, are about people and the world, and it’s my way of figuring stuff out”.
Character was an interesting topic of conversation, with Shukla saying the best characters are those that are flawed “they are messy and complicated. Your job is to find out what characters need, not want”.
There was discussion on the different storytelling devices that can be used. “The western world is about man versus the world, but there are different mechanics elsewhere, like the Japanese device Kishotenketsu, which isn’t about conflict but about building character.”
More from JLF’s final day – on the liberation of Bangladesh and notorious killer Charles Sobhraj as seen through the eyes of writer Farrukh Dhondy. (Coming).
Vaseem Khan – ‘The Dying Day‘
Sonia Faleiro – ‘The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing’
NIkesh Shukla – ‘Your Story Matter: Find Your Voice, Sharpen Your Skills, Tell Your Story‘