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‘Every city should have a shelf full of detective novels dedicated to it’
Dibyajyoti Sarma | Saturday, 28 November 2015 AT 10:22 PM IST
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The author and Mayi Gowda , the proprietor-founder of Blossom Book, pose with copies of Hari: A Hero for Hire. Pic: FaceBook

Author of Swedish origin, Zac O’Yeah, who has made Bengaluru his home, talks about his new novel, Hari: A Hero for Hire and explains why it is equivalent to a popular masala movie.

How did you think of a working class sleuth in the cyber capital of India?
Well, if I hadn’t stepped off the train at City Junction station, Bengaluru in 1992 and checked into the cheapest lodge in the Majestic area, I don’t think I would have been a successful novelist today. I spent my days in those nameless second-hand bookstalls that used to proliferate south of Kempegowda Circle, dreaming that I might write a book that would be on display there someday.

Another reason why I chose to set my book series here is because until fairly recently, detective fiction used to be dominated by Anglo-American locations and concerns. Nowadays, you have globally bestselling detective novels set in places like Botswana, Thailand or Sweden. So, why not Bengaluru? I strongly felt that every self respecting city should have a shelf full of detective novels dedicated to it.

Also, having Hari as a reformed tout character seemed like a great idea because a tout would know every nook and cranny of the city. Hari speaks English well, is good at calculations and in many ways a perfect detective. So Hari, the private eye, became my key to unlock the city and chronicle it.

I doubt I could have imagined the character Hari Majestic without Bengaluru, the city where I’ve lived for the last 15 years after leaving Sweden.
You seem to be more interested in how your characters behave than the whodunit.
You’re possibly right. I wanted to avoid creating a stereotypical literary detective — the kind you meet in Swedish or Western detective novels. Over the years, I have seen plenty of Kannada action movies and become a fan of Upendra, the king of local cool and one-liners. I wondered what a literary equivalent of such films might read like. I, therefore, set out to write a romantic tragi-comic thriller in Bengaluru. It seemed like the most logical thing to do.

The book is filled with observational humour.
A detective novel should ideally be out in the streets, taking its reader through narrow alleys, pointing out interesting things to look at and places to visit, and somewhere amongst all that, there will be the clues to cracking the case.  Reading the newspapers every day in Bengaluru is an endless source of inspiration. There are so many strange stories reported all the time and so for a novelist, it obviously sets the imagination on fire.
How do you combine crime and comedy?
I have no clue. I personally don’t consider myself a ‘humourist’. It just so happens that everything becomes very weird when I write it down. Essentially comedy and crime should not be combined because it’s a recipe for disaster. Lots of readers find it hard to accept. But in Bollywood films, they are able to combine action movies with humorous elements, or comedies with thrillers, so one needs to try to expand the genre and broaden it by adding comedy.
What’s next for Hari and his sidekicks?

A third book is in the works, it might come in 2017. And in 2016, there’s going to be a movie version of Mr Majestic! The Tout of Bengaluru, the first novel. I have been told that they are writing the screenplay right now and expect to start shooting soon.

Quick Review: A comedy of crime

Name: Hari: A Hero for Hire
Author: Zac O’Yeah
Publisher: New Delhi, PAN
Pages: 332
Price: ` 350

Zac O’Yeah’s new novel Hari:  A Hero for Hire, like its predecessor, Mr Majestic! The Tout of Bengaluru, has been billed as a detective novel/crime thriller. At one level, it is an accurate description. Yet, this seems to limit the appeal of this comic masterpiece. Hari: A Hero for Hire is not a page-turner whodunnit, but a brilliant comedy of manners, set among the working class community in Bengaluru’s bustling Majestic locality.

Hari Majestic (he is so called because he was discovered under the seat of Majestic theatre) is an orphan and an ex-tout who wants to be a detective, so that he can be a hero and find a girl to marry. He is inspired by mainstream Kannada movies, where the upstart hero always overcomes adversity and wins the girl.

So, after the success in the first case (as described in The Tout of Bengaluru), Hari decides that becoming a detective is his calling. He starts an agency and hires help from his friends: Triplex, a drunk, Gaadi, an auto driver, and Doc, a small-time cyber café owner. Hari also gets a case, to find the secret lover of a married woman. Things predictably go wrong, with the client baying for his blood.

In the ensuring skirmish, Hari breaks his leg and is admitted to a specialty hospital, where bigger mystery awaits, an organ trade racket. And, like a good Sandalwood movies, the long-lost mother must return before we have a wedding and a happy ending!

Never mind the convoluted narrative, the book is joy to read, because of O’Yeah’s sparkling prose peppered with wit and dollops of observational humour. The whodunnit plots aside, the Hari Majestic novel seems to exist solely because O’Yeah, originally from Sweden, has to say things about Bengaluru, his adoptive city.

And, boy, what things! The book is an assault on senses, sound, sight, smell and how we interact with each other, seen from a serio-comic point of view, tongue firmly in cheek. Nothing is sacred in O’Yeah’s prose. Yet, there is an innate understanding and off-hand humour in his description of things that we may take for granted.

I am usually suspicious of foreigners writing about India, because the results tend to be one-sided. But in O’Yeah’s prose, he shows a keen understanding of his characters within their socio-economic milieu. And, the best part is that the author does not laugh at his characters, he laughs with them.

It’s difficult to write good comedy, and it takes a genius to fill pages of a crime novel with humour of all shades. Zac O’Yeah is that writer and Hari: A Hero for Hire is that book.

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