The most common question asked to every child or teen is “Who is your favourite detective?” At least, that’s what used to be in my generation, about two decades ago. I’ve been gorging on detective stories since my pre-teens, haate-khori (baptism of writing) being done with Feluda. With Sonar Kella (1974) and Joy Baba Felunath (1979) being constant features on summer television, we didn’t have many options. Feluda ruled my childhood, along with Bangla translations of Sherlock Holmes in magazines. I loved Feluda, and was in awe of Sherlock, which strengthened as I began learning Chemistry. Those inferences from the criminal’s stained hat or a cigarette stub with his saliva on it made me wonder Holmes’s prowess. Could Feluda do similar stuff? Well, no, he was mostly a cerebral detective, with his Magajastra being the ultimate weapon.
Unlike many other children who just read and loved detectives, I wanted to be one. Seriously. I’ve read Holmes at an age when others didn’t, I’ve religiously read Kakababu and Arjun’s escapades, I’ve read Colonel Niladri Sarkar’s young adult stories, I’ve read Jayanta-Manik and Gogol. Bangla literature has a vast ensemble of detectives/sleuths, and that’s what most of them liked to be termed. All of them were smart, not all were young men though, and only Samaresh Majumdar’s Arjun had the suaveness to second Feluda. I wanted to be someone who had the forensic analytical bent of mind and yet an uber emotional psyche to grasp the criminal’s mind. As I grew up, I found him and though I couldn’t be like him, I let him rule my mind as the best ‘detective’ ever – Byomkesh Bakshi. Well, the most striking thing about Byomkesh is that he never liked to be called a ‘detective’. He fancied the term ‘Satyanweshi’ (truth-seeker) and stuck to it until Dibakar Banerjee decided to rip it off in his next film.
The character has been played by many and most of them assassinated the original in their versions, while Rajit Kapoor is still the best one we could manage. I’ll let the films be another topic of discussion and get back to the bookish Bakshi. Sharadindu Bandopadhyay decided to portray Byomkesh in a time of tumult and deceit, just before the second world war, spanning well over 40 years until the Naxal revolution in 1970. Byomkesh began his career as a quintessential Bengali bhadralok (gentleman), clad in Dhoti-Shirt, with a piercing pair of eyes.
He floored the offenders with his intellect and deep humour and he had the Sherlockesque quality to respect his opponents who displayed an equal or similar intelligence. I have admired Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot for their cognitive and verbal skills, Holmes for his analyses and Feluda for his smartness, but I’ve genuinely loved Byomkesh for what he is. He isn’t a superhero, he doesn’t pronounce the criminal’s name by looking at a cigarette stub, he doesn’t travel cities chasing criminals, he doesn’t sit in an English countryside by the fireplace either. Byomkesh is all that the others couldn’t be – he’s approachable; we’ve even seen the criminal asking him to solve the case, he’s more humane; he understood the criminal’s psyche perfectly, he’s domestic; did we see any other detective falling in love and yet retaining his career?
In a gist, the Satyanweshi turned out to be the perfect and best ‘detective’ for me and I’ve been reading his novels time and again, discovering new aspects each time.