I’ve been fortunate enough to be nestled into the world of Bangla Literature in my formative years. I had begun reading magazines and novels for children even before I turned ten. The joy of holding a freshly printed periodical magazine at least once a month and glancing through the pages to skim the content before rushing off to school was incomparable. Calcutta has carried a rich tradition of interesting magazines for children, young adults as well as adults. The ones, especially for pre-teens were a huge treasure of informative articles, short stories, poems, comics and sports. Anandamela, Shuktara, Kishore Bharati, Kishore Gyan Bigyan, Sandesh – there were so many to choose from each fortnight! The most popular among these, Anandamela was from the ABP house of publications – it was bourgeoisie, glamorous, rich in content and had great print quality priced at Rs 10 for each issue.
The fortnightly and annual Pujabarshiki issues of Anandamela introduced me to Kikira The Great by Bimal Kar. No, he isn’t Japanese and is almost not a detective. KiKiRa stands for Kinkar Kishore Ray, a brilliantly crafted pseudo-acronym to enhance his identity. He is a self-proclaimed magician who had a target of at least a hundred magic shows in his lifetime but was stopped short at only thirty six of them due to an illness. A sudden bout of disease disabled one of his hands and made it impossible for him to perform on stage again. He called himself ‘Kikira The Magician’, ‘Kikira The Wonder,’ ‘Kikira the Great,’ and still had a few tricks up his sleeve that effervesce in all of his cases. Kikira has two assistants, a young clerical fellow named Tarapada and a doctor of medicine, Chandan. The evolution of this apparently lopsided friendship between the three occurred during a case for the first time. The first story in the Kikira series – Kapalik-ra Ekhono Achhe (Tantrics Still Do Exist) – began with Tarapada and Chandan as the main protagonists, Kikira only making an entry later with a burly introduction! I think the author wanted to experiment, improvise and give a trial with the readers to see if they accept such an offbeat character.
My tryst with Kikira began in the early ’90s when these novels were published once a year in pujabarshiki (annual issue during Durga Pujo) Anandamela. Let me remind you that my generation of pre-teens was spoilt for choices among detectives in Bangla. There was Feluda, of course, the heartthrob of young adults. Byomkesh Bakshi books were to be devoured only when we’d reach adulthood, as a decree by our parents (although I caught a few episodes of the Hindi Byomkesh television series on Doordarshan). There existed other charismatic detectives like Kakababu by Sunil Gangopadhyay, Arjun by Samaresh Majumdar, Colonel Niladri Sarkar by Syed Mustafa Siraj, Pandab Goyenda by Shashtipada Chattopadhyay and Gogol by Samaresh Basu. All of these were staple for me, but Kikira managed to create a special cavity in my heart once I began savouring his books.
You’d ask – why Kikira? He was an eccentric middle-aged man , a little weak in health, not physically attractive (as described by the author) and a magician who’d lost his charm on stage. He didn’t have the youth of Feluda, the intellect of Byomkesh, the aristocracy of Kakababu, the wealth of Colonel Sarkar, or the urban modernity of Arjun. Kikira was middle class, heck, he didn’t even own a telephone till much later in the series. He had two normal, ordinary, working guys as assistants who didn’t exude anything like Watson or even Topshe. What made Kikira special then? In my opinion, it was a rustic charm, carefully blended with the urbanity of a Calcuttan and analytical prowess that involved quite a fair bit of science.
A few stories involved magic shows, the death of a magician and exposing some of the magic tricks. Most of the books were set in a backdrop of rural and suburban locations like Mayurganj in the Chhota Nagpur belt or Ghatshila in Jharkhand. Written in the ’80s and ’90s, Bimal Kar retained the era perfectly in his writing. An era when Bengali babus went for ‘change’ to Bihar around winters, stretching their legs in big rental bungalows for a few days, away from the bustle and pollution of Calcutta, cleansing their lungs in the light ferrous air of mines and gulping water laden heavy with ferric that works wonders on the digestive system. Remember the innocence and warmth of the movie Dadar Kirti? A lot of the stories are etched in the serpentine lanes of North Calcutta, within dilapidated buildings that are more than a century old, in paltry offices that are still employed with old clerks carrying folios and using fountain pens to jot down their accounts. The books were written before the invasion of the internet and mobile phones and even while I’m reading these in 2016, I don’t feel out of place. I can happily relate to those decades as I’ve lived through them. I had the idea that it was imperative to make a film on some of Kikira’s cases, capturing the decaying beauty of Calcutta and its residents. But sadly, none has bothered yet to toil on a script based on these fine stories.
I love Kikira’s sense of humour, his frivolousness in uttering incorrect English phrases and puns that always evoke a smile on his friends. I love his little science experiments (nothing fancy like Sherlock though). I love the fact that Kikira admits he doesn’t know everything and relies on his assistants to observe, note and figure out a few things. I love his zeal in unmasking frauds, especially Tantrics/Sadhus/Babas with perfectly logical explanations. Above all, I love magic. I believe in magic. The passion and dedication he has for magic, that is not just ex-profession, but the core of his being, is unmistakable once you delve deep into the stories.
Kikira is not a detective, he’s more like a Satyanweshi – a seeker of truth, unravelling seemingly impossible and baffling mysteries, sitting in his tiny living room stuffed with curios and paraphernalia for magic.
P.S. Did I mention Kikira is an amateur cook? You’d be amazed to know the culinary experiments he undertakes and never fails Tarapada and Chandan, his guinea pigs. You will read about Afghani Khichuri, Multani Aloor Dom, Burmese Omelette and weirder items in the stories.
P.P.S. None of the stories is translated to English yet. But do dive into the books if you can read Bangla.