Spies, spooks and suspense

Nikhil Bhave
Saturday, 20 October 2018

Pulp fiction in many ways encapsulates the local flavour while incorporating the universal traits of murder, betrayal and love, all steeped in the Indian culture.

Pulp fiction (Noun): Fiction of a style characteristic of pulp magazines; sensational, lurid, or popular fiction. (Oxford dictionaries)

Pulp fiction is a genre sadly overlooked by many. How many of us have heard of the Ved Prakash Sharmas, the Indra Sounder Rajans and the Swapan Kumars? Or how many know that the Akshay Kumar-starrer Sabse Bada Khiladi was based on a Ved Prakash Sharma novel? Sharma, Rajan and Kumar are the stalwarts of this genre. 

Pulp fiction in many ways encapsulates the local flavour while incorporating the universal traits of murder, betrayal and love, all steeped in the Indian culture. While femme fatales are a staple of any respectable noir book or movie, it’s in India that she will assuredly meet her comeuppance. Most importantly, these stories feel more grounded, as compared to a James Hadley Chase with its glitzy Western settings. 

Fortunately, publishers and translators have now begun realising the value of these so-called ‘trashy’ books. Chennai-based Blaft Publication entered the arena with a blast with their three volumes of Tamil Pulp Fiction. Now, Aleph Book Company has also stepped into the ring with The Moving Shadow, an anthology of Bengali pulp fiction.

Two Bengali detectives are known all over the world, Satyajit Ray’s Felu Mitter and Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s Byomkesh Bakshi. But the detectives in The Moving Shadow are an entirely different kind. Can you really imagine dissected corpses and blood bags disappearing? Or a nightmare being a precursor to a well-planned murder? The fun with pulp is that it helps us enjoy what we technically shouldn’t, the macabre and the titillation, both exist in this world for us to enjoy responsibly.  

The collection is blessed with great translation skills. At no point do you feel like you are reading a translation. Regarding the content, it is divided into two categories: crime stories and ghost stories. The book is particularly anaemic when it comes to the supernatural. As for the crime stories, they are good enough except for the one by Vikramaditya. It starts well, but lags quite a bit in the middle, and there is only so much the translator can do. 

All in all, this is a very superlative collection, but Blaft’s effort is better. Hopefully, things will be much better in an upcoming sequel to this collection.

Name: The Moving Shadow: Electrifying Bengali Pulp Fiction 
Translated by: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Pages: 242
Price: Rs 499

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