The return of Lalli | Culture | Times Crest
Popular on Times Crest
  • In This Section
  • Entire Website
  • In here, it's always story time
    June 29, 2013
    Dayanita Singh launched an informal project on Facebook by asking her fellow photographers to document India's independent bookstores.
  • Specialise to succeed
    June 29, 2013
    Despite its sudden closure in 2006, Lotus Books lives on in dog-eared snippets of memory among a certain section of Mumbai readers.
  • Copy left and right?
    June 29, 2013
    Can the culture of copyright also be creatively crippling?
More in this Section
Profiles
Leaving tiger watching to raise rice Ecologist Debal Deb, who did his post-doctoral research from IISc in…
The crorepati writer He's the man who gives Big B his lines. RD Tailang, the writer of KBC.
Chennai-Toronto express Review Raja is a Canadian enthusiast whose quirky video reviews of Tamil…
Don't parrot, perform Maestro Buddhadev Dasgupta will hold a masterclass on ragas.
A man's man Shivananda Khan spent his life speaking up for men who have sex with men.
Bhowmick and the first family of Indian football At first glance, it would be the craziest set-up in professional football.
From Times Blogs
The end of Detroit
Jobs in Detroit's car factories are moving to India.
Chidanand Rajghatta
How I love the word ‘dobaara’...
Can ‘bindaas’ or ‘jhakaas’ survive transliteration?
Shobhaa De
Anand marte nahin...
India's first superstar died almost a lonely life.
Robin Roy
Books

The return of Lalli

|


The Monochrome Madonna By Kalpana Swaminathan Penguin 251 pages, Rs 250

Every great city deserves at least one paperback detective - a feisty soul who ventures into its shadowy bylanes;sneaks into the lairs of its rich and powerful denizens;and stumbles upon corpses in the unlikeliest of places. London has poet-cum-policeman Adam Dalgliesh;Chicago has wisecracking private eye, V I Warshawsi;Shanghai has earnest Inspector Chen. And now Mumbai has razor-sharp, retired policewoman Lalli LR. LR because everyone agrees that "Madam" is the Last Resort for tricky homicide cases.

The Monochrome Madonna is the third novel featuring this sometimes stern, sometimes exuberant grey-haired Maami. Once again the redoubtable Lalli curls up in her beige sofa, downs countless cups of coffee, whips up mouth-watering potato curries and rattles around the city in her old Fiat before staging a dramatic denouement. No wonder then that one of the characters compares her to "that Agatha Christie old lady".

This particular book starts in classic murder mystery style with a blood-splattered corpse. Sita, Lalli's earnest and gullible niece, receives a frantic call from a woman named Sitara, a casual acquaintance from her college days. Alarmed, she rushes to a nondescript apartment block called Kalina Sputnik and storms into the flat belonging to 'S. Shah and V. Dasgupta'. And it's in the drab living room of this 1BHK that she finds the body of a large, "recently dead" stranger.

Lalli is away on her annual jaunt. Her sidekick, Inspector Savio, too has vanished to Dehradun in pursuit of true love. And Sita is left to deal with the drugged and hysterical Sitara, her distraught husband Vinay and the suspicious police. "I have seen nameplate, " remarks Inspector Shukla about Sitara. "Anything is possible. She is not using husband's name."

Mercifully, Lalli soon returns. But rather than attempting to identify the dead stranger or verify the ugly tale in Sitara's diary, she seems preoccupied with irrelevant details: the hideous photoshopped version of Raphael's Sistine Madonna that looms over Sitara's living room;the latest in Lancome lipsticks;the colour of Sitara's toenails. Detective work, she maintains, is all about asking the right questions.

Indeed, the questions she raises are fascinating. Unfortunately, the eventual answer to this intriguing puzzle is disappointing. And the final solution is needlessly compli cated, unconvincing and rife with loose ends.

Nevertheless, the process of getting there is great fun. Kalpana Swaminathan has a sharp ear for dialogue and eye for absurdities. And the book takes us across the city to meet all manner of Mumbaikars and eavesdrop on some quintessentially Bombay babble. So there's the fluorescent college-girl who, like, can only do bimbo speak. And the ad agency boss and ecowarrior, who dresses in gunny-sack kurtas and recycled razorblade earrings, and ensures that the office chairs are fashioned out of old buckets. And, of course, the North Indian proprietor of the Fatafat Press, who moans, "For forty years I have given this city my blood and sweat and now they tell me I am not Bambaiyya!"

Admittedly, The Monochrome Madonna has its flaws. The story often goes off on tangents. The writing is sometimes cute and cluttered. And the narrator can be irritatingly goody-goody. But it is still an enormously enjoyable read. And Lalli is clearly a good "Madam" to know.

Other Times Group news sites
The Times of India | The Economic Times
इकनॉमिक टाइम्स | ઈકોનોમિક ટાઈમ્સ
Mumbai Mirror | Times Now
Indiatimes | नवभारत टाइम्स
महाराष्ट्र टाइम्स
Living and entertainment
Timescity | iDiva | Bollywood | Zoom
| Technoholik | MensXP.com

Networking

itimes | Dating & Chat | Email
Hot on the Web
Hotklix
Services
Book print ads | Online shopping | Business solutions | Book domains | Web hosting
Business email | Free SMS | Free email | Website design | CRM | Tenders | Remit
Cheap air tickets | Matrimonial | Ringtones | Astrology | Jobs | Property | Buy car
Online Deals
About us | Advertise with us | Terms of Use and Grievance Redressal Policy | Privacy policy | Feedback
Copyright© 2010 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service