The infamous Tandoor murder case from Delhi and the Godhra riots. Kelvinator refrigerators, inaugurations (even for flagpoles) and professional atrocitologists.
Where? In the city of Gautumpuri in Sweden Pradesh, of course!
Zac O’Yeah (Yes! That’s his pen name!) creates a bizarrely plausible new world in Once Upon A Time in Scandinavistan. The book is a murder mystery set in the future where Europe has been colonised by India. Instead of the E.U., it’s the A.A.R.C./E.U. (Asian Association for Regional Cooperation/ European Union). As O’Yeah explains it in the book himself -
At a time when Europe was becoming poor and de-industrialised, joining Asia was a step up the ladder. The progressive and popularly acceptable counterweight to the U.S./U.K. double act that had become something of a handicap to global development and the protection of natural resources.
The result? Well, there are Nilgiri supermarket chains everywhere. Mahindra SUVs on European roads. Ambassadors for the sarkari types. The Nobel Prize can’t afford itself either. It’s the Reliance Nobel Prize (duh!). Maoists on Mars demand its name be changed to Maors. “Red” planet and all that. Here on Earth, all native Swedish places have all had their names Indianised. Like from Gothenburg to Gautampuri. Which is why our protagonist’s love interest, a postwoman, has a hard time delivering letters.
The protagonist, Herman Barsk, is a bumbling Public Intelligence Department (PID) official trying to prevent “anti-socials” from “committing nuisance” in public places. One really has to understand the way the Indian police functions to realistically create a police department like the one Barsk works in. And O’Yeah does it bloody well. Add to that a touch of realism to his character - the way he fails to connect with people. He wags his non-existent tail when happy. His idea of playing with children is to throw them a ball to fetch. As he solves a gruesome murder mystery and struggles against his affections for Kumkum, the postwoman, he must also defrost his fridge and survive a newspaper-stealing neighbour.
As if the premise of the book wasn’t hilarious enough, the situations the characters find themselves in will have you waiting to catch your breath after a good laugh to turn the page. If you thought deflecting a grenade with a cricket bat is the stuff of Rajinikanth films, think again. Not that it’s all slapstick. No sir! Our man here also quotes from (make-believe) issues of the Economic and Political Weekly when making a point about how things came to be.
The Finn-Swede- and now of course, -Indian author’s website suggests he has written more, but in Swedish (This book, I believe, is also available as “Tandoori Algen”). He has been living in NOIDA for quite some time now, and has travelled through a fair part of India for years - and that shows in his writing. He can be easily mistaken for a native Indian author in a good many parts of the book. You can read an interesting profile here. Can’t wait to read more from him. If and when I do, I’m sure some tandoori chicken and Xatriya beer would make great accompaniments to the book.