With all the comparisons to the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, I hadn’t expected to struggle with this book, but I did. It should have been a quick, light read (under 300 pages), but I found it slow, the whimsical tone rather forced, and the story eventually far-fetched.
This is the first in a ‘Baby Ganesh’ series of books about Inspector Chopra, forced into early retirement from the Mumbai police force – yet determined to pursue justice and resolve crimes, helped along the way by a baby elephant named Ganesha, sent to him by his ‘enigmatic uncle’. If that in itself isn’t sufficiently Disney-whimsy for you, there are enough endearing and eccentric characters along the way (too many, in fact), often with whimsical sounding names – from Poppy (Chopra’s wife), to Rupa Subramanium, the President of the Air Force Colony’s Managing Committee (where Chopra and Poppy live) – who explains that ‘pets are not allowed in the complex. You will find this clearly noted in part 3, subsection 5, clause 15.5.2 of the building regulations’, which means Chopra and Poppy can’t keep the baby elephant at their home … despite the fact that they live on the fifteenth floor of the first tower in the complex, anyway, whimsically called Poomalai Apartments. And so it goes on …
In the end I just couldn’t relate to Inspector Chopra, ‘fiercely allergic to ginger – in the presence of which he would sneeze uncontrollably’ – and who ‘as an impressionable young man had been captivated by Basil Rathbone playing Sherlock Holmes’ – and for that reason he likes ‘to sit on his balcony and wield his pipe as an accessory to the process of thinking’, but not necessarily to smoke.
I’m not an expert on India, its culture or cuisine, and I often wondered whether my ignorance (especially when Poppy makes Chopra meals of ‘aloo gobi and chapatti’, or a breakfast of ‘masala dosas with sambar’) contributed to my disappointment. I’ve read other Indian-authored ‘classics’, however – and I was keen to learn more about Mumbai. But for some reason I felt let down by Chopra, his baby elephant, and his simple, and yet again whimsical observations, such as ‘if they keep building towers at the current rate, Mumbai would soon resemble a giant pin-cushion’. I’m sure the book will appeal to many – but it wasn’t for me. Sorry.