Monthly Archives: December 2009

Byomkesh Quiz 2 – Arthamanartham (অর্থমনর্থম্‌)

This is the second part of a series of trivia quizzes on Byomkesh Bakshi. This quiz is based on the story, Arthamanartham. If you’ve read the book or seen the television episode, then you should have no trouble answering these questions.

Questions:

*1. Byomkesh first meets Satyabati, his future wife, in Arthamanartham. Whose murder was he investigating in this story?

2. Who did Bidhubabu, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, first suspect was the criminal? Who did suspicion later turn to?

3. Byomkesh mentions that the murder by putting a sewing needle in between the medulla and vertebra reminds him of Sir Walter Scott historical novel. What is the name of this novel? On a related note, what book was marked with a red pencil in Sukumar’s room?

4. What sewing tool was Byomkesh looking for? (Hint: Byomkesh even asked Ajit what the Bengali for this tool was.)

5. How many spoons of sugar did Karalibabu prefer in his tea and how many did Satyabati give him in the morning?

Answers:

*1. Karali Charan Basu

2. Matilal Kar, and then after damning evidence was found in his room, Sukumar.

3. Bride of Lammermoor. The book in Sukumar’s room was Gray’s Anatomy

4. Byomkesh was looking for a thimble. The sewing needle was found at the crime-scene, but a thimble was not.

5. Karalibabu preferred 3-4 teaspoons of sugar, but Satyabati forgot to add any that morning.

*Questions similar to the ones marked with an asterisk were also asked in BBC Mastermind India, 2000.

©2009 Byomkesh.com. All rights reserved.

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Byomkesh: “It is impossible for someone who is an idiot by nature to act intelligently”

How can someone seemingly brilliant like the medical student, Sukumar, make numerous idiotic mistakes in committing a premeditated murder? This is the question that perplexes Byomkesh Bakshi in Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s story Arthamanartham (অর্থমনর্থম্‌) and it is one that resonates with readers.

Arthamanartham is a magnificent story that demonstrates Saradindu’s skill at the top of his oeuvre. In this story, Byomkesh demonstrates his knowledge with important factors associated with homicide investigation that are taught to modern forensic researchers such as  motive, modus operandi, time of death, condition of corpse,  crime scene, and statements of the prime suspects. Sarandindu also displays remarkable economy in setting the stage: the murder is established in the sixth sentence of the story.

Karali Charan Basu, a wealthy Bengali, with no direct heir, has been murdered in his sleep. As Byomkesh determines later in the story, the victim was chloroformed in his sleep and killed by the insertion of a sewing needle multiple times between his medulla oblongata and vertebra, a curious choice that would indicate that this was a premeditated murder and that the culprit had at least some knowledge of medical procedures.  The fact that the victim was very short-tempered and in the habit of frequently changing his will made it possible that anyone who could inherit his estate would have a motive to commit the crime. The five suspects who fell in this category included the victim’s three nephews, Matilal Kar, Maniklal Kar, and Phanibhushan Kar- all uneducated brothers with no source of income who would definitely benefit from a windfall. The other two suspects were the children of the victim’s sister-in-law, Sukumar and Satyabati.

The story also presents a whole range of characters who make it interesting such as the police officer, Bidhubabu, whose incompetence is only matched by his dislike for Byomkesh. If Sherlock Holmes had his impediments from Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, then Byomkesh certainly had his from Lalbazar!

The story also has introduces the readers to Satyabati, who of course, Byomkesh later gets married to. I suspect many readers who are not familiar with this story will know this and end up eliminating her name from the list of suspects. However, she is by far, the most interesting of the characters in Arthamanartham and she displays exhibits exceptional poise in order to protect her brother, Sukumar, who turns out to be the prime suspect once key evidence such as a modified will, and bottle of chloroform are found in his room. Murderer, Sukumar, is not, and this is evident in part because the evidence is too neatly stacked up against him. It turns out that Phanibhushan, the very well-read, but crippled youngest brother of the trio is the perpetrator. In the end, Phanibhushan decides to kill himself instead of handing himself over to the authorities and admittedly this seems a bit contrived to modern readers.

There are also passages in the story which modern post-colonial and feminist readers may find somewhat paternalistic and condescending especially when referring to Satyabati  and Phanibhushan. I’d like to remind readers the obvious: Saradindu, was a politically-incorrect writer in a politically-incorrect, colonial age.

(Please also see the Byomkesh quiz on Arthamanartham)

©2009 Byomkesh.com. All rights reserved.

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Byomkesh Quiz 1 – Satyanveshi (সত্যান্বেষী)

This is the first part of a series of trivia quizzes on Byomkesh Bakshi. The first quiz is based on the story, Satyanveshi. If you’ve read the book or seen the television episode, then you should have no trouble answering these questions. However, you may want to read my review of this story first if you need hints.

Questions:

*1. What name did Byomkesh Bakshi adopt when he first met Ajit Bandyopadhyay in Satyanveshi?

2. What was Ajit’s landlord, Anukulbabu’s profession?

3. Whose murder did Aswinikumar Choudhury witness, for which he had to pay with his own life?

4. How was Aswinikumar murdered?

*5. In which monthly magazine were the first Byomkesh stories published?

Answers:

*1. Atulchandra Mitra

2. Anukulbabu was a homeopath

3. Sheikh Abdul Gofur, one of the drug-dealers working for Anukulbabu.

4. His throat was slit with a razor and he bled to death

*5. Basumati, one of the premier Bengali literary magazines of the day, now defunct.

*Questions similar to the ones marked with an asterisk were also asked in BBC Mastermind India, 2000.

©2009 Byomkesh.com. All rights reserved.

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Byomkesh: “If you want to solve this murder, think about the window.”

With this critical statement, an unassuming character going by the name of Atulchandra Mitra shows his true mental prowess in Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s story Satyanveshi (সত্যান্বেষী).

In this article, the first of many, I’ll break down and critically analyze the Byomkesh Bakshi stories. Although you won’t find a short synopsis of the story here, if you haven’t read the original or a translation, you may want to stop here. Once you’ve read it, you may want to try out our quiz on this story.

Although Satyanveshi is not the first Byomkesh Bakshi story that Saradindu Bandyopadhyay wrote, fans of the super-sleuth often consider it the first in the series. This is because Ajit Bandyopadhyay, the narrator of the detective series, first meets Byomkesh in this story.

The story is not remarkable because it has an intricate plot. On the contrary, the plot is rather simple and because there are only a handful of major characters, suspicion immediately falls on one of them. In Satyanveshi, Byomkesh Bakshi first introduces himself as Atulchandra Mitra, a young man in Kolkata (Calcutta, in those days) in search of a job. Later, to gather substantial evidence to convict the suspected criminal, he sets a trap for the villain. Neither of these devices are original in detective fiction.  Sherlock Holmes was a master of impersonation and of  staging traps in which villains would be tempted to try to assassinate him.

No, what makes Satyanveshi remarkable is that Saradindu presents a crisp, focused, and original detective story in Bengali literature that is devoid of the sentimentality or mind-numbing implausibility common among other Bengali detectives of the day. For the first time, Bengali readers were treated to an intelligent detective, or “truth-seeker” as Byomkesh himself preferred, who would place all the evidence in front of the readers.

The story unfolds in front of Ajit’s eyes who has recently moved into a neighborhood of Kolkata where there has been a spate of violent crimes. Quickly, he befriends his outwardly-charming landlord, Anukul (whose surname is never given)  Unknown to Ajit and others is the fact that Anukul is the ruthless head of a gang that illegally sells cocaine. Anukul is presented as a homeopathy enthusiast who gets his medications from the United States and Germany. This, of course, is a perfect scheme to traffic drugs and pass under the radar.

Byomkesh Bakshi talks Ajit into letting him stay in his flat as an undercover truth-seeker while he digs up the evidence on Anukul. A crucial point in the story involves the gruesome murder of another tenant, Aswini Kumar Choudhury, who was a witness to one of Anukul’s heinous crimes. Anukul and the others try to pass off his death as a suicide based on the observation that the door to Aswini’s room was locked from the inside. Byomkesh points out that the door had a Yale lock on it as opposed to a latch and a free-standing lock, which would have been (and perhaps still is) more common in India. While this would seem like a trivial matter, Byomkesh’s knowledge lets the readers know that the door was actually locked from the outside.

In the police interrogation scene, Byomkesh points out the importance of the window. Aswini had seen Anukul’s misdeed from the window and that was why he had to die. This is the clue that Sharadindu gives his readers and rather than reveal the whole intricate plot, he waits for the denouement. In the final act, Anukul, who knows that Byomkesh is aware of his misdeeds, falls for a trap and tries to kill him. In a rather dramatic ending, Anukul tries to sedate Byomkesh at night and then ends up stabbing a pillow multiple times.

Byomkesh finally reveals his identity to Ajit and the readers after the crime has been solved. In this story, Saradindu manages to thrill, deceive, and educate his Bengali readers in a way that they were not used to.

What a great introduction to the truth-seeker, Byomkesh!

©2009 Byomkesh.com. All rights reserved.

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Thanks for stopping by www.byomkesh.com. Here we will discuss the original writings of Saradindu Bandyopadhyay as well as derivative works such as the Satyajit Ray film, Chiriyakhana and the Basu Chatterjee television series aired on Doordarshan. We hope you will find this website useful and that you decide to join us in our ongoing discussions!

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