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.