Men and Murder
Sucharita Sengupta
THE URBAN JUNGLE by Samrat Penguin Books, 2011, 248 pp., 250
August 2011, volume 35, No 10

In the speedily democratizing world of Indian writing in English, the Mystery of the Missing Crime Thriller remains more or less unsolved. H.R.F. Keating’s Inspector Ghote was just granted a new lease of life, but never managed to captivate audiences the way Feluda could in his translated avatar. More recently, all credit for drumming up any excitement and hope in this void must go to Tarquin Hall’s deceptively avuncular Vish Puri, and to a lesser extent, Smita Jain’s Kasthuri Kumar, who juggles men and murder with equal panache. Samrat’s zippy new novel, The Urban Jungle is a welcome addition to this genre of writing, although nearly everyone other than the story’s protagonist plays detective. First out, The Urban Jungle is an unabashedly reverential tribute to Kipling’s Jungle Book. Such is the genius of the original that the plot, transposed to our times and suitably modified, can still tell a contemporary tale. Jimmy, the melancholic grandson of Mowgli, is a small-town lad who, by a stroke of chance, lands a job in an environmental NGO in Delhi. Much of what follows is an account of the havoc the big city creates in his life.

He is fleeced, gets roughed up by goons and hits them right back, setting a dangerous gang, headed by the fearsome Shamsher Khan, on his trail. He encounters the same gang when he tries to protect a love interest, but this time, is rescued by the savvy lady detective Heera, who introduces him to some of Delhi’s pretty people—Balu and Isha.

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