There are some books about India that are just so perfect that reading them is a total & utter joy.
“The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra” is one such book. Vaseem Khan’s novel is an absolute delightful and is so, well, quintessentially Indian, in that it manages to combine gritty police work with a baby elephant, and you don’t even question it for a moment. Those defining co-existing elements of life in India – the horrors of poverty, the omni-present corruption, the heart-stopping sight of an elephant wandering down the street, the crowds, the noise – all of these find a home in this wonderful, whimsical, endearing novel.
The upright and honest Inspector Chopra has just retired from the Mumbai Police, on health grounds when, out of the blue, he inherits a baby elephant from his uncle. Inspector Chopra lives in Mumbai with his wife Poppy, a woman he fell in love with the first time he saw her, back in the village, when she was just a teenager.
Inspector Chopra is not looking forward to retirement at all. Police work has been his life and he dreads the thought of not working to make his beloved city of Mumbai a safer place.
The novel is as much about Mumbai, as it is about the mystery Inspector Chopra finds himself entangled in, despite retirement.
Mumbai is an ever present, noisy, always on-the-go, larger than life presence in the book. If ever there was a love song to this greatest of Indian cities, it is here in this book about a middle aged cop and a baby elephant.
“Daredevil beggars slept on the ten-inch parapet of the airport flyover, oblivious to the fatal drop on one side and the hurtling traffic on the other.
This is what made Mumbaikers the greatest Indians in the land, Chopra felt. This belief in their own invulnerability.
…he could not imagine living in a place without the noise and sheer energy that powered Mumbai at all times of the day or night.”
This description, below, of Mumbai in the middle of the night is powerful:
“The truck rumbled through the night-time city, past the trendy bars and the dhabas; past the sleeping beggars and the urchins; past the hand-cart wallah supine on their carts; past the ladies bars disgorging their woozy and satisfied clientele; past the call centres operating on foreign time; past the cows lying down by the side of the road; past the glittering pye-dogs prowling the empty streets, masters once again, if only for a short few hours, of their ancient dominion.”
Since this is a whodunit, I won’t spoil the plot by telling you too much about the good Inspector’s investigation, but suffice to say that in the current political climate in India (I live here, by the way) the exposure of corruption at the highest levels strikes a chilling chord.
But it is Baby Ganesh, the rather sad and traumatised elephant that Inspector Chopra inherits, who steals the show.
After the first monsoon downpour which floods the compound, poor little Ganesh is freezing, soaking, and frightened, so Inspector Chopra does the only thing he can – takes the baby elephant up to his apartment, much to the outrage of the battle-axe who likes to think she runs the building.
Poppy rises to the occasion, insisting that Ganesh can and will stay in their flat. There is one scene that is too adorable, where, after giving the poor shivering creature a hot bath and a massage, they both settle down – Poppy on the sofa, Ganesh on a pile of quilts – to watch a Shah Rukh Khan movie on the telly, happily sharing a bag of banana chips. A classic moment that makes you fall in love with Poppy.
Ganesh – well, I was already in love with him from the second we met him.
“And then something curious happened. As the little calf continued to snuffle and sneeze, hunched down inside its quilts, the very picture of misery, Poppy felt her long-suppressed mothering instincts to the fore…suddenly she was overcome by a desire to nurse the baby elephant that her husband had seen fit to deposit inside her home.
“OK, young man,” she said determinedly, “first things first: let’s get you cleaned up.”
Inspector Chopra, despite retirement, is driven to investigate a killing which leads him further and further into the world of corrupt officials and big money. But, while he investigates one crime, he makes a discovery about an event from his own past. (No more, I promise, so as not to spoil your enjoyment.)
This is a great read. Funny, endearing, and yet also a searing exposé of the seamier side of Mumbai.
This is the kind of book that, as you read, you know, you just know that Inspector Chopra & Ganesh are destined to make a great partnership, and that their relationship will endure – into many more books, one hopes.
I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, which is all ready and waiting.
If you would now like to order this delightful novel – you won’t regret it, pukka – just click on the link below.