Back in 2013, when Hari Majestic made his appearance on the Bangalore gumshoe shuffle, my book blog had this to say: The hero is utterly irresistible with his well-oiled hair, a startling addiction to chicory, and a heart of gold. Everyone greets everyone else with “oota aiytha?” (had food?), there are people rejoicing in names like AC Gaadi (an auto driver, of course), A A Sura (tier-2 villain), there's a school named New Saint Oxbridge English Medium Sacred Convent School. Oh, there are a couple of stiffs, many bad men and a missing Maddy, too. This is namma Beantown's very own ‘A Confederacy of Dunces.’
Well, two years later, Zac O’Yeah is out with the second in what promises to be a Hari Majestic series of detective fiction unlike any kind of detective fiction ever written before. In Hari – A Hero for Hire, we meet some old friends like AC Gaadi, Hari’s faithful sidekick Triplex with his overdeveloped penchant for pulchritude, the street mongrel Underdog who leads a pack utterly loyal to our hero, as well as some startling new characters like Bhascar with a ‘c’; the humourless goon Deadlyappa; the portly Doc Viral; a former KGB agent turned shady doctor “with the indeterminate face of a multinational corporation”; Diamond Mol, the Malayali nurse with a chipped front tooth that wreaks havoc on Hari’s heart… both the chipped tooth and the nurse, that is, and Head Nurse Kolaveri whose brusque exterior may or may not hide a soft heart.
Hari has moved up from being a mere tout, now he has started a detective agency, Mr. Majestic OK & Co, in his old haunt the Puncherwallah Complex near the Bilateral Market Shopping Complex, and what’s more, has actually taken up a case, too: that of spying on a seemingly ‘pure’ wife of a suspicious coffee miller. Typically with Hari Majestic, one thing leads to another and even as this case is slam dunk shut, another, of more staggering dimensions, opens up, with Hari unwittingly at its epicentre. Suffice it to say this new case involves illegally harvested organs, foreigners, medical malpractices and much mayhem.
Hari continues to be just who he is: an individual with a striking sartorial style, all nylon shirts, rubber chappals, coconut-oiled hair with a quiff standing up, still able to rattle off all the laws and by-laws, with their corresponding numbers, that govern the lawful and the lawless, still greeting people with an affable “oota aiytha?” His smarts are what always come to his rescue; prior jail raps are listed as ‘judicial training’ in his CV and if that isn’t turning a liability into an asset, then what is? He is a bachelor who “cares for marital obligations,” and one shouldn’t delve deeper into that statement.
The author’s eye and ear is as unerring as ever. Even as the madcap situations call for a chortle every page from the reader, Bangalore, and life in a crowded section of Bangalore, is offered up just as it is, totally without judgment. We see CD Road, a crowded street of cinemas, small shops that sold everything under the sun, shady drinking dens, manic-depressive traffic and hordes of floating populace. We finally understand just why auto rickshaws are painted the way they are: bright yellow on top and black on the bottom half, symbolizing its nature as king of the day and lord of the night. The local patois too is amazingly authentic: did you parcel for me, a hungry Hari demands of a food-carrying Triplex. Elsewhere, we are told the hospital was quiet because everyone was taking tiffin. When the Head Nurse questions Diamond about her growing closeness to Hari, she guiltily replies, he’s nobody to me. Someone else explains: the doctor doesn’t want you running around so we have to do like this. And then there’s this classic observation: Diamond’s father had gone a bit crazy after a visit to Bangalore; it could be a deceptive city that sometimes afflicted people deeply.
The KGB connect is priceless, as is the passing description of foreign women turning pale, almost as if they had dipped their face in rapid action fairness cream; physiotherapy as an instrument of torture, and Hari’s escape from a rooftop using a hospital bed sheet as a sort of parachute, with major emphasis on the ‘sort of’.
Well yes, the plot far from being convoluted, follows a very predictable trajectory. And yes, Hari M has started philosophising on life a bit more than you could expect from one who floated in the higher strata of the lowlife of CD Road. Then, you do wonder why Hari keeps addressing the evil doc Viral as ‘Doctorji’, the last appellation being not too common anywhere in the south, leave alone Bangalore. If it’s all a bit over the top, well then, the moment O’Yeah drops the drama for some baseline plot movement and character development, that’s when the story begins to wobble. So yes, we’ll take Hari Majestic just as he is, thank you.
A Hero for Hire is a book you read for fun, a whole lot of fun.
Sheila Kumar is an independent writer, manuscript editor and author based in Bengaluru.
Hari: A Hero for Hire; Zac O’Yeah, Pan Macmillan India, Rs.350