Recipe for Thrills

Recipe for Thrills

Recipe for Thrills

 

Author Sourabh Mukherjee is sharing some Secret about writing for the New Writers who want to make the career in Writing. 

Sourabh Mukherjee is a well-known name in writing. He has published 2 books:

 

As I look back, I believe there are three key elements that contributed to the success of the two novels.

 

#1: The story at the core

In “The Colours of Passion”, I, of course, wanted to talk about ‘passion’. In my story, I talk about our passion for our work, our craft. I talk about the almost oppressive desire to excel in what we do, which keeps us awake through nights. And how that passion often makes us blind to our sense of propriety. And then, there is the passion one feels for another human being. It can have a variety of shades – some we are ‘comfortable’ with, some which do not conform to societal definitions and are readily dismissed or looked down upon. But, they are all-consuming, nevertheless. And have the power to change lives and the society as we know it.

 

A story for me is also a vehicle to talk about issues that matter to me. In my first novel “In the Shadows of Death”, I spoke about several topics that are usually considered ‘taboo’ and are best pushed under dusty carpets. I talked about the sexual harassment of the male child in the supposedly secure confines of home. I talked about the politics of sexual exploitation and sexual favours, as well as the ‘reverse’ sexual harassment of men at the workplace. I painted a stark picture of adultery and infidelity rampant in the modern urban society with changing ways of life and tried to find plausible causes without being judgemental.

 

Honestly, I was sceptical about the reaction of my readers. Within a few weeks of the release of the book, my confidence in the maturity of Indian readers was validated. And I was encouraged to take up in my second novel, an issue that continues to fuel passionate debates across the world, especially in India. I cannot talk about it as that would be a spoiler.

 

Thrillers these days are rarely about stolen antique or rare jewels. Thrillers today are more about human psychology. They are about the complicated dynamics of human relationships. They reflect the society and the times we live in. And that is what draws me to a thriller.

 

Today, we are consuming crime stories from all quarters – TV, news, movies, the internet. And it is probably getting harder and harder for the mystery writer to conjure an unexpected ending. There is so much of true crime we are reading about and watching around us that it is often difficult to deliver jaw-dropping twists. Also, readers like me who read lots of crime books every year get used to spotting hints and clues in the narrative as they read along.

 

Therefore, for me, when I read a thriller today, whether I was kept guessing about the identity of the murderer till the last page, is no longer the most important thing. What I look for in a modern thriller is how we get there, how deep we go into the psyche of the characters. I want the narrative to be intriguing and satisfying to the extent where I feel it is all real, where I can relate to the characters and everything that is happening to them. These days, that is primarily the expectation I have from a thriller.

 

#2: The setting

This is an extremely important ingredient for a thriller. It is essential that the reader is transported to the atmosphere where the story is unfolding.

 

In my stories, I have tried to paint Kolkata in all its glorious inconsistencies. In my first novel, readers loved the way I brought out that inconsistency along one stretch of the city at Park Street.

 

“Those who had run for cover under the shades included men and women who had been working late in the many offices in the neighbourhood, street children who would otherwise flock around foreigners staying in one of the plush hotels in the area, pimps who carried albums loaded with pictures of call-girls and would get in the way of men roaming around alone in Park Street, and hookers who roamed the streets or waited patiently for hours on end in desolate corners of the roads or in the bus stops in their loud make-up and hopeful eyes, waiting to be picked up and driven to cheap hotels around the place. The incongruous mix of people who stood next to each other, skin to skin, in the bus stops or under the ledges of the showrooms of global brands that lined the road, made Agni smile to himself every time he crossed them. That one stretch of road had something for everyone in the city – the movers and the shakers, and those resigned to the gutters.”

 

This picture of the throbbing heart of the city contrasts sharply with the serenity of the Ganga at the Princep Ghat:

 

“The Ganga stretched below us on both sides, the gloom of the sky reflected in its black waters. The riverfront stretched behind around Princep Ghat. The trident lights, landscaped gardens, fountains, street food and a quiet boat ride away from the din of the city – the perfect getaway.

Every city has one, I guess. After all, you do need a place to hide when everything and everyone around you seems alien.

I hit the Kona Expressway which connects the city with National Highways 2 and 6 leading to Delhi and Mumbai. The concrete around me gave way to the green, and the bumps and potholes underneath vanished. I stopped at the Toll Plaza briefly and then drove straight. The empty road stretching to the horizon like smooth black silk beckoned me…”

 

While writing ‘The Colours of Passion’, I wanted to explore the city more. Thus, the backdrop of the story ends up being an eclectic collage.

 

While writing this novel, what I realized is that, in the ‘new’ Kolkata, we have the moneyed upper class and the upwardly mobile middle class with its new-found avenues of prosperity that make the city a natural destination for global brands and plush real estate. We have shopping malls which are among the best in Asia, residential apartments which literally kiss the sky, nightlife which is among the best in the country, and a glamour industry which is getting its due attention in the national and international arena.

 

We also have the squalor of slums that are now home to the burgeoning mafia – smugglers, contract killers – and their unholy nexus with politicians and industrialists.

 

Yet, the ‘bright morning sun reflects from the steeple of St. Paul’s Cathedral’, ‘holidaying crowds make a beeline for the decked-up horse carriages for a ride by the Maidan and the Fort William grounds’, and the ‘autumn mist still hangs on the vast expanse of the Maidan’ and come autumn, ‘the city erupts with festivities, when happy faces beam all around and laughter echoes in the autumn air, when crowds throng streets awash with lights’.

 

#3: A ‘human’ hero

While conceiving the character of ACP Agni Mitra, I was very clear that he would be anything but a larger-than-life, infallible law enforcement machinery. I wanted a detective who would go about his job as a homicide investigator with a smart, analytical mind solving the trickiest of cases, but at the end of the day would be like anyone of us.

 

And Agni Mitra ended up being just that.

 

The first Agni Mitra thriller ‘In the Shadows of Death’ introduces him as a homicide investigator with sharp “intuition, his deep understanding of the human mind and his style of getting into the psyche of a suspect rather than deliberating on material evidence.”

 

His style of interrogation is also unique in that, Agni does not believe in using brute force. It is all about getting into the psyche of his suspect and bringing out hidden secrets to the surface by asking leading questions, observing the body language of the suspect, and making provocative comments, as we see in numerous examples in both the novels.

 

In him, we see a man with his own insecurities and vulnerabilities. Even after all these years in the job, the sight of a corpse leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. The celebrated sleuth is lonely when he walks into his apartment, and it is not a rare sight to see him soaking in the serenity of the night with his glass of whiskey, his brain rummaging through the facts of a case or the other. And he often has a bad day, like we all do.

 

When his wife Medha Chatterjee walks out on him after four years of a troubled marriage, he struggles to come to terms with his loss.

 

“His eyes kept looking for Medha wherever he went. A five-foot-something woman with straight hair – he had no idea there were so many of them in the city! He would see one next to his car on a busy road, driving a car herself or in the back seat of a car probably with a male companion. Or, he would walk briskly to catch up with one walking a few steps ahead of him with someone on the pavement. Or he would find someone on the escalator in a mall. Every time he felt an inexplicable sense of relief on discovering the woman was not Medha, and then, he would look around once again. He had never found himself in a similar state of mind. He both wanted and did not want to run into her. More importantly, Agni could not find a logical explanation for this behaviour of his.

At times he wished he had a girlfriend, just so that he could flaunt one, if and when he ran into Medha. He imagined the scene, scripted in his mind an exchange that would follow, and then wiped out those images from his mind, laughing to himself.

There were days when he remembered her affairs and her decision to walk out of the marriage and he felt extreme rage. And then there were days when his eyes turned moist when he heard a romantic song they had listened together in happier times. Agni was beginning to come to terms with that inconsistency in his feelings for her, now that they would never be together again. There was nothing he could do about the unpredictability of his feelings for that woman. He had better learn to accept them.

Agni had loaded his car with CDs of flippant dance numbers to escape from such mood swings for good.”

 

And when Medha dies under mysterious circumstances (Read ‘In the Shadows of Death’) he is alone in bed during the nights, and sleep eludes him.

 

“That was the bed where Medha and Agni had spent nights shouting at each other and fighting like alley cats, often over issues that seemed so trivial when Agni looked back now. And that was the bed where they had made love night after night. Towards the end of their marriage, their lovemaking had been reduced to a domestic routine that they would indulge in a few times every month, just because a healthy married couple was supposed to, and to satisfy a physical need just as someone sits on the pot every morning to empty one’s bowels or munches on a sandwich in the afternoon to satiate one’s hunger. But there had been times when making love to Medha was a passionate experience, where they could sense the union of their souls and not just of two bodies, and they would often end up teary-eyed. He missed that – he missed that sorely.

 

Agni tried to calculate how many times they had made love. There was no way to figure out. Did she keep track? She would often surprise Agni by effortlessly quoting from memory the number of days that had passed since the last time they had made love. The intervals would most often be several weeks mostly because Agni had been too tired after his work or had been away from home investigating a murder. Which meant she did keep track. How did she? Did she write down the dates somewhere? Did she make tally marks?”

 

In the second novel ‘The Colours of Passion’, Agni is more evolved and more ruthless, having emerged stronger from his tragedy, but his past still haunts him.

 

Agni was somewhat relieved to leave the café. The song they had been playing inside was from a Bollywood movie about a serial killer and it had been distracting Agni for the last several minutes, reminding him of the personal loss he had suffered last year when several women in Kolkata had fallen prey to a ruthless killer, the shadow of death looming large over the city.”

 

And “Agni spent the autumn nursing his heartache over the tragic turn of events last year. When the city erupted with festivities, when happy faces beamed all around and laughter echoed in the autumn air, when crowds thronged streets awash with lights, Agni was left to fend for his broken heart, holed up in his flat. He was conscious of his loneliness more than ever—that’s what the festive season did to him anyway.”

 

To add to Agni’s emotional turmoil, Rituja Bose, the celluloid diva he had a crush on in his youth and whose association with him in the early years of service almost resulted in a professional disaster, is one of the key suspects in the investigation. There could not have been a worse time for his past to catch up with detective Agni Mitra!

 

However, in spite of his battling the demons within, both ‘In the Shadows of Death’ and ‘The Colours of Passion’ come to life with the witty repartees between Agni and his partner Inspector Arya Sen.

 

By: Author Sourabh Mukherjee

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