Ruby Gupta: India's Own Agatha Christie?
No illusions in Xanadu
Ruby Gupta made her debut in fiction writing in 1996 with the publication of ‘The Fulfilment: A Collection of Short Stories’. Her fiction writing was momentarily interrupted when the Cambridge Publishers brought out two of her text books in 2009 and 2010 namely ‘Basic Technical Communication’ and ‘Advanced Technical Communication’ that were included in the syllabi of several universities and have sold till date over 50,000 copies.
Her entry in the mystery genre came in 2012 with ‘A Degree in Death’ that had stayed for quite some time on the List of the Crossword Award 2013. Its scene of action was an educational institute located in Dehra Dun’s educational hub of Rajpur. It was a midnight murder of a student that causes widespread suspicion and alarm. The police investigators had neither a clue nor a suspect, and were at their wits’ end. Prof Shantanu Bose, the Dean of Research and Development, and an eminent nano-expert, was deeply troubled; the Institute’s reputation was at stake; he then took upon himself the job of solving the mystery. Further panic gripped the Campus as another dead body turns up. To make matters worse, the professor finds himself in grave personal danger yet he continues with his investigations and finally manages to discover the truth.
IN HER latest mystery ‘No Illusions in Xanadu’ published by BLOOMSBURY, Ruby again brings the amateur detective Prof Shantanu Bose to the centre stage of the story. It begins when India’s heartthrob and matinee idol Rajiv Kapoor is found dead. Earlier that night there was a gala dinner bash at his palatial and opulent residence named XANADU at which Bombay’s hotshot celebrities, business magnates, close friends and the family members were the guests.
Among them was Dr. Singhvi– a long time friend and the family doctor for the past 25 years. The two had shared an easy camaraderie despite the difference in their respective backgrounds and chosen professions. Perhaps it was some sort of indefinable chemistry that had brought about a warm and deep friendship between the two that only became stronger with each passing year. The guests included two of his professor friends, Shantanu Bose and Dinkar Mishra who were also the house guests. They too were shocked and distressed.
Then there was Remanika, married to Rajvir’s son Amar. She too did not have any love lost for her father-in-law. On receiving the news of his death, she also rushed towards XANADU. Likewise, Rajvir’s older brother Girish who lived in Singapore also took the earliest flight to Mumbai on getting the news of his younger brother’s demise; there was no love lost between the brothers, thanks to the brotherly rivalry common among the siblings.
The Mumbai Commissioner of Police Karan Ahuja also reached XANADU posthaste. He too had been at the party the previous night that had been organized to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Rajiv Kapoor’s legendary run in the film industry. Ahuja did what he was supposed to do as the Police Commissioner; he inspected the wound, and it was obvious that Rajiv had been shot from the back. He had then rightly concluded that it was undoubtedly a murder. Ahuja then summoned Detective Inspector Bhogle of the Crime Branch who did the routine investigations like taking photographs and minutely searching the room for any possible clue.
There was also Rajvir’s daughter Mridula who dearly loved her father. In her heart of hearts, Mridula always wanted to become a film star but Rajvir strictly forbade her; he genuinely felt that film industry was no place for his daughter. Despite all the affection that Rajvir showered on her, she somewhat resented her father’s NO, NO to her acting career.
There were also a dozen or so sundry characters who too, for one reason or another, had nursed a grudge against Rajiv Kapoor. But was their grudge strong enough to cause them to murder the superstar? And that was the task that Prof Bose took upon himself to solve. The question that everyone asked, “Who could have killed the legendary superstar Rajiv Kapoor? Who had the motive? And the opportunity? ”Everyone at the party was deemed a suspect. Even though Rajiv enjoyed immense popularity among the hoi polloi, he had stepped onto many a toe in his long journey to stardom; even his own wife Pallavi privately resented him.
In an interview with RAJ KANWAR, Ruby Gupta throws light on her teaching and writing career.
I believe that you also teach English to the Gentlemen Cadets at the Indian Military Academy. What is the level of their English language course? Is it graduate or postgraduate level?
I am the head of the department of English and Professor, Humanities at the ACC Wing of the Indian Military Academy. Here the cadets are enrolled in the BA and BSc course and get degrees from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. This is in addition to their military training. I teach English literature to the cadets and have also written a book exclusively for the cadets, entitled, ‘Creativity Decoded: Mind and Art of Selected Poets’.
What or who had first motivated you to take up writing?
Well stories were my first love. Growing up, I loved reading all kinds of stories whether in the form of comics or books. In particular I was fond of mystery and suspense. So perhaps it was natural that when I turned to story writing, I ended up writing stories in the mystery genre.
Who is the main protagonist in ‘A Degree in Death’ and ‘No Illusions in Xanadu’?
The protagonist of both, ‘A Degree in Death’ and ‘No Illusions in Xanadu’ is Professor Shantanu Bose, an eminent nano-expert and amateur sleuth. Generally attired in a pair of faded blue jeans, a T-shirt with collar, and supporting a boyish look, he hardly looks like a professor. Bose generally evokes envy from his colleagues but enjoys a large fan following among the students, researchers and scientists and has, to boot, several patents to his name.
There are shades of Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot in the XANADU. Incidentally, have you been Christie’s fan?
I have been a Christie fan since my school days. So I guess unconsciously my plots too are modeled on the classic Christie plot. Likewise, my protagonist Prof. Bose has perhaps some shades of Hercule Poirot so far as the intellectual unraveling of the crime is concerned.
What is your writing routine?
I do not have any writing routine. I go for months and even a year without working on my books. Then in between I get back to it and try and write for a couple of hours every day for some weeks. After that again there is a break. This is because my job and other things often demand my time and attention.In fact, sometimes I wonder how I have managed to write eight books with this kind of an erratic schedule.
Do you wish to continue writing with your mystery genre?
Yes, mystery fascinates and intrigues me. Though occasionally, I do get an urge to dabble in other genres.
Incidentally, who is your favourite author?
I have many favourites. To begin with, there was Enid Blyton, followed by James Hadley Chase, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jeffrey Archer, Ken Follet, Sydney Sheldon, Dan Browne, Ayn Rand and some others whom I cannot recall at the moment. Now that I have into the academics, my reading is now largely confined to serious literature.
Would you at some time like to become a full time writer?
I really don’t know. I love teaching. I get tremendous satisfaction from contributing in some way to the moulding and building of young minds. In particular, the teaching of the future officers of the Indian Army is immensely gratifying. So I think I would like to continue doing both the teaching and the writing.
Which School did you go and at which College did you graduate?
I have never studied in one school for more than three years. It would be difficult to list all the schools. Some of the schools where I studied were Loreto Convent in Delhi, Hutchings High School, Pune and St. Maria Goretti, Bareilly. Ditto with colleges ranging from Dehra Dun’s MKP from where I obtained my degree in Science and the Bilaspur University where I earned my doctorate.
Say something about your family.
I come from a family of professionals. My father was a Chest Specialist and a Colonel in the Army and my mother is a dedicated social worker. My husband is a Plastic Surgeon and a Colonel in the Army. My daughter is a software engineer working with Cognizant Technologies, and is also a singer, guitarist and actor.
What are you currently writing?
At the moment I am working on another mystery novel, a sort of a thriller based on the current volatile, geo-political scenario.
Raj Kanwar is a Dehra Dun-based veteran journalist and author. His upcoming Book is DATELINE DEHRA DUN