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Retro-chaotic sleuth in a crumpled suit and tie

Mar 09, 2024 10:00 PM IST

Have you ever considered how much a book can reveal about the author’s personality?

Have you ever considered how much a book can reveal about the author’s personality? Of course, unless you know the person you would never think along these lines. But when you do, the result can take you by surprise. It certainly has in the case of Krishnan Srinivasan.

PREMIUM
Krishnan Srinivasan in 2021(Murthy V R Garigipati/Wikimedia Commons)

Kris, as I know him, has been a friend for 40 years. We met in Lagos, where he was high commissioner and I the correspondent of the London paper, The Times. Thereafter, as he rose to become foreign secretary our friendship also blossomed.

I knew Kris enjoyed writing, but it would never have occurred to me that detective mysteries would be his forte. Since retiring he’s written seven. It’s not what you expect from former foreign secretaries. Or am I mistaken?

Kris’s detective is a retired Somalian ambassador called Michael Marco. He’s more of an eminence grise than a conventional hero. His suits are crumpled, his ties askew, his shoelaces loosely tied. Kris calls him “retro-chaotic” adding “his attire having been made by a blind tailor”.

Marco is no Bond. He neither looks out for pretty women nor do they seek him. His tipple is tomato juice. He wouldn’t know what to do with a Martini! However, “appearances are deceptive in regard to his acumen”. He sees everything and comes to the most surprising conclusions. He reminds me of Miss Marple.

I would never have guessed Kris would admire a man like Marco. I certainly wouldn’t have thought he’d write of him with affection. He’s so different to the people I’ve known as Kris’s friends. Indeed, Kris himself is the opposite.

The other thing I’ve discovered is Kris has an extremely observant eye. His flair is describing people’s clothes. Consider this of a male character in his latest book, Right Angle to Life: “A fashionable two-day-old unshaven face with sharp cheekbones, light brown eyes, thick hair flopping over his forehead and a neutral-coloured Pierre Cardin linen jacket over a tomato-red open-neck dress shirt, skinny chinos and suede loafers without socks. In short, a male model type.” That’s so vivid you can virtually visualise the person.

Kris is even better at describing female characters. This is how Koel Deb, the narrator of his latest work, describes herself. “(I) changed into my smart casual attire of denim jacket over a v-necked long-sleeved silk blouse, harem pants (and) Saint Valentine leather shoes … I wore my pearl ear-studs, sprayed a jet of Bella Vita on my neck and behind my ears, (and) touched my lips with Clinique Plum.”

I now wonder how Kris’s dispatches from his various ambassadorial assignments read. Did he describe his interlocutors with equal precision? And if you sat opposite him when he was foreign secretary, would you have sensed he was sizing you up so meticulously?

However, it’s not just detail; it’s also discernment. Few authors know the finer points of bespoke shoes. Several can distinguish between lace-ups and moccasins, but how many know the difference between Oxfords and Brogues?

Are you beginning to get my point? Kris’s fiction has revealed an aspect of his personality you would never have sensed if you only knew him as a diplomat or a party-loving bon viveur.

Although his description of a cocktail party clearly suggests he’s thought carefully about them. Consider this: “The guests inched together, joined in forced heartiness, everyone milling about, passing and repassing like a pack of cards shuffled by a clumsy dealer. Silent waiters circulated with trays of drinks and bite-sized snacks to the background of confused explanations, mumbled introductions, meaningless clichés, unresponded enquires, indifferent handshakes, enthusiastic references to the weather, sudden silences and insincere enquiries about everyone’s state of health.”

And I thought he liked parties! How mistaken I was. But as I said, you have to read a man’s book to realise there’s a lot more to him than you at first understood. The problem is the next time Kris comes over I won’t know what to wear and even less what to say!

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story. The views expressed are personal

Have you ever considered how much a book can reveal about the author’s personality? Of course, unless you know the person you would never think along these lines. But when you do, the result can take you by surprise. It certainly has in the case of Krishnan Srinivasan.

PREMIUM
Krishnan Srinivasan in 2021(Murthy V R Garigipati/Wikimedia Commons)

Kris, as I know him, has been a friend for 40 years. We met in Lagos, where he was high commissioner and I the correspondent of the London paper, The Times. Thereafter, as he rose to become foreign secretary our friendship also blossomed.

I knew Kris enjoyed writing, but it would never have occurred to me that detective mysteries would be his forte. Since retiring he’s written seven. It’s not what you expect from former foreign secretaries. Or am I mistaken?

Kris’s detective is a retired Somalian ambassador called Michael Marco. He’s more of an eminence grise than a conventional hero. His suits are crumpled, his ties askew, his shoelaces loosely tied. Kris calls him “retro-chaotic” adding “his attire having been made by a blind tailor”.

Marco is no Bond. He neither looks out for pretty women nor do they seek him. His tipple is tomato juice. He wouldn’t know what to do with a Martini! However, “appearances are deceptive in regard to his acumen”. He sees everything and comes to the most surprising conclusions. He reminds me of Miss Marple.

I would never have guessed Kris would admire a man like Marco. I certainly wouldn’t have thought he’d write of him with affection. He’s so different to the people I’ve known as Kris’s friends. Indeed, Kris himself is the opposite.

The other thing I’ve discovered is Kris has an extremely observant eye. His flair is describing people’s clothes. Consider this of a male character in his latest book, Right Angle to Life: “A fashionable two-day-old unshaven face with sharp cheekbones, light brown eyes, thick hair flopping over his forehead and a neutral-coloured Pierre Cardin linen jacket over a tomato-red open-neck dress shirt, skinny chinos and suede loafers without socks. In short, a male model type.” That’s so vivid you can virtually visualise the person.

Kris is even better at describing female characters. This is how Koel Deb, the narrator of his latest work, describes herself. “(I) changed into my smart casual attire of denim jacket over a v-necked long-sleeved silk blouse, harem pants (and) Saint Valentine leather shoes … I wore my pearl ear-studs, sprayed a jet of Bella Vita on my neck and behind my ears, (and) touched my lips with Clinique Plum.”

I now wonder how Kris’s dispatches from his various ambassadorial assignments read. Did he describe his interlocutors with equal precision? And if you sat opposite him when he was foreign secretary, would you have sensed he was sizing you up so meticulously?

However, it’s not just detail; it’s also discernment. Few authors know the finer points of bespoke shoes. Several can distinguish between lace-ups and moccasins, but how many know the difference between Oxfords and Brogues?

Are you beginning to get my point? Kris’s fiction has revealed an aspect of his personality you would never have sensed if you only knew him as a diplomat or a party-loving bon viveur.

Although his description of a cocktail party clearly suggests he’s thought carefully about them. Consider this: “The guests inched together, joined in forced heartiness, everyone milling about, passing and repassing like a pack of cards shuffled by a clumsy dealer. Silent waiters circulated with trays of drinks and bite-sized snacks to the background of confused explanations, mumbled introductions, meaningless clichés, unresponded enquires, indifferent handshakes, enthusiastic references to the weather, sudden silences and insincere enquiries about everyone’s state of health.”

And I thought he liked parties! How mistaken I was. But as I said, you have to read a man’s book to realise there’s a lot more to him than you at first understood. The problem is the next time Kris comes over I won’t know what to wear and even less what to say!

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story. The views expressed are personal

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