What I learnt from reading The Murder Room by PD James

The Murder Room

It’s probably a bad idea to read a detective novel over three months. You forget who died, who had the most convenient alibi, and whose house was most unkempt. But if you’re reading PD James’ The Murder Room, it’s pardonable to stretch it for as long as you want.

The murder is just a background against which you discover characters whose lives and routines keep you more occupied and thrilled. This is what makes PD James incredible, that she is able to keep your interest in these things despite an equally compelling murder mystery.

***

I have learnt more things about teaching from Adam Dalgliesh than I have from my own experience in the classroom. Today I’m as unprepared as I was on the first day of class. But I have come to realise that in the profession of teaching, it’s sometimes an ordeal to talk to students like adults.

My response to their various hostilities range from giving hostility back; to ignoring them completely; to confronting them to talk it all out. But neither of these is a fitting response.

In a room full of Murder suspects, Dalgliesh interrogates everybody with the sternness of a businessman and the aloofness of a lover caught daydreaming. This is possibly the best response to unwarranted attacks and general hostility. When the suspects are tired of the cross examining and the hundred odd restrictions on their movements, they begin attacking Dalgliesh – sometimes even personally.

Dalgliesh has a clear sense of his job. He doesn’t care about settling power matters with those who question it. He wants to solve the case – if that gets in the way of people’s fragile ego, he gives exactly two and half fucks and moves on with his life.

A recent discovery that has made me very uncomfortable is that as a teacher, I have taken too many liberties to feel offended at the drop of a hat. While sometimes, I reserve the right to take offence, I should probably learn to be aloof.

I have bad days. Trapped in files and piles of admin work, I have often lost my temper. I continue to envy colleagues who talk to students in a consistently reasonable, annoyingly patient way.

When I think back to all those times that I have lost my cool, I cringe. Because there is nothing not performative about anger. Both on the inside and outside.  Regardless of what it’s about and where it’s coming from. This doesn’t make it less genuine – even if performance is a lie. It just makes me wonder if it’s really all that necessary – ashte.

Adam Dalgliesh is calm. During his worst moments – he’s still calm. He’s never severe on himself.

When Adam and Kate go to interview the mother of some murdered woman – Kate is taken aback by the generous make-up on the mother’s face. For a moment, I was also judgy bitchita. I was all ‘Why are you putting make-up on face when cops are coming to talk about your daughter’s murder?

The stepfather doesn’t figure here because it’s clear from his mannerisms that he’s happy step-daughter’s dead.

Adam Dalgliesh, calm as iceberg on ocean says – ‘It’s her wish to grieve the way she wants to. Clearly her daughter’s death made her vulnerable. So if she wants to brace the day by doing something that makes her feel powerful – why shouldn’t she do it?

I couldn’t applaud because book was heavy so I made my feet applaud.

***

Tally Clutton is my wonder woman. She craves solitude more than anyone else I have ever known. And she craves it not because she likes herself, but because she loves London. She knows she’ll never be able to enjoy the city if she doesn’t see it and live it alone, day after day. She walks the streets of London with the calm desperation of a woman in love willing to surrender.

She wants nothing more than to spend her last few days swallowing the city in slow, deliberate gulps. Sigh. I want to live and die like Tally Clutton. But before that I want to read all the PD James I can get my hands on.

You can watch the BBC adaptation here. But it’s a little blah because it ain’t the Tally Clutton from the book 😦

London

Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet took me around a London that was a lot more fierce than the London in The Paying Guests or even in Fingersmith. When Kitty and Nan see London from the window of their carriage, I saw a London that was distant and hungry. It suddenly felt like I was reading a lot more Dickens and less Waters. I cared more for Whitstable than London. By the end of it all, I wanted the damn oysters back.

Even so, the London in Tipping the Velvet left a lot to be desired. Which is why I spent all of last Sunday riding quite high on London mania. I finally watched Four Weddings and a Funeral. After recovering from drooling all over Andie MacDowell, I watched Peter Ackroyd’s documentary on London. For an hour and a half, I was zapped by London and its history. I took particular interest in all of London’s great fires.I kept wanting to begin writing about my trip to London but it still seems like I am not ready.

Over a cup of mushroom soup and a mug of tea, I watched London in its finest black and white form. In his deep fascination with London, Peter Ackroyd acknowledges how cities become strangers and then people. But they become people who will always remain that little bit strange, that little bit mysterious. They will lure you into their stories, seduce you with their history but they will never be able to tell you exactly what happened on those streets.

I remember getting off a mini-bus in Kurukshetra ten years ago and wondering if the mud was really red because of the war. It is the same fascination I saw when Ackroyd stands on the oldest street in London and calls it so. Virginia Woolf too, writes maddeningly about a London that she grew up in — that she is not satisfied by, because she is convinced she will never fully learn its streets or its scars.

In Arts & Culture one day, a student asked me which my favourite area in the city was. I didn’t have to think much because before I knew it, the long, snake and laddery streets of Cottonpet came zooming back to me.

You’ve Got Mail

My fascination with London has grown after Tipping the Velvet. Like always, Sarah Waters has left me craving for London – the city, its streets, its history, its bridges and its theaters. I cannot bring myself to write about visiting London last year, something seems miserably amiss every time I attempt a description of its big red buses and big red post boxes.

When I was done, I looked up and smiled like I always smile after finishing a book. I can imagine most people doing this. But moments after I had finished reading this, I leapt at Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s The story of a Widow.

I don’t know if it was Sarah Waters’ doing or Farooqi’s but between these two, I find that I have become very susceptible to words. The Story of a Widow has me by my balls. It’s a simple story told even more simply. So much so that I can imagine how writing it must have been annoyingly difficult. The portrait of the dead husband is funny, yes but told so unmarquez-ly that it is refreshing. I am halfway through the book and very often, I don’t even notice the page I am at.

In the middle of this, I have rediscovered what a little delight You’ve Got Mail is. Meg Ryan is my dream woman. Everything she says or does in the movie, I want to say and do. My London madness lent its energy to salivating at New York. I loved everything about the movie, from its little coffee shops to how unbelievable Tom Hanks looks and Meg Ryan’s hair and sweaters and home and books and the little walk she takes every morning to work.

Somewhere in my head, many Meg Ryans are living my life for me in London. The coffee shop scene where Ryan and her boyfriend break up in the most convenient yet totally believable way had me smile endlessly.

I liked how the movie teased us, teased Meg Ryan till the very end–. After falling in love with her all over again, it felt as though I deserved to see her watch Tom Hanks striding towards her in the garden to finally reveal himself. I just checked to recall if I am sober as I have had to check very many times this week, and it turns out, yes – I am sober. You’ve Got Mail is stunning.