Justice isn’t Elementary in India

I’ve always had  a soft spot for Robert Downey, Jr.  Maybe it’s his boyishness, sweet smile, seeming vulnerability?   Sometimes attraction is not so easily explained.  So when I saw his picture in the local paper, of course I stopped to read the article.  It was not  a review of his latest movie, which I haven’t seen, but I hear disappoints.  Rather, this was a commentary about the dearth of modern crime fiction in India.  The writer asks:

“What is the point of a private eye, no matter how impressive, if his exertions in nabbing the bad guys comes to naught when confronted by a corrupt police force, a slow judiciary and a venal political class?”

I’m not an avid crime fiction reader and don’t know much of the genre outside of Agatha Christie, which I consumed as a teenager, and the Louisiana-seasoned novels of James Lee Burke, which I enjoyed during my residency in Cajun country.  However, I was intrigued by the author’s claim that Indian writers veered away from traditional crime fiction because they didn’t have the imagination to write a story where good trumps evil and where the institutions of civil society equitably serve the people.

So what, exactly is the problem?  I came across another item in the newspaper today that helps explain.  It’s about  police in India operating beyond the law.  The remnants of colonialism persist in a police force that still sees itself accountable only  to the government and not to the people.  Interestingly, police are recruited from dominant castes in the area that they serve.  Politicians are closely tied to recruitment and police departments serve the politicians by keeping crime stats artificially low.  This means that when the average citizen lodges a complaint or reports a crime, it often isn’t registered.  Or, as I wrote about earlier, police seek bribes and the cost of bribery lies far beyond the means of the average citizen.  People don’t trust the police, there’s apparently little effort to investigate crimes and shoddy work at best when it is done.

The author of the crime fiction commentary calls on readers and writers alike to shed their cynicism and to believe: ” Perhaps, if Indian writers produced more works of ‘imagination-driven faith’, it might be possible to inspire at least younger citizens with a sense of the legitimacy of justice for one and all.”

In 2006 the supreme court in India took on police reform and ordered a massive cleanup, but apparently, states are not complying with the directives and the supreme court isn’t holding them in contempt.

If the supreme court can’t inspire justice, then who can?  Maybe all India has left is the crime novelist!


I had my first run as a 44 year old today and it felt great!  I ran outside in the morning, soupy chill and actually had a red, cold nose and frozen fingers.  In the Delhi heat, I dream of being cold like this.  Anyway, there I was jogging along, having a good old think about this and that, him and her, yesterday and today – you know how the mind wanders – when an oldie played on my ipod and I was thrown back years to middle school.  Remember Journey’s “Faithfully”?  I used to croon to this song with my best friend, Mary.  The sad bit of this is that Mary died in a car accident when I was 18.  But the good bit of this is that 26 years later, I still think of her and happily sing to Journey!


And that same run got me thinking about the year ahead.  I’ve entertained the thought of compiling a list of things that I want to accomplish in my lifetime,  but that seems daunting and more like an exercise in disappointment.  Last night at dinner, a friend asked me to tell her about my three best years so far.  GREAT QUESTION!  I gave her two before we were interrupted, but the truth is, the third year was more difficult for me to identify.  I can easily think of  three bad years – and that’s a good thing because there are fewer of them.  The good years are far more plentiful.  I think my third answer is more of a compilation – all of my summers spent with my grandparents in north Cornwall, England.  These summers were fresh and free and ever so removed from my life in Baltimore.  SO – this year, it is this that I want to do – and maybe publicly sharing it will motivate me to see it through:  visit my grandparents’ graves.  They rest on a windy hillside overlooking the north Atlantic. How romantic is that?


And finally, my latest adventures with George.  Some of you know his history with the emergency room – like the time he drank half a bottle of Robitussin and knocked himself out cold;  the time he ate 42 pieces of Xylitol sugar-free gum; the broken door knob that got stuck on his hand when he inserted his index finger into the missing lock cylinder (this one required the intervention of a hand surgeon!); and let’s not forget the motorcycle that hit him in Vietnam.  All has been quiet in India, but that doesn’t mean he’s not looking for trouble.  The other day I noticed that four birth control pills were missing from the cute little package that looks just like the gum that you pop through foil.   I think that even an Indian investigative unit couldn’t botch this case – George admits to playing with them but not eating them.  I’m betting that his painful hour on the toilet that day might be evidence enough.  We did call poison control in NYC as a precaution.  Turns out you can’t OD on birth control pills… so eat up ladies!

And the latest in photos.  Here are two little girls who approached me for money in the beautiful Lodi Gardens.  I gave them peanut butter sandwiches but that didn’t suffice.  They hung around and I tried to play with them for a bit.  The girl in the red is wearing a wooden cross attached to a string around her neck.  I fingered the cross because it was beautiful in its simplicity – and it reminded me of one I had just like it when I was a little girl.  I gave it to a friend years later.

Driving hazard #480 – a camel:

I went to the opera last week and saw a French-Indian collaboration, “If I were King”.  The lighting and acoustics could have been better but it was surprisingly well done:

PLEASE can I take him home, mama?

The four women celebrating with me all have amazing stories to share…

3 thoughts on “Justice isn’t Elementary in India”

  1. Theo, It’s so touching that you mentioned Mary. I remember her and how bizarre her death was. I wonder what would have been…..

    1. and you know, barbara – mary’s mother died of cancer when mary was very young. it was one tragedy wrapped around another… but mary was always so full of life and happiness. i was instantly drawn to her when i changed schools in 8th grade. and thankfully, she saw in me a willing adventurer!

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