Review: ‘Murder in Mahim’ by Jerry Pinto

For those of you who may be unaware, Jerry Pinto is a Mumbai based prolific author. He was well known for his poetry and his writings on Mumbai and Bollywood, until his debut fiction ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ bagged four major awards, including Government of India’s Sahitya Akademi Award and Yale University’s Windham-Campbell Literature prize. I haven’t read that book (yet) and I’m glad for I could come to ‘Murder in Mahim’ without all that baggage.

We witness the murderer searching for his victim in the prologue. The next day, a retired journalist, Peter Fernandes, is called upon by his friend, Inspector Jende, to the crime scene: a dark and secluded men’s toilet on the Matunga Road Railway Station. The victim is a young man with his stomach ripped and—as they eventually learn—a kidney missing. Peter is a little disturbed when he learns that the public toilet in question is a busy spot when the sun goes down, especially for men soliciting services of other men to seek a quick release. It brings back the conflict he faced in his head (suspecting his own son’s queerness through a photo of a pride march printed in the newspaper) to the forefront of his mind.

The book is a strong read as it goes beyond the crime and it’s investigation, examining the city of Mumbai and some of its inhabitants who are forced to live ‘normally’ and love secretly. We follow Peter throughout the novel as he worries about his son and whether he can accept him the way he is, while simultaneously exploring an alternate universe of growing rage, suppressed love, and opportunistic exploitation of the LGBTQIA community in the city. Peter, like me (and perhaps you), is cis-gendered and a heterosexual. I would be lying if I said that I’ve never possessed the ignorance and the confusion he shows about those who don’t accept any of our society’s preapproved labels. Even after having educated myself, I had many takeaways from this book, especially with regards to a thriving LGBTQIA ‘scene’ in my city and the extent of disruption caused in many people’s lives due to Section 377. I’m sure there will be many takeaways for the curious ones amongst you too.

This book was further personal to me for it is based in the very locality I grew up in. The roads, the beaches, the bus stops, the café, the cow tied outside the temple, the smells, and even the vernacular used are all way too familiar to me. Heck, the railway station from the prologue is the one I would catch the train to work from every day. But don’t give up on this book if you’re not from this part of this city. Mumbai is well represented in popular media and Pinto doesn’t need to go into heavy details to let the reader fill in the gaps.

If you’re looking for a purely thrilling whodunit, this one may disappoint you (only a teeny-tiny bit) for the murder mystery element fails to keep you highly engaged at times. But you wouldn’t have stayed here for this long if you were only looking for one. This piece probably caught your interest somewhere and held on to it, and hence, I would strongly suggest you give this REC-VoW award winning book a try, that might soon be adapted to the big screen by Viacom.

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