Adi Tantimedh on the humour of the Ravi P.I. series
The author of Her Nightly Embrace and Her Beautiful Monster delves into the humour behind the series.
Posted on January 24, 2018 in Guest Author
Tags: adi tantimedh, guest author, her beautiful monster, her nightly embrace
I enjoy a good crime thriller as much as anyone, but there are times when some of them can get rather mawkish in their darkness, joylessness and lugubriousness. Yes, crime is serious business, and murder is horrid, but quite frankly, life is frequently absurd, even horribly so. Just look at what’s happening in politics in the US and the UK. All you have to do is look at things from a different angle and see it all as a farce.
The Ravi P.I. series were always meant to be funny. Not funny ha-ha with jokes and puns, more funny-peculiar, about a man who finds himself in dangerous but ridiculous situations and reacting accordingly. It’s far too easy to wring one’s hands and recoil in moral revulsion at crime, but that ignores many other layers and nuances in human experience. Humour is also a good sugar around the pill. To laugh is also to be shocked, and to laugh in shock might be more interesting than to be shocked by horror. The humour in Ravi was always meant to be integral to the books. Ravi Chandra Singh is not a typical private investigator, the Chandler-esque hard-drinking, world-weary white knight. He is the last bloke you would have expected to become a private detective: a middle-class former religious scholar and secondary school teacher who turns out to make a rather good detective. Having been a teacher who had to control a class of rowdy teenagers actually gives him a cool head for stressful situations. He’s bewildered at the world he has walked into, dismayed by the levels of violence, corruption and secrecy, bemused by the gleeful amorality of his colleagues, and doesn’t want to admit that, deep down, he actually enjoys the chaos he encounters and even creates. Oh, and he thinks he’s losing his mind because he sees gods and they talk to him. More often than not, he turns out to be the sanest man in the room. As a moral person, he’s driven to do the right thing, and that frequently results in him inadvertently burning someone’s world down. Usually, they deserve it. How can this not be funny? It’s horrible, but funny at the same time.
Then there’s also the dialogue. Ravi’s family and friends are clever people, and clever people often like to say outrageous and clever things in a competition to entertain themselves and each other. They make jokes or describe things in snarky ways as a way of coping with stress and boredom, and it also reveals their characters. It’s all about the characters in the end.
Ravi is not consciously trying to be funny, but his reaction to the absurdity of the moment makes it funny. It’s not a conscious trick on my part, but writing in a specific voice, that of a man desperately trying to stay calm as things around him threaten to go completely pear-shaped. Hopefully, the inherent contradictions become funny in themselves.
This type of humour is best conveyed in prose, since it demands a specific use of language to present a specific worldview from inside someone’s head that’s not always possible to express visually. In graphic novels, the writer has to describe in detail frozen moments while conjuring the illusion of movement in the reader’s head. In film scripts, the writer has to describe continuous action and speech to provide a blueprint for what needs to be shot. It is prose that offers the chance to move from interior to external action and back again without missing a beat. I want the reader to live in Ravi’s head when reading the books and see the world through his god-haunted eyes, perhaps getting a new perspective in the process. Ravi might be too freaked out to laugh, but we can at least laugh for him.