The Happy Home for the Aged isn’t your regular, formal old-age home but rather a house where older people, who have no one of their own, are welcome to come and live. It is owned and looked after by Maria, whose grandfather essentially invited older people to come live there when he lost much of his family. Maria now looks after the home and also runs the Tip Top Café in the little village of Trionim in Goa, and Leela does the cooking and general upkeep in the home. There are five residents, Rosie who still likes to look her best, Prema, who is sharp-tongued, fond of food (actually they all are) but won’t admit it, the Russian painter Yuri, a retired civil servant Deven, and Cyrilo, pianist and a local. The residents don’t all always get along but life or whatever is left of it is going on as it does. But one fine morning, a body is found in their garden, hanging from a mango tree, and it isn’t suicide as it seems at first glance, but murder. But they have no idea whodunit nor even who the victim was. The residents are excited by the murder and all ready to help the police but when Inspector Chand neglects to even speak to them, not thinking it worthwhile since “they can’t hear or see anything, so what will they know poor things?” Slighted, Rosie decides that they, the five of them (and Maria for they can’t not tell her) will solve the murder together and show that Inspector what old people can do—Maria and Leela join in. Alongside we have Maria’s story—she has three suitors, the dashing Francis who she prefers but who really isn’t worth her affections, Bobby who has quietly loved her since they were children, and Inspector Chand who dreams of marrying her despite his mother’s opposition.
I enjoyed this book so so much. It was such fun seeing the residents light up and get into action once they decide to solve the mystery—it very much reminded me of Miss Marple whose doctor (Hyadock?) prescribed a good murder mystery as medicine to get her spirits up. That is exactly what it does for the residents of the Happy Home, and for Maria and Leela too, and not only that, it brings the residents closer to each other, getting them to open up more about themselves as well. I really liked the way the author got the message across that old doesn’t mean useless, nor does it mean that you aren’t human anymore—you are still a person, with the same thoughts, desires, beliefs, though may be not always the physical ability to do things as when you were young (though the number of ailments among the ‘younger’ set makes one wonder whether that really is the case). Other people (people in general) are ever ready to stereotype, to disbelieve something the residents claimed they saw just because they are old, or to attribute illness to old age, without considering for a moment that age doesn’t necessary mean those things. And Rosie, Cyrilo, Deven, Prema, and Yuri prove that. I liked all of the characters (except the ones we weren’t supposed to like—the ‘villains’) and their individual personalities came through very well.
And of course, the setting was another stand out in the book for me. A small village in Goa, relatively free of tourists, though not entirely so. Life is peaceful for the most part, close to nature, with the sea, fresh fish, spice farms, and generally quiet pace of life, disturbed every now and then by the wealthy from larger cities like Delhi and Mumbai who arrive at certain times of the year, living in palatial mansions at the edge of the village. There are the small tensions within the village too, between communities (like the Inspector’s mother who will never accept a Christian bride for her son), but nothing that really disturbs the day to day life.
The mystery itself was fairly enjoyable as well, not unpredictable but I wasn’t entirely sure how it would come together. With a bit of drama at the end (and a few unexpected events in the middle), it added a bit of excitement to the whole story. But generally, this does have the ‘feel’ of a ‘feel-good’ book. Really enjoyed this.