Surrender-not Banerjee is a young sergeant, newly recruited into the Calcutta Police. He’s a bright lad, one of the first Indians to be inducted into CID, and he did pretty well in the police entrance exams too. The third son of an influential and well-to-do Bengali family, he was educated in England, before returning to India.
His real name is Surendranath, but his British superiors found that too difficult to pronounce and instead christened him Surrender-not. It’s a name he’s gradually getting used to.
His decision to join the police force has led to tensions within his family. His father in particular is shocked by his son’s decision, accusing him of siding with oppressors of his own people. Surrender-not sees it differently. His view is that even when the British leave, Indians will probably still keep murdering each other and someone’s going to need the skills to solve them.
In contrast to his new boss, Sam Wyndham, he’s still fresh and idealistic, with an innate belief in justice and the rule of law. But his idealism gets sorely tested by reality. To some extent, Surrender-not embodies the conflict felt by many educated Indians of the time, torn between their rose-coloured view of British justice and the repression of their own people.
At the point where we meet him, Surrender-not is pretty much in awe of Sam. He finds him different from the other British officers, but he’s not quite sure what to make of him. On one level I think he’s worried about his new boss, who seems to have his own problems and doesn’t know the first thing about India, but Surrender-not is far too shy and too Indian to say anything.
His shyness doesn’t stop with his boss though. He’s particularly inept at talking to women, white or Indian – that is unless they have an interest in cricket.
Over time, I’d hope to see Surrender-not growing in confidence and becoming more comfortable in his own skin. I’d like the relationship between him and Sam to become more of a friendship and a partnership of equals, mirroring the changes in society which were taking place in that period. I expect he and Sam will have their fair share of disagreements, and will possibly fall out for a while. At the end of the day, though, as with all great friendships, there’ll be a rapprochement. And who knows, maybe Surrender-not will become the first Indian Chief of the the Calcutta Police and end up as Wyndham’s boss. Now that might be nice.
A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee is published by Harvill Secker on 5 May 2016 (priced £12.99)