Mystery gets unfolded like the layers of an onion

Amongst the English authors, I like Agatha Christie the most. The knack of delving deep into the psyche of her characters and linking their outer behaviours to their inner dynamics on one hand and the finesse to unravel a mystery on a layer-by-layer basis just like peeling off the skins of an onion on the other, puts Ms. Christie in a league of her own. With due respect to all the mystery writers of the world, I firmly assert that none can match the skills of Ms. Christie as far as penning whodunits is concerned. Today I am reviewing a novel of hers which is not a series novel, i.e., not written with her stock characters (though in a movie made on this novel in 2009, the character of Ms. Christie’s immortal brain-child, Miss Marple was added). This novel is – Why Didn’t They Ask Evans ?index1The title of the novel is as such because the last words of a dying person (the mystery of whose death forms the crux of the novel) heard by the young hero of this novel are – ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans ?’ And the background as well as the epitome of this dying statement becomes known to the reader of this novel in the ending pages only.why-didnt-they-ask-evans-927647The story starts with a game of Golf being played by the youngster hero – Bobby Jones with his companion, Dr. Thomas somewhere in the town of Marchbolt. When the ball goes over a cliff-edge and Bobby goes to locate and bring it back, he finds a man fallen from the cliff. Dr. Thomas first examines the person who appears as dead but is actually unconscious and then goes for bringing help for that injured and unconscious person whereas Bobby stays back to take care of him. Suddenly, that man gets conscious only to utter the last words those form the title of this novel and dies immediately. Bobby checks his pockets and finds a photograph of a beautiful young lady in one of them. He puts the photograph back after seeing when one stranger arrives there, introducing himself as Roger Bassington-ffrench. He offers to Bobby for himself as staying behind with the dead body so that Bobby could leave. Getting late for playing organ at his father’s church, Bobby accepts the offer of Roger Bassington-ffrench and rushes for his destination.

Later, Bobby is surprised to find that the photo found by the cops from the pocket of the deceased is not the same as seen by him. Even more personal surprises are there in store for him. Firstly, he gets a lucrative job offer from a faraway place (which he doesn’t accept) and secondly, someone poisons the drink he is consuming. He starts working at the garage of his friend, Badger but the mysteries of the changed photograph, the strange last words of the dying person and the attempt on his own life keep on disturbing his mind. He discusses all these things with his female friend, Lady Frances Derwent fondly called as Frankie. Both Bobby and Frankie conclude that the only clue to reach the root of the mystery is Mr. Roger Bassington-ffrench who is the likely person to have replaced the original photograph with the one which was found later in the pocket of the deceased. His address is traced by them to a house titled as Merroway Court in Hampshire where he lives with his brother and sister-in-law. Frankie stages a fake accident and under the excuse to recover from her injuries, infiltrates the household. Bobby also reaches there posturing as her driver. Their quest for truth goes on and Bobby happens to come across the girl whose photo he had seen in the pocket of the deceased person. After many twists and turns coupled with thrills, Bobby and Frankie not only unravel the complete mystery and catch the culprits but also discover the love in their hearts for each other.index6Also published under the title of ‘The Boomerang Clue’, this novel is relatively long and suits more for a TV serial than a feature film. Unlike many other Agatha Christie novels which have to be finished in one go to enjoy the suspense properly, this novel is one of its kind to be read and enjoyed leisurely without any hurry to finish it. I read it at a slow speed and completed it in a number of days. The personalities and activities of the very young hero and heroine charmed me like anything and after reading it, I feel that this novel is just like a cup of nicely brewed coffee or a well-made cocktail which is to be enjoyed sip-by-sip. The quest for truth appeared more fascinating to me then the knowledge of truth. I found the journey headed for the solution of the mystery as more lovable and enchanting than the destination of the same.index2The mystery-queen has first folded the mystery on a layer-by-layer basis and thereafter unfolded it the same way, just like peeling off the skins of an onion. And that has made the reading as exceedingly pleasant despite the length of the novel which appears to me on the higher side. The characters are introduced gradually but every character is able to leave his / her mark. The suspense deepens at a slow pace and the engrossing capability of the stuff is felt quite gradually. However the reader cannot afford to have an incomplete reading of this novel. The destination, i.e., the revelation of the suspense, is to be reached but by enjoying every step of the travel towards it. And the reader is stunned when the real culprit is unmasked in the ending pages.102303Agatha Christie used to pen romantic novels too by the name of Mary Westmacott. This novel is an illustration as to how apt she was in writing romantic stuff too alongside writing the suspense-filled stuff. The romance and untold love of the very young detective twosome is quite subtle, yet heart-conquering.why-didnt-they-ask-evans-v2The title itself is full of suspense. If you want to know what was to be ‘asked’, who was ‘Evans’ and who were ‘they,’ then please go through this novel and have a nice reading time. It is one of the underrated novels of Madame Christie but after reading it, no reader can complain. First published in 1934, this novel still renders a fresh feeling like a gust of breeze. It may prove to be reminiscent of own first crush or days of friendship with someone special for many of us. I wholeheartedly recommend this novel to both the mystery-fans and the readers of romantic stuff. Join the company of very young Bobby and Frankie and enjoy their quest for the truth hidden behind the assertion in the title of the novel.

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The speaking dumb

A few years back, the case of the disappearance act of Bhanwari Devi, an ambitious woman who had developed intimate relationships with high profile politicians of Rajasthan and accepted the role of a moll in the lives of certain powerful ones, was in news. Even the trial for her murder had started despite the fact that her dead body was yet to be found.

Certain other cases similar to that of Bhanwari Devi have also been there in India during the past few years where an ambitious woman dared to play with fire for the sake of her ambitions and finally lost her life in the game of power, lust and betrayal. One such case was of Madhumita Shukla, a budding young poetess of U.P. who developed close relationship with a tainted politician – Amar Mani Tripathi and got murdered (on 09.05.2003). Hindi novelist – Ved Prakash Sharma made the life and the murder case of Madhumita Shukla as the basis of his thriller novel – Goonga (dumb).indexGoonga is not the story of a person who is actually dumb but the story of an honest and dutiful district and session judge who loses his desire to speak when he has to acquit certain murderers from his court due to lack of evidences against them. The most painful thing for him is that he himself was the eye-witness of the murder but whether as a judge or as a witness, he is not able to bring the culprits to justice and provide solace to the aggrieved who is the sister of the victim. Trapped in a conspiracy, she has been legally and medically declared insane and hence her statement bears no meaning in any court of law. Now the sincere and dutiful judge is feeling stuffy within himself with an unbearable burden lying on his conscience. And therefore, he becomes dumb for all practical purposes, not speaking a single word in addition to whatever is essential to say.

But the things cross the threshold of his patience when the little child of the aggrieved woman (so-called insane sister of the murder-victim) is also murdered. Now he decides to ensure justice himself through a carefully thought-out plan. His sets the ball rolling with the murder of a young poetess who was, in fact, a moll of high profile and criminal politicians and cops. She was a shrewd woman who used to prepare still photos and compact discs of the lovemaking activities of such people (when they were in her company in privacy) and then blackmailed them on as and when required basis. The judge starts his mission with the murder of that poetess-cum-gangsters’ (and supercops’) moll and that murder triggers a chain of carefully crafted murders of the people involved in the murder of the innocent person. He does not spare any such person who had gone scot-free through the law. However he does so by playing mind-games with the culprits.

The punchline of this novel (published on the cover page of the novel) is – Jiski Jubaan Par Taale Daal Diye Gaye Magar Jiska Rom-Rom Bolnay Laga Tha (his tongue had been locked but then each pore of his body had started speaking). Perfect, for the story has been written and the main character has been described the same way only. His anguish and stuffiness has been portrayed to be reflecting through his silence which is unbearable for his family members, especially his wife. It’s irksome for his wife till she is not aware of the trauma her husband has been undergoing but once she comes to know of the background behind the ‘dumbness’ of her husband, she starts adoring him.

The story has been written in the autobiographical or diary style which the wife of the protagonist narrates to the readers. And this style is very interesting as well as impressive because it presents the side of the wife with her feelings generated by the pinching silence of her husband and his indifference towards her. Through this, the author has quite skilfully explained the delicate relationship of a husband and a wife who have understood and stood by each other for decades but the new developments are creating cracks in the bridge between their hearts. The wife’s mindset has been portrayed quite realistically. The author has kept very impressive dialogues in the novel which compliment the storyline in the perfect way.

Despite being inspired by a real life incident, this is, after all, a piece of fiction. And hence the author has taken certain liberties which can be excused considering the overall quality of the novel. It can be the story of any honest and dedicated public servant of India. The protagonist of this story decides to go daredevil against the baddies and succeeds due to his sharp mind and the favourable situations. However many sincere and honest Indians in the real life are not that fortunate and they have to lose everything including their lives in their battle against corruption, crime and evil. This is not only a highly interesting novel but also a highly inspiring one.

The numerous twists and turns in the story keep the reader spellbound throughout the novel. The events after the murder of the poetess involve checks and checkmates between the criminals and the judge who has now tied a cerement on his forehead. There is not a single boring episode in the novel. The author has been the script-writer of a few Bollywood movies and he has penned the novel in that way only. Had a movie been made on this novel by a skilled director, it would have been a spectacular one. The author is not a highly educated one. Still the language (Hindi) used in the novel is spicy and pretty impressive.

Goonga can be termed as an underrated novel of this highly popular Hindi novelist who was the uncrowned king of Hindi pulp fiction during the eighties and the early nineties. Madhumita Shukla was murdered on 09th May 2003 and immediately the author picked up the threads to start writing this novel which got published in October 2003. The novel still appears fresh when read today, given the ever-deteriorating situation of law and order and ethical values in our country. The ones who can read Hindi and are willing to uplift their sinking spirits, should not miss reading this low cost novel.

Before I end this review, I produce a question that haunts me time and again. Why are certain (Indian) women not able to check their ambitions a bit and not to go too far in the corridors of power just on the basis of their youthful beauty and womanhood ? Whether it’s the unmarried Madhumita Shukla or the married Bhanwari Devi who has kids too, the question remains the same. Don’t such women understand that playing with fire may lead to burning of self also ? After all, once you start threatening (or blackmailing) powerful people on the basis of the evidences of their sexual activities, sooner or later, they will conclude that their survival lies in your elimination only. Why is this simple truth not realized by these overambitious women ?

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Had I been a filmmaker, I would have picturized it

Gulshan Nanda is quite a familiar name for the Bollywood movies. Several hit movies like Sharmilee, Kati Patang, Neel Kamal, Naya Zamaana, Daag, Ajnabee, Jheel Ke Uss Paar, Mehbooba (novel – Sisakate Saaz), Kaajal (novel – Maadhvi), Khilona (novel – Patthar Ke Honth) etc. have been made upon his novels. However, this time I am not reviewing any movie but a novel written by him upon which no movie has been made. I am not a filmmaker. Had I been, I would have made a very good family drama on this novel which is just very very good. When I had read it first, thoughts had come to my mind for making a movie upon this story. Well, neither I have made, nor anybody else. However it does not dilute the quality of this novel – Shagun (something given as symbolic to augur an auspicious relationship mostly the matrimonial alliance).shagunShagun is a triangular family drama consisting of the husband, the wife and the husband’s ex-wife to which the daughter born out of the first marriage is also inseparably associated. Ajay has got divorced from his wife Ruby, living in Mumbai with his daughter Rashmi whose custody has been entrusted by the court to her mother. Shaarada is also a woman with the past of a broken marriage behind her. She lives in Delhi with her parents now. Both these divorcees are brought together by Ashok who is a handicapped person and uses artificial feet for normal movements. He is a person with a heart of gold. Being a good friend of Ajay on one hand and the deemed brother of Shaarada on the other, he arranges their meeting and thereafter their marriage too when both these protagonists are convinced that they will be able to make a happy marriage by understanding and sharing the pain of each other. Soon after marriage, Ajay moves to Mumbai for the sake of his career and starts living with his old friend Anwar who only had introduced him to Ruby. Soon Ajay arranges another job and accommodation and Shaarada too moves to Mumbai to live with her husband. However this newly found happiness of Ajay fills Ruby with jealousy and she starts inducing Ajay once again, using two weapons – one being her womanly charm and the other being her daughter, i.e., little Rashmi who is the dearest one in the world to Ajay. Ajay falls prey to her tactics and his marital life with Shaarada remains no more a happy one. The tussle between the two ladies and the man caught between them, being emotionally tied to his little daughter, leads to the touching climax of the story.

The novel was first published in late eighties and I read it for the first time soon thereafter. Since then, I have read it many times as it is a very interesting emotional story written by Gulshan Nanda in his famous style. Gulshan Nanda was quite proficient in presenting simple and ordinary stories in the utmost interesting way, using poetry, Sher-o-Shaayari and touching words. Being a screenplay writer too, he was quite proficient in bringing about curiosity-provoking twists and turns in the story plot, thereby making the reader to read the novel till its very last word. Shagun is another example of his outstanding skill. By reading it, anybody can very easily understand the reason behind his being the bestseller of Hindi pulp fiction for around three decades.

The characters of Ajay, Shaarada and Ruby have been developed very well. Ajay is a man of self-respect but he is vulnerable to womanly charms too and his daughter is his biggest weakness. He is not unfaithful to Shaarada but still trapped by Ruby who had ditched him once in his life. This character is a classic example of a man approaching the same woman again after experiencing a heart-tearing and humiliating break-up with her. But he is quite natural and the events taking place with him do not look unreal from any angle.

Ruby is a very cunning modern woman who is extremely pretty and very intelligent as well to know properly where and how to use her womanly charm for the maximum benefit. She liked and married Ajay but never respected him. She always wanted him to be subservient to her. This attitude of her only had led to the breakage of their marriage. However she did not change even after that and used her little daughter Rashmi as a pawn on the chessboard of her interactions with Ajay. She is a woman who is never ready to digest any defeat. When Ajay marries Shaarada, Ruby’s jealousy and sense of defeat is at its worst.

Shaarada is a kind-hearted and sensitive woman who has already suffered a setback in her life prior to meeting Ajay. Now another setback in the form of Ajay’s closeness to his ex-wife Ruby is not bearable to her. She is full of self-respect and quite confident of her to make a good mother for her step-daughter Rashmi. Her motherly affection for a little girl who was given birth to by another woman, is heart-warming. She is always pursuading her husband to keep a distance with Ruby and manage her meeting with Rashmi so that she could win her heart with her sensitivity and love.

The supporting characters of the novel – Ashok who is concerned about the well-being of both his friend and his deemed sister, Anwar as Ajay’s old friend, Rahuji as the business partner of Ruby, Jaanaki as the old maid of Ruby and finally Rashmi, the little daughter of Ajay who is always willing to get his father’s love and very much curious to meet her new mummy (knowing from Jaanaki that her father has remarried), all are able to leave their mark in the story. One major reason behind the popularity of Gulshan Nanda’s novels has been his characters’ looking natural also. While going through the narration covering the dialogues, actions and interactions of the characters, you find them seeming real flesh and blood ones, just standing or sitting before you in real life situations. You never feel that you are reading an imaginary story of imaginary people having come from any other world as was the case with the most of the pulp fiction writers.

After reading it, immediately the thought coming to my mind was that it’s a readymade material for a good social movie. However Gulshan Nanda could not find any producer to make a movie on this novel. I had thought in mind about picturizing this story on celluloid and I had finalised my cast too on paper. Since it was the time of the late eighties, I had planned to cast Vinod Khanna in the role of Ajay, Rekha in the role of Ruby, Ranjeeta or Anita Raj in the role of Shaarada,  Vinod Mehra in the role of Ashok, Pareekshit Saahni in the role of Anwar, Sulabha Deshpaande in the role of Jaanaki etc. Though I have never been concerned with the moviemaking field or never been in touch with anybody related to this line of work, nevertheless I very enthusiastically prepared the layout of the movie in my mind, the flow of the screenplay and sequence of events with the situations for emotional songs. I would have filled colours in my framework of the movie by putting it on celluloid if only I were a filmmaker.

Shagun is a Hindi novel and hence Hindi readers can definitely enjoy it. It makes a thoroughly engrossing reading with the curiosity factor remaining active till the very interesting and emotional climax. The language used by Gulshan Nanda is highly admirable. The novel is undoubtedly a treat for the readers of Hindi fiction.

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A crime reporter unearths a land-grab scandal

Among the Indian mystery writers, Surendra Mohan Pathak has definitely been the numero uno during the past half a century. He is the author who has rendered a prestige and dignity to the pulp-fiction novels of crime-detection or mystery genre written in Hindi. Like the Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple created by Agatha Christie, S.M. Pathak also has created certain serial heroes. The original one and the most prominent among them is Sunil with more than 100 novels have been written by Pathak under this series.

Sunil Kumar Chakravarty (a Bengali youth) is a smart but sensitive crime journalist and works for a newspaper – Blast which is a national daily and being published from Rajnagar (a fictitious metropolitan city). Other than Sunil, the stock characters of this series are – Ramakant (Sunil’s Punjabi friend who runs a club and always helps him in his crime-detection endeavours through his man-power), Jauhri (Ramakant’s trusted and reliable employee), Dinakar (Ramakant’s another faithful employee), Arjun (Sunil’s junior in Blast), Renu (the receptionist in the Blast’s office who being Sunil’s close friend, always teases him), B.K. Malik Saheb (the owner and chief editor of Blast who treats Sunil not just an employee but like his own son), Roy (the news editor of Blast, always trying to suppress Sunil through his seniority and the status of being his boss), Prabhu Dayal (the police inspector who is posted in the police headquarters of Rajnagar and who has a perennial love-hate relationship with Sunil), Ram Singh (the superintendent of police who is Sunil’s friend on personal level) etc.

Before I start reviewing the novel, let me tell something about the Rajnagar city created by Surendra Mohan Pathak for the novels of this series. He describes the geography of this city in detail while narrating the story. This fictitious city consisting of places like Majestic Circle, Shankar Road, Mehta Road, Horn-B Road, Bank Street (where Sunil resides), Dhobi Naka Creek, Georgetown (a Christianity-dominated area), Napian Hill Road, North Shore (a place near the sea, some 30 kms away from the main city) etc. Besides, Mr. Pathak has created a tourist place Jhery (which is some 65 miles away from Rajnagar and it contains a very vast and beautiful natural lake) and he also mentions some natural places near Jhery viz. Sunderban which is famous for trout-fishing, Panchdhara, Scandal Point etc. The description of all these locations and places is so lively that the reader gets a feeling that this city and the places nearby it are real, not fictitious. Since the story of a Sunil Series novel moves with the activities of Sunil, the reader happens to enjoy wandering in the city and Jhery etc. with the hero who rides a 10 HP imported motorbike (M.V. Augasta America).andheri-raat-surendra-mohan-pathak-925615181-435994-1Andheri Raat (dark night) is a novel in which our crime reporter hero is pursuing the story of swindling the common public for small amounts but on a large scale through prize-giving contests which are advertised in the newapapers. He comes to know that the man behind this swindling racket is a councillor of the city, Kamal Nayan Aazaad. When he catches the councillor and tries to make him confess his crime, threatening him that he would publish the story in Blast; the councillor makes a deal with him that if he does not publish this story and spares him, he would tell him a much bigger story of land-grab. He asks Sunil to give him some time in this regard. But before Sunil could meet him again, he is murdered in such way that his death looks either a suicide or an accident. Now Sunil has to pursue both the land-grab scandal in which high-profile people like the mayor of the city are involved as well as the murder of the councillor whose widow accuses him of instigating her husband to commit suicide. To wash the stain of this obloquy from his name too, he has to expose the real murderer.

The land worth billions which the high-profile criminals are after (with the help of local police and a crooked lawyer) is the land of Sheikh Sarai where mainly the people of lower class reside. A very kind-hearted person, Sunil gets the bigger, humanitarian cause too to pursue this case for the sake of the poor residents of Sheikh Sarai who are forced by the goon-power as well as the corrupt police power to vacate their homes. During the investigation of Aazaad’s death and the land-grab conspiracy, the mayor and his daughter are also murdered. In a thrilling climax, Sunil not only unearths the scandal and saves the area inhabitated by the lower class people but also exposes the real culprit behind the murders. However in his mission, he narrowly escapes his own murder in the hands of the murderer and gets badly injured.andheri-raatAndheri Raat is a damn interesting novel which once the reader starts reading, has to be finished in one go. The curiosity, the thrill, the humorous moments shared by Sunil and his friend, Ramakant; the ethical and humanitarian issues involved, Sunil’s spirit to support the underdog and take on the might of the criminals without fear of his life; everything is just heart-winning. It is in no way any less than the crime-thrillers written by the foreign authors. The language used in the novel is spicy (a good mix of Hindi, English, Urdu, Punjabi and Bengali) and adds to the flavour of the subject-matter. The only flaw I found in this novel is the weak mystery aspect because the person under suspicion only turns out to be the criminal in the climax. However despite this flaw, this novel is an admirable creation from the pen of the legendary Hindi mystery writer who is still penning despite crossing 70 years of his age.

Surendra Mohan Pathak had written Andheri Raat in 1983 and its theme is all the more relevant after so many years as the gimmicks adopted by the land-grabbers to oust the residents / tenants etc. from such houses which they have an eye upon, as described in the novel are used today at a much higher scale. Such people and groups are mighty in terms of money power and muscle power with strong political lobbies them. So fearless journalists and sensitive people like Sunil are badly needed.

I recommend this novel to all who are fond of reading mysteries and thrillers and who can read Hindi. It’s a novel which entertains as well as inspires to raise the voice against injustice and stand up in support of a humanitarian cause.

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Hindu ? Or Muslim ? Or a human-being before that ?

One of the biggest tragedies of human history – the partition of this great nation on the midnight of 14.08.1947 did not leave any winners except those vested interests which had their own axes to grind. Such vested interests included a sizable chunk of anti-social elements and criminals for whom this great tragedy was nothing short of a bonanza. But for all the humanists, all the sensitive beings and all the innocents, it was a nightmare whose wounds could never be healed and whose adverse effects continued for many generations to come after that generation which directly suffered from it.

Great Hindi litterateur Acharya Chatursen wrote a highly sensitive novel on the theme of Hindu-Muslim harmony, keeping a child at the centre of the story who was born without the formal marriage of his Muslim parents but fostered by a Hindu family. This small novel is a timeless classic. Several generations of Hindi readers have read it and several generations will read it in future also. It’s Dharmaputra.925704397sDharmaputra (deemed son) starts with the visit of an erstwhile king Nawaab Mushtaq Ahmed Saalaar Jung Bahadur to the clinic of Dr. Amrit Rai who is the son of his close friend Late Bansgopal Rai. Nawaab Mushtaq Ahmed had only sponsored the education of his friend’s son and Dr. Amrit Rai has always been very much willing to meet this benevolent gentleman who’s also the close friend of his father.

This is the period of British rule in India. Nawaab has approached Dr. Amrit Rai to seek his help to shoot an acute personal trouble. His granddaughter Husnbanu has got pregnant without marriage. Her parents are dead and Nawaab has fixed her matrimonial alliance with Nawaab Wazir Ali Khan. Abortion was illegal in those days (in fact, it was not legalized till as late as in 1972) and to get rid of this problem, Husnbanu’s grandfather has approached Dr. Amrit Rai with a proposal. The proposal is to consider Husnbanu’s child as his own child and foster him like that only with the world never coming to know the truth.

Dr. Amrit Rai is hesitant to accept the proposal which is lucrative also because the child’s great-grandfather would be giving a huge wealth to him. Nawaab appeals to his friendship with the doctor’s deceased father plus the doctor himself feels to be indebted to Nawaab. He consults his wife also and both of them finally accept the proposal after meeting Husnbanu. Dr. Amrit Rai and his wife are not having any issues by that time and they get involved in this drama staged for the outside world. Husnbanu’s child is declared as their own child, their very first and the eldest child. After that they beget three children of their own in later years – two sons and a daughter. The siblings grow up together with different personalities without knowing that the eldest one of them is actually the Dharmputra of their parents and a Muslim by birth. On the other hand, Husnbanu gets married according to her grandpa’s wish, parting with her son, giving him to the Hindu family of Dr. Amrit Rai.

Years pass. The nationalist movement mainly under the stewardship of Indian National Congress has gained momentum in the country. Nawaab Mushtaq Ahmed is dead long back and Husnbanu has also become a widow. Dr. Amrit Rai and his wife have entered the world of the elderly people whereas their children have entered the state of youth. The eldest son is Dilip who is actually the son of Husnbanu and a Muslim by birth. Quite contrary to the blood flowing in his veins, he has turned into a staunch Hindu nationalist. The second son in this family is Sushil who follows communist ideology. The youngest son is Shishir who is a congressman. The boys have become graduates whereas their younger sister Karuna is studying medicine in the Lady Harding College of Delhi where the main story is set. She is a humanist, filled with love and kindness for the whole mankind and even the non-human creatures.

Despite following different ideologies, the children share a lot of love among them and that’s the matter of great pleasure for their parents. The twist in this story arrives when Dilip’s matrimonial alliance is discussed with a girl – Maya. Dilip refuses for that without seeing Maya which is also not in line with his parents’ wish. However when he happens to meet Maya in person, he immediately loses his heart to her and just like the proverbial love at first sight, Maya also gets hit by the cupid’s arrow. Now the story moves through many twists including the dilemma of Dilip’s fostering parents as to whether to get this boy married to a Hindu girl. The Quit India Movement takes place in August 1942 and Dilip’s younger brother Shishir gets arrested alongwith several other followers of Gandhiji. Dilip hates Congress and terms Gandhiji as ‘Hindu Mulla’ but the call of brother’s love instigates him to follow his path only and he also gets arrested.

As the hour of political independence comes nearer and nearer, the streets of this great country start witnessing bloodshed, rapes, destruction of property and what not due to the tension between the Hindu and the Muslim communities. Partition of the country is now on the cards but Jinnah’s so-called direct action has already sent the nation into disarray with all kinds of heinous crimes being committed by the goons against the innocents becoming the order of the day. Communal riots ravage the entire nation. Dilip and Shishir have already got released from jail but India is no longer the India they used to see a few years back. Now the British are not the common enemy for the Hindus and the Muslims. Now they have become sworn enemies of each other.

And then Husnbanu, the biological mother of Dilip happens to come across the family of Dr. Amrit Rai after a long span of 28 years. She has left the home of her deceased husband and now living in the mansion of her grandpa only alongwith two old faithful servants of the family. And the day comes when Dilip leads the mob of rioters to her residence in order to set the house on fire and kill the Muslim residents of that. For the first time, the mother sees her grown-up son who has come to kill her only because of her religious faith. What happens thereafter is the conclusion of the story.indexAcharya Chatursen has been a great humanist. He has deeply understood both the Hinduism and the Islam and grasped the essence of the communal happenings in the country in that period. Dharmaputra is nothing but the expression of his own thoughts and sentiments in this regard. Whatever happens in the story and whatever is asserted by the different characters of it, is nothing but the vision and feelings of the author only. A hint of his anti-Ambedkar ideology is also there in the novel.

The entire novel is filled with tender feelings and humanism. How relationships can emerge and how human-beings of opposite sexes can feel attracted to one another (with or without expression of the respective feelings) has been portrayed quite emphatically. The author has not been hesitant in penning that Dr. Amrit Rai himself gets attracted to Husnbanu after meeting her despite himself being already married and herself being pregnant plus going to be married. Love among siblings is also a highlight of this novel.

Through the character of Maya and the reaction of herself as well as her parents to first Dilip’s refusal for the matrimonial alliance and thereafter an alternative proposal from the side of Dilip’s parents, the author has subtly underscored the issue of a girl’s self-respect in the matrimonial developments. He has also referred to the outdated thinking of the Indian society in that period when someone going abroad was considered as outcast in his community.

The climax in which Rangmahal (Husnbanu’s residence) is set on fire by the rioters led by Dilip is damn sensational and the skilled author has made the readers feel as if they were witnessing that spine-chilling sequence with own eyes.

The principal characters have been developed quite effectively. However the characters of Husnbanu’s husband and his wives (whom he had married prior to marrying Husnbanu) are caricaturistic. These and certain other characters are superfluous also.

This novel is available in its full version as well as somewhat abridged version and fortunately, I have read both of them. The abridged version is much better because it does away with certain unwanted characters as well as some superfluous episodes and focusses on the theme only. This version can be termed as a novella instead of a novel.

The seasoned author has drawn the scenario as prevailing in India in the pre-independence period and also during the partition times quite effectively on the pages of the novel, allowing the readers to have a glimpse into that bygone era.

Quite different from Acharyaji’s other works, Dharmaputra has not been written in Sanskritized and refined Hindi. Instead lingua franca has been used throughout the book. Urdu words have been used aplenty and on the whole, the language appears to be something which can satisfy both the layman and the purist.

B.R. Films made a movie on this novel in 1961 which was directed by Yash Chopra with Shashi Kapoor being cast in the lead role of Dilip. However the filmmaker could not do justice to the book. The script of the movie is different from the novel in several ways and highlights the lack of guts in the Indian filmmakers to assert certain things due to fear of backlash from some section of the society. That’s why the movie is a letdown and it’s better to read the novel which is far superior to that.

While recommending this great novel to all the literature-lovers, I put one question before all – Is it necessary to belong to some religion ? Why is there a column in various forms asking for the applicant’s religious faith ? Can’t a person be allowed to rise above being a Hindu or a Muslim or likewise and live like just a human-being, a true human-being who does not discriminate between persons on the basis of their religious faith or social strata or class or race or culture or likewise ?

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What to forget ? What to remember ?

At least three generations of Hindi movie buffs are well-acquainted with the name of Amitabh Bachchan, the so-called ‘Star of the Millennium’ who became the first Indian actor to be immortalized in the form of a wax statue in Madame Tussaud’s Museum at London. If the people from today’s young generation are asked what they know about Harivansh Rai Bachchan, most of them will reply – ‘the father of Amitabh Bachchan’. However will that be a proper and complete introduction of Harivansh Rai Bachchan ? No ! The eminent Hindi poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan was a very big celebrity decades prior to his son Amitabh’s ascendance to success. His long poem – Madhushala was echoing in the nooks and corners of India like anything during the 1930s. He is one of the most prominent signatures of the Hindi poetry emerged in that period which was highly emotional, highly passionate and free from the bounds of traditional poetry.

Harivansh Rai Bachchan wrote his autobiography also. This epic autobiography is divided in four parts – 1. Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon, 2. Need Ka Nirmaan Phir, 3. Basere Se Door, 4. Dashdwaar Se Sopaan Tak. Today I am reviewing the first part of this quadrology which, in my view, is the most passionately written among the foursome, i.e., Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon (what’s there for me to forget, what’s there for me to remember). It was first published in 1969 and since then its many editions have been published. It covers the birth, the family conditions, the childhood, the adolescence and the youth of Harivansh Rai Bachchan. It ends with the incident of the demise of his very young first wife – Shyama which was a heartbreaking event of his life.kya-bhuloon-kya-yaad-kroonThe autobiography of Harivansh Rai Bachchan is considered as one of the most emphatic autobiographies ever written simply because from every nook and corner of it, it renders an air of candidness (though by referring to the preface of the autobiography of a great French author, he has admitted that he had to take care of public decency also while penning his life experiences with this candidness). And it’s this candidness (mainly about himself and his life) only that makes it so special and much more readable when compared to many other autobiographies. It’s boring at no place and highly interesting and appealing at all the places. In this review, I am covering only the first part of it which lasts upto his age of 29 years when his beloved wife Shyama left for her heavenly abode after a long terminal illness that she had inherited from her ailing mother while relentlessly taking care of her for long in the final phase of her life.

In addition to the candidness, the thing that has amazed me about Harivansh Rai Bachchan is his astounding episodic memory. I sometimes pat my own back for my sharp episodic memory and ability to recall things even decades after the time when they had taken place with accuracy of date and time. However before the memory of the legendary poet, I feel like a dust particle staring at a mountain. This book is a gigantic storehouse of his memories beginning from his early childhood and containing those things also that had happened prior to his birth and he must have come to know about them through the repetitive talks regarding them in his house and neighbourhood.

Talking about his forefathers and the different residences (and cities) where themselves and later himself alongwith the family, had lived; Harivansh Rai Bachchan has fondly remembered his great-grandmother (sister of his great-grandfather) – Raadha. An adventure of hers alongwith another lady – Mahanginiya Kaachhin from Allahabaad to Lalitpur when they achieved a great escape from the talon of a deadly bandit and his family through their sheer courage and wit is the most interesting episode narrated in the context of her personality. Bachchan has discussed many other ladies of his household and reproduced their talks in their own dialect (Avadhi). He has elaborated the financial hardships faced by his family in different time periods and how they were faced and tackled by himself and others in a very authentic and impressive manner. He has moved while narrating the things taken place from generation to generation in chronological order and maintained the flow just like that of a river moving peacefully at her own pace towards the ultimate destination. His wonderful narration allows the reader to travel through his experiences and visualize everything (and every referred person) in vivid form.

Perhaps the authors and poets find the company of the opposite sex (that is, the females) more compatible as compared to the company of their own sex (that is, the males). The same seems to have taken place with Bachchan also. While moving through adolescence, he had had a passionate relationship with Champa, the wife of his closest friend – Karkal who was a Brahmin (Bachchan was a Kaayastha). The relationship of Harivansh and Champa was a very peculiar one and could not be defined properly (exactly the way the relationship of the mythological Krishna and Radha cannot be defined by any means). But the irony of the social set-up is that the society around the individuals wants every male-female relationship to be defined in specific terms and to tag it with a name. Karkal’s untimely demise gave a new turn to the relationship of Harivansh and Champa, leading to Champa’s getting pregnant and her ultimate sacrifice for Harivansh which went a long way in developing the poet in him.

raj040_front209x263Harivansh’s father was a very understanding person for his son. An astrologer had told him that his son was an extra-ordinary one, born to swim against the tide and therefore, nothing should be imposed on him against his will. And hence despite knowing odd things about his relationship with Karkal’s wife Champa, he (as well as his wife, Harivansh’s mother – Sursati) never discussed anything with Harivansh in this regard. However he was able to see the broken mental condition of his son very well as a result of Champa’s tragic death. He wanted Harivansh to marry a suitable girl and let his broken heart be repaired that way. However nothing was imposed on Harivansh and by God’s grace, his true well-wisher Shreemohan arranged his matrimonial alliance with Shyama, a fourteen years old teenager who proved herself to be much more mature as compared to her tender years. Shreemohan had understood the personality and psyche of Harivansh very well and thus he had properly sensed what kind of a girl could be the perfect life-partner for him. And Shreemohan’s wisdom proved right. Shyama, in fact, proved to be the perfect match for Harivansh and groomed the poet in him through her interaction with him during her life and more so through her death. Being a true poet, Harivansh did not know any other way to express himself than through his poetry. He wrote his melancholy-soaked great poetic works viz. Nisha-Nimantran (invitation of night), Ekaant Sangeet (music of solitude) and Aakul Antar (restless inner-self) in Shyama’s memory only.

Though Bachchan has very correctly underscored the significance of sexual intimacy between a husband and a wife, he has clarified that the love between himself and Shyama was much above sex (I have inferred from the book that due to Shyama’s perennial sickness, perhaps the sexual intimacy between them was either not at all or very very less). It was simply divine love. He has elucidated his point through the episode of Shyama’s coming to his house through the custom of Gauna (earlier, when males and females were married in very young age of themselves, the bride remained for a few years with her parents only and when she was finally sent off by her parents to her husband to start her conjugal life in the practical sense, it was called her Gauna). When Shyama came to her in-laws’ home through Gauna three years after her marriage with Harivansh, she was very sick and the ladies in the house were not allowing her to be with Harivansh at night because they were thinking that Harivansh would exercise his husbandly right to have sex with her during the night hours. However Harivansh became adamant on this point that Shyama would be with him only at night. The other members of the household could not understand that completely lonely Harivansh was simply craving for the proximity of Shyama. He only wanted to talk to her in privacy and feel her touch (without sexual intercourse). It was Shyama only who understood her husband’s feelings in the true sense. Bachchan writes that she was also willing to be with him only in privacy. It was a perfect understanding between them without any exchange of words. Something scarcely found ! Something invaluable !

At no place has Bachchan tried to defend himself or justify whatever he had done while narrating the events of his life, the twists and turns of his life and his interactions with others. He has presented the things as they were and left it to the readers to judge the people involved (including the author) in their light according to their own wisdom. Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon is like a spellbinding soap-opera in which Bachchan has inserted pieces of his poetry at appropriate places (because they were born from his experiences only).

In his candidness, Bachchan has asserted a couple of things about women which may pinch the feminists. However I request the female readers to read them without a prejudice because he has expressed only what he has perceived in his life-experiences. When a person has spent a major part of his life (Bachchan wrote this book when he was 62 years of age) and undergone a variety of experiences, he finds common threads when revisiting them in retrospect. Bachchan’s assertions about women are only the epitome of what he has seen, felt and understood. Hence the female readers need to understand his point of view in the light of this fact only.

Since I have already reviewed the epic novel of Yashpaal – ‘Jhootha Sach‘ (false truth), it won’t be inappropriate to mention here that the relationship of Yashpaal’s betrothed (and later wife) – Prakasho and another friend of Bachchan – Shreekrishna is also a part of this work. Shreekrishna had a fatal attraction towards Prakasho despite knowing that she was just like something put under his trust by her beau Yashpaal who was in jail because of his involvement in the armed anti-British activities (he was a close associate of great revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekhar Aazaad). And destiny brought Prakasho as close to Bachchan also. Her real identity and name was kept hidden by Bachchan from his other family members and she was called Raani when living with Bachchan’s family for some time. Bachchan has portrayed Prakasho aka Raani as a woman of substance and strength whereas Shreekrishna as a mentally weak person who could not shoulder responsibilities with vigour and confidence. However their relationship as well as the relationship of Harivansh with both of them (jointly as well as separately) was quite unique. By narrating them, the author has done nothing but strengthened my ages old belief in the dictum – ‘Truth is stranger than fiction‘.

Bachchan was fortunate to have come into contact with several great people – not only great litterateurs but also great leaders like Tilak and Gandhi. A complaint was lodged with Gandhi against his most popular epic poem – Madhushala that it glamorizes alcoholism. However by reciting certain couplets of Madhushala (which were selected very carefully by him for this purpose) to him, he was able to convince the great leader that his work did not glamorize drinking or alcoholism in any way and it was to be understood in its subtle philosophical sense.

Though Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon covers only 1/4 of the total autobiography of the great poet, it is perhaps the most significant of the four parts because it covers the evolution of what he eventually became. It elucidates the making of a great poet. I have always felt and this book has again made me feel that women play a very significant part in the lives of great men. Their unconditional love and deep understanding may take a seemingly ordinary male to the heights of greatness. Non-understanding and nagging women play quite a contrary role in the lives of the highly talented people following the same principle and prevent them from becoming what they could have become. Bachchan was fortunate to have passionately loving ladies like Champa and Shyama in the initial part of his life that evolved a great poet in him and later on he got the association of a very strong and practical woman- Teji (the mother of Amitabh Bachchan) who could amass the scattered pieces of his life and enable him to gain material success in the materialistic world. Very few people can consider themselves as so fortunate.

Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon is the second book which has impressed me so much and churned me from within like anything (the first one is ‘Jhootha Sach’). Prior to writing this review, I have read it thrice. I recommend this extra-ordinary book to all the lovers of Hindi literature. Let myself be candid enough to declare that its quality beats even the much more famous poetic works of Harivansh Rai Bachchan.

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A tribute to Yash Chopra, the King of Romance

It’s been four years since Yash Chopra passed away on 21.10.2012. The 80 years old moviemaking maestro left for his heavenly abode without seeing the release of and the public response to his last directorial venture – Jab Tak Hai Jaan. As my tribute to the great director who is better known as the King of Romance in the Indian cine-circles, I am reviewing a superhit movie directed by him. It’s Chandni (1989).

maxresdefaultChandni is the story of a jovial but down-to-earth girl who respects the elders and believes in the Indian social and family values. She is as the title is – Chaandni (Sridevi) who is a simple middle class girl living in Delhi and happens to come across a rich boy, Rohit (Rishi Kapoor). Love blossoms between them and despite his family members looking upon Chaandni in a derogatory way, Rohit decides to get united with her. However destiny has other plans. Rohit meets with an accident and thereafter life is not the same either for himself or for the love of his life, i.e., Chaandni. Adjusting with the completely negative attitude of Rohit’s family members on one hand and now handicapped Rohit’s depressive mindset on the other, one day Chaandni gets fed up and gets out of Rohit’s life as well as the city.screen-shot-2015-09-23-at-2-15-41-pmNow in a different city, Chaandni happens to get a job in a company whose head – Lalit (Vinod Khanna) is a widower. Lalit falls for Chaandni’s charms and his mother (Waheeda Rehman) is also too happy to see this simple, heart-conquering girl as her would-be daughter-in-law. The thing that they are not aware of is that Chaandni’s heart is not hers now. It’s Rohit’s. And a typical Indian girl cannot love again so easily and so soon. The memories of the first love are still fresh in her heart and she lives with them. However she gets ready to marry Lalit as a compromise with her life and not out of love for him. Here comes another twist in this’s friend-cum-relative Ramesh (Anupam Kher) elevates his spirits and propels him to come out of his depressive shell. Once Rohit starts seeing the status of the things in a different way, he gets ready for his proper medical treatment and after fully recovering, to search his lost love, i.e., Chaandni. While being abroad for different reasons, Lalit and Rohit cross paths and become good friends. Now both have a sweetheart individually but don’t know that it’s the same girl. Rohit comes to attend the engagement ceremony of Lalit and stunned to find that Lalit’s betrothed is Chaandni only. And Chaandni ? She is at a crossroad now. Whom to choose ? But destiny and heart work in tandem and allow the story to conclude in the desired way.movieposterYash Chopra possessed the rare knack of portraying male-female romance on the screen in the most realistic manner. We know that real life is quite different from reel life. However Yash Chopra was always able to make the audience believe that what’s on the reel was close to the real. While watching the movie, we love the lovers, we love their inner feelings and external romance and we love their union in the end. At the same time, we are also sympathetic towards the loser in love because the King of Romance has made us rely upon his sentiments and feel his grief and we wish that he gets another girl to apply the ointment of her true love on his wounds and heal them in due course of time.screen-shot-2015-09-23-at-2-15-34-pmAfter Silsila (1981), Yash Chopra made three entirely different movies under his banner – Mashaal (1984), Faasle (1985) and Vijay (1988) and all three could not do well on the box office. Hence Yash Ji moved back to his forte, i.e., romance and within a year of the failure of Vijay, came back with a bang through Chaandni. Despite all the cinematic liberties taken, Chaandni effortlessly wins the audience’s heart and no wonder, it was a huge commercial success. The story starts hilariously, tickles the viewer romantically and then moves deep within him while heading towards the finale. It’s a brilliant love triangle.


With technical superiority and high production value on one hand, the movie scores very high on the music front on the other. Yash Ji availed the services of music maestros – Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, the eminent Santoor player and Pandit Hari Prasaad Chaurasiya, the virtuoso flautist who made perhaps the best music album of their career as cine-music directors. The movie contains nine songs and all boast of superior quality. Chaandni O Meri Chaandni, Mere Haathon Mein Nau Nau Choodiyaan and Main Sasuraal Nahin Jaaungi became chartbusters overnight. However the relatively less talked about songs viz. Tere Mere Hothon Pe Meethe Meethe Geet Mitwa, Tere Kadmon Mein Saara Jahaan Rakh Doon and Parbat Se Kaali Ghata Takraai are also highly melodious and ear-soothing. Male songs viz. Sheheron Mein Ek Sheher Mila Bhai Sheher Mila Tha Dilly and Tu Mujhe Suna Main Tujhe Sunaaun Apni Prem Kahaani are quite hilarious. My most favourite song from this album is Lagi Aaj Saawan Ki Phir Woh Jhadi Hai which has been sung by Suresh Waadkar (with Anupama Deshpande). Whenever I listen to this song while being alone, my tears refuse to stay in my eyes. The beautiful lyrics of this album have been penned by ace-lyricist Anand Bakshi.

Rishi Kapoor was always at his best when he had to romance. None could beat him in romancing with lovely ladies on the screen. Even after 16 years from Bobby (1973), the romantic skills of Rishi Kapoor are the same as visible in Chaandni. I regard Vinod Khanna as one of the best actors of his time and he has delivered a mature performance in his low-footage role. The supporting cast has also done well.

But Chaandni is Sridevi’s movie by all means. Right from the title, the complete story belongs to her and her only and she is at the zenith of her career in this movie. Yash Ji brought the best out of this natural actress whose charms have always been able to knock out the males. She appears so gorgeous that it’s difficult for any young male not to fall in love with her.8126_135090415641_548265641_2611071_5136436_nChaandni is a heart-conquering love story with immense repeat value. Watch it again and again and you will never feel tired of watching it. It’s an immortal romantic story presented by the King of Romance in Hindi cinema, Yash Chopra who had got the love of his life (Paamela Ji) at the mature age of 39 years. May his soul rest in peace.

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