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 (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 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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