Popular Hindi novelist Ved Prakash Sharma passed away on 17.02.2017. I am paying my tribute to him through this review.
Dowry has been the curse of the Indian society for ages and unfortunately it still exists swallowing the joys of the young brides and would-be brides. During the seventies and the eighties, a plethora of dowry deaths was reported in India. These were the cases where the concerned daughter-in-law was suspected to have been murdered by her in-laws because she had not brought enough dowry in the marriage to satisfy their greed. Most of these deaths had taken place by burning in the kitchen perhaps because it’s considered as natural for a daughter-in-law to work in the kitchen of her marital home and her garment’s accidentally catching the fire of the gas stove does not appear to be something unusual. And thus the murdering in-laws had a good chance of escaping the law by proving that the burning of the young lady was only a domestic mishap.
This issue had got so much prominence in that time that it was discussed on several forums and many pulp fiction writers (mainly those who used to write social dramas) used their pens on it. Today I am reviewing a famous Hindi novel written on this theme whose author is highly popular Hindi mystery and thriller writer – Ved Prakash Sharma. First published during the early eighties, this much-talked-about novel is Bahu Maange Insaaf (daughter-in-law demanding justice). Since the author was known as a mystery-writer, he wrote it in the style of a scary mystery cum courtroom drama.The victimized daughter-in-law of this story is Kavita who has entered the household of a retired Commissioner of Sales-Tax – Harnaamdaas by getting married to his younger son – Manjeet. The household contains Harnaadaas’ wife – Sulakshana, their elder son – Jaswant, his wife – Madhu, the unmarried daughter of the family – Rekha and a domestic help – Bansi also. The family is quite unhappy with Kavita’s not bringing enough dowry and they want Manjeet to be married to the younger sister of Madhu. But for that, Kavita has to die. Jaswant who is an advocate, forms such a scheme that Kavita is shown as first running away from home to get reunited with her erstwhile boyfriend – Govind (whom she was in love with prior to her marriage with Manjeet) and thereafter committing suicide by jumping into a water-body due to his discarding her. Jaswant proves in the court that Kavita has died of drowning. And thereafter, the dowry-greedy in-laws kill Kavita (who was kept as imprisoned in the basement of the house by that time) by burning her. It is done after sending Madhu to her parental home because they do not want the elder daughter-in-law to know that the younger daughter-in-law is being murdered on account of bringing insufficient dowry.
However just after the murder of Kavita, the troubles of the murderous family do start and continue without a break. Strange things start taking place in the household signifying that the spirit of Kavita is haunting the house in a bid to seek revenge from her murderers. The local police also goes after them because an escaped prisoner is supposed to have taken shelter in their house. Besides, the elder daughter-in-law of the house, i.e., Madhu starts suffering from fits. Since there has been an insurance policy on Kavita’s life and now the LIfe Insurance Corporation of India (L.I.C.) has to give its claim to the nominee, i.e., Kavita’s father; a detective working for the L.I.C. also starts trailing them. This detective is named as Keshav Pandit. Now these panic-stricken criminals commit mistakes after mistakes but somehow they find that some unknown power saves them from the claws of the law. However this is a small relief for them because that unknown power starts killing them one after another. When all the guilty family-members have been killed, then the suspense is revealed as to who has been first frightening and then killing them, why and howBahu Maange Insaaf had gained immense popularity when it was first published. Not only its burning theme and thrilling treatment but also the character of Keshav Pandit was behind its popularity. Later, the author repeated the character of Keshav Pandit in many of his novels and this character became so popular in itself that Ekta Kapoor made a serial based on the exploits of this characters with the script of the various episodes being written by Ved Prakash Sharma himself. Keshav Pandit emerges in this novel as a very sharp-minded and astute detective who traps the criminals by his intelligent questions and intimidates them with his intriguing talks. His presence itself is shown as a source of panic for the educated and white-collared outlaws.
The story moves very fast despite the fact that the complete bloody drama takes place in a household only with just a handful of scenes taking place outside it. Once Kavita is murdered by her husband and in-laws, the story starts getting twist after twist, keeping the reader hypnotized until the complete mystery gets unravelled in the climax. Once the reader is in, it is pretty difficult for him to leave the novel in-between. Authoring liberties have been taken but they are not many and can be excused.
The author has allowed the characters to develop on their own and the characteristics of all of them reveal themselves before the reader through their talks and activities, may it be the character of the murder-victim Kavita or each one of her murderers or her financially weak father or her loving brother who suspects his sister’s in-laws for being behind her death or her ex-boyfriend or the investigating police officer who cannot function independently to solve his case or the genius detective working for the L.I.C., i.e., Keshav Pandit. It’s quite interesting to study and understand each character by reading the lines as well as by reading between the lines. Each character is able to emerge in live form before the eyes of the reader as he flips through the pages of the novel.
The author has underscored this fact very well that when some people commit a crime together, all the relationships those used to exist among them change their shape to only one relationship – the relationship of crime, nothing else. And then, naturally, they interact with each other like criminals only and not on the basis of their original relationships.
Bahu Maange Insaaf had added immense value to the popularity of the already popular Ved Prakash Sharma and its fame reached the tinsel town of Mumbai (then Bombay) also. A Hindi movie – Bahu Ki Aawaaz (1985) was made by adapting this novel which starred Swaroop Sampat, Supriya Pathak, Nasiruddin Shah, Rakesh Roshan, Om Puri, Sulabha Deshpande, B.L. Chopra, Aruna Irani etc. However the director of the movie completely failed in bringing the essence of the novel on the screen and the script written for the movie had several variations from the novel. The character of Keshav Pandit was removed from the movie and also the suspense factor which reduced the movie to an out and out average flick which was bound to fail on the box office.
However the novel has not lost its shine even after more than three decades of its publication. It is still as interesting and impressive as it was when published first and gained enormous success in the world of pulp fiction. With my tearful tribute to Ved Prakash Sharma, I unconditionally recommend it to the readers of Hindi fiction.
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