With the advent of internet, the reading habits of the Indians have taken a turn and the readers of printed books, especially the readers of the stuff written in vernacular are diminishing day-by-day. Till two decades back, there was a huge market of pulp-fiction work in India and the readers gleefully used to read a lot of novels and story books available at affordable prices. Now it has become a thing of the past. And that’s one of the reasons that new writers are not emerging which are ready to write in Indian languages. The fall of the market has taken its toll on the creativity. However still, some talented ones are trying their hands and coming up with interesting stuff, is something which provides an air of hope for the avid readers like me. Recently, I have come across a novel originally written in Punjabi. Though I cannot read the Punjabi (Gurmukhi) script, fortunately, I have been able to read its Hindi version (though the Hindi version has not yet entered the market and only the Punjabi version is available) and I have no hesitation in asserting that this maiden effort of the young writer – Hardev Grewal is an admirable attempt in the world of Indian pulp fiction. It evidences that the world of Indian fiction still exists and can be expected to exist further. This novel of Hardev Grewal is a murder mystery titled as Yeh Khudkushi Nahin Janaab Qatl Hai (it’s not a suicide sir, it’s a murder).Yeh Khudkushi Nahin Janaab Qatl Hai is the story of the murder of a college girl, Rupinder Dhillon in her room in the girls’ hostel of the college (SBS College). This story has been set in Ludhiana, the industrial city of Punjab. The dying girl is seen as hanging with a rope tied in her neck from the ceiling fan and hence apparently, she is supposed to have committed suicide by hanging herself in this way. The investigating officer of this case is an assistant sub-inspector of police, Sardool Singh who is as wicked, sadist and revenge-seeker as he is corrupt. He concludes (just like any careless and inefficient typical Indian cop) that it’s a suicide. Now starts the part of the hero of this novel, Tejveer Singh Shergil who is a rookie journalist and has joined his job as a reporter in a reputed daily – Rozana Khabarnama (the daily newspaper) on the same day. He has come to the site with his senior reporter, Gagan who is more a friend for him. Corrupt cop Sardool Singh feels offended by the remarks of the novice reporter at the site and he decides to teach him a lesson in the typical Indian police style. However with his wit and discretion, Tejveer turns tables on him and gets him suspended from service. His boss, Bhogal Saheb who is a seasoned, fearless and committed journalist, stands by him through thick and thin.
The investigation of this case which was with SardooL Singh hitherto, gets shifted to an honest and dutiful cop, Baljeet Singh Thind. Tejveer with his logical arguments, deductive reasoning and effortfully dug out evidences, proves before him that the death is not a suicide but actually a murder though it happened in a closed room with a closed window which has a grill also affixed to it. The murder-victim is the only daughter of a friend of Bhogal Saheb who is a big businessman of Raikot. The prime suspect is a minister’s son, Sunny Baajwa who first gets arrested and thereafter gets released on bail. Tejveer finally unmasks the murderer and unearths the whole mystery behind the death.
The novel is damn interesting and its biggest plus point is its Punjabi flavour. Punjabi style of talking alongwith Punjabi diction and maxims prevailing in the region are spread throughout. That’s why, though I have read its Hindi translation (done by another young talent, Suraj Arora), I will advise those who can read Gurmukhi script, to read its original version which has aleady become a hit in Punjab and easily available. All the scenes, characters, dialogs and of course, the places shown throw the fragrance of Punjabi soil towards the person who is holding the book before his eyes. And that adds value to the already gripping narrative.
The novel starts interestingly and heads towards its finale through equally interesting characterization of various people and the investigation of the death that has taken place. The author has explained everything quite logically in the end and left no answered question for the reader. It’s a no-nonsense novel which makes the reader feel that he / she has read something not only interesting but also meaningful. All the characters of this novel appear as flesh and blood human-beings before the reader and not mere caricatures.
In addition to the murder mystery, the young author has also examined the conditions of Punjab during the eighties and the early nineties through the flash back of the life of the corrupt cop, Sardool Singh. He has furnished a realistic and touching account of the tragedy of the innocents who were caught between the terrorists on one side and the corrupt police system on the other with nobody coming to their rescue. Though it is to be admitted that this part of the narrative is not directly linked to the murder mystery and appears to increase the number of pages in the novel only, it has helped in etching the true character of Sardool Singh before the reader and elaborating the reason why innocents and common man are as scared of the cops as they are of the criminals. Though poetic justice is shown to be done to Sardool Singh for his misdeeds but that’s a small consolation for the victimized.
The author has also tried to insert humour through the character of the jolly journalist, Gagan as well as an air of romance through the character of Saarika, the receptionist in the office of Rozana Khabarnama. It is shown that tender feelings have started propping up in the hearts of both Tejveer and Saarika for each other. Well, we may expect some developments in this regard in the future novels of this series.
Renowned Hindi novelist, Surendra Mohan Pathak who originally happens from Punjab only had created a journalist hero, Sunil around half a century back whose 121 ventures have come to the fore till date. Sunil is a quick-wit, fearless and committed journalist and is fortunate enough to have an employer of high morals on his back (Mr. B.K. Malik). The receptionist in the office of the newspaper (Blast) which happens to be a national daily of high repute, Renu is shown as romantic towards the hero. Hence similarities are there in the works of these two authors, one being a newcomer in this line and the other one being a seasoned one. However I hope, Hardev Grewal will not become a shadow of Surendra Mohan Pathak and will develop an identity of his own in the years to come. I also hope that this admirable murder mystery gets available in Hindi and English also in due course of time.
To be honest and objective, this old-fashioned mystery is not a great work of fiction, yet as the maiden effort of a young writer, it’s highly laudable because of the high quality of the narrative, the no-nonsense trait and the decency maintained throughout. Reading this novel is akin to watching a suspense movie in which humour and tender feelings alongwith humanistic elements are also present to win the heart of the audience. The Punjabi readers should not miss reading this novel. Hope, Hardev Grewal will sharpen his writing skills with time and come up with better and more intriguing mysteries in future.
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