Famous mystery writer – Erle Stanley Gardner has written 83 novels under his popular Perry Mason series. Hindi novelist of thriller / mystery genre, Surendra Mohan Pathak has overtaken him on this count by penning more than 100 novels taking a crime-reporter as a hero who is a Bengali youth, Sunil Kumar Chakravarty. Working for a national daily, Blast being published from a fictitious metropolitan city, Rajnagar, this reporter has been shown by Mr. Pathak as so much dedicated to his profession that he is ever-ready to be on duty, irrespective of the time or the day. Whether it’s the midnight or the wee hours, whether it’s the Sunday or some public holiday, Sunil Kumar Chakravarty loves to be on duty, investigating some crime and developing an interesting story with his byline for the readers of the newspaper, Blast which is no less than a home for him and whose owner and chief editor, Mr. B.K. Malik is no less than a father figure for him. However this kind-hearted youth is a man of self-respect too and that’s something which has been underscored in Top Secret, the 85th venture of Sunil which I am tempted to award a five star rating.Top Secret takes a clue from a very old adventure of Sunil, Red Circle Society (which was one of the initial novels of this hero). Red Circle Society was a fascist organisation planning to stage a coup in India and certain very high profile people were the part and parcel of this unlawful organisation which had been exposed by Sunil. Now years later, a tabloid named as ‘Top Secret’ starts blackmailing some wealthy people of the city, threatening to reveal their old links with that now-banned organisation. The whole and sole of this tabloid is a person, Somesh Gupta who appears to be a smoke-screen to hide the real mastermind from the eyes of the blackmailed ones. One of such blackmail-victims happens to be a Sindhi film-producer, Seth Uttamchandani who is Sunil’s acquaintance and therefore, he seeks Sunil’s help to get rid of this blackmailing. Sunil who has lost his job the same day due to a spat with Rajendra Malik, the arrogant and high-handed son of Blast’s owner-cum-chief editor, Mr. B.K. Malik (who happens to be abroad at that time), becomes ready to help Seth Uttamchandani on the condition of being given an imported motorbike, M V Augusta America as the fee for this service. He digs out the background of this blackmailing tabloid – Top Secret and decides to meet Somesh Gupta who is apparently the front for the real blackmailer. But just when he approaches Somesh in his office, he is hit from behind on his head and left unconscious by a professional contract killer who has already murdered Somesh moments before his arrival.
In fact, the scene of the murder of Somesh by the professional killer hired from Mumbai (then Bombay) and thereafter his knocking Sunil unconscious by hitting him on the back of his head, is the opening scene of this novel and thereby, a highly interesting journey starts for the reader who enjoys the novel till its very last word. Since this incident takes place in the night hours, the author has to narrate Sunil’s day in the next scene which covers several bad-taste giving incidents for him and when Sunil enters Somesh’s office and falls unconscious due to the blow on his head, these two scenes are joined. After Sunil comes to his senses, he resumes his investigation of the tabloid – Top Secret with an added angle of Somesh’s murder. How he reaches the truth and exposes the real culprit forms the bulk of the remaining part of the story. Meantime, Mr. B.K. Malik returns from abroad and comes to know that Sunil had to resign in his absence due to a spat with his immature and high-handed son who looked after the office in his absence. He approaches Sunil and apologizes on behalf of his son (the author has established in several of his novels of this series that Mr. Malik never treats Sunil as his employee, instead he is as dear to him as own offspring). In the end, Rajendra Malik also realizes his mistake and the worth of Sunil for the newpaper.
To me, Top Secret deserves five star rating because it’s not just an engaging mystery for the readers but also an inspiring story of a person’s self-respect. Through the incidents taking place for Sunil right from the early morning on that fateful day, the author has established that a person should keep his cool amidst all kinds of adverse situations, events and people. First an income-tax officer irritates Sunil by approaching him upon a false complaint received against him in the income-tax department that he spends more than his known earnings. Thereafter Sunil’s greedy landlord approaches him and asks him to vacate the flat, saying that his other tenants are not happy with him and his activities are spoiling the image of the society (in fact, the landlord is interested in ousting Sunil so that he gets a higher paying tenant and a heavy sum as Pagadi which is a kind of security paid by the tenant to the landlord in many regions of India). Then an autorickshaw-driver asks more than reasonable fare from Sunil and upon his denying to pay the unreasonable sum as fare, fights with him. And finally, his employer’s son – Rajendra Mullick humiliates him in the presence of his reporting officer (Roy who is the news editor of the newspaper). Sunil is not able to sustain this much stress and in a rage, he resigns. The main reason behind his resigning is that he is not ready to tolerate that anybody hurts his self-respect and throws the weight of his high position upon him. However, despite supporting Sunil’s giving importance to his self-respect, the author has shown him realizing later his error of losing his temperament and he rejoins Blast. He also comes to understand that it takes all kinds of people to make this world, Sometimes you happen to meet irritating ones but some other time you may come across pleasant ones as well. Further, Sunil realizes while going to bed at night (on that day) that it’s a day on which he has lost his job that he always loved but at the same time he has got a motorbike that earlier he could dream only to ride and never afford in reality. That means – you win some, you lose some. All these things add spice and value to the mystery-filled story.
In this novel, Mr. Pathak has presented a drunkard character who calls himself as DD (Daily Drinker) and through him explained five stages of a drinking person under the headings of DD. These run from DD1 to DD5 and every time the full form of DD is different. This is another amusing part of the already very interesting narrative.
Top Secret has been an immensely popular novel of Mr. Pathak under Sunil series and it’s a showcase of his talent of writing spellbinding mystery-stories. Through this venture, the journalist hero, Sunil not only gets promotion (he becomes the chief reporter) after regaining his lost job but also gets an imported motorbike. Since then, this motorbike (M V Augusta America) has become a part of Sunil’s adventurous life and a stock character of the novels of Mr. Pathak under this series. It’s a novel which has always taught me how to do my job while keeping my self-respect intact during the employment as well as keeping my head cool in all kinds of situations. The novel is highly entertaining right from the start to the finish and I wholeheartedly recommend it to all those who can read Hindi. I wish, some filmmaker makes a movie on this novel.
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