Paanch Paapi (five sinners) is a murder mystery written by Hindi author – Surendra Mohan Pathak which was first published in 1989. The story is set in Nepal whereas the murder victim and the hero of the novel are Indians. The title of the novel is as such because the suspects in the eyes of the hero as well as the police are total five (though the police suspects the hero also for the murder). This Hindi novel is quite interesting and the chain of events taking place in Nepal keeps the reader hooked throughout.The murder victim is a crooked jeweller of Indian origin, Saadhuraam Hotchandaani. This middle-aged Sindhi jeweller does not believe in any ethics and his sole aim is to earn money by all means, fair or foul. After spending three decades in Nepal and earning a lot of money, now he wants to move back to his motherland, i.e., India after striking one final deal with a merchant, Daamodar Khetaan. Khetaan offers to buy precious stones from him and pay cash to him but for the sake of being sure that the stones being sold to him are worth the money going out of his pocket, he hires the services of our hero, Vivek Jaalaan, a young jewel expert from Delhi who had come to Nepal under a false assurance from Hotchandaani and got cheated by him. Despite having anger against Hotchandaani in his heart, Vivek assesses the value of every precious stone under this sale with utmost honesty and the total figure comes to around rupees 50 Lakh. Since night has fallen and the buyer, i.e., Khetaan has to bring the money from his hotel room, Hotchandaani puts all the sold precious stones in an envelope and seals it properly. Then he puts the envelope in his safe and says to Khetaan that next day he can exchange that sealed envelope for the agreed sale amount, i.e., Rs. 50 Lakh.
However that night itself, Hotchandaani is murdered and the sealed envelope is found missing from his safe. Since Vivek had visited his house later on also and found him dead, he gets frightened to think that the police will consider him only as the murderer (because his spat with Hotchandaani is well-known in the region). Since he has got a decent job in Delhi and is willing to join at the given date without fail, he decides to investigate the case himself and expose the real culprit so that the police leaves him and he is able to move to India without any hurdle. Quite interestingly, he gets a lucrative offer from Khetaan also to find out that missing envelope (containing the precious stones) for him which Khetaan is willing to buy from its current holder against the sum agreed with Hotchandaani and he promises Vivek a handsome fee if he is able to find that out. So, Vivek, alongwith his Nepali sweetheart, Shweta Thaapa starts investigating the case. There are five main suspects before him (suggested by Khetaan only to him) and any of them might have committed this murder. He considers them as five sinners (Paanch Paapi) and examines them and their activities minutely. The first one is the young would-be second wife of aged Hotchandaani, Achra Yosvichit who is a girl of Thai origin. The second one is her friend (and alleged lover), Captain William Moong Vin who is a pilot and runs a Dakota plane for the purpose of the tourists in Nepal. The third one is Hotchandaani’s young son (through his deceased first wife), Maanak. The fourth one is Hotchandaani’s son-in-law, Yogesh Kripalaani. The fifth and final one is Machhendranaath Raana who is Hotchandaani’s lawyer and also Shweta’s employer (she works as a stenographer in his office).
As Vivek proceeds with his scrutiny of the case and these ‘five sinners’ in association with Shweta as well as a Nepali cab driver, Dattatreya; he is shocked to find that the sealed envelope of precious stones is in his room itself. He feels that someone wants to trap him in the murder of Hotchandaani. He hides the envelope but tells this fact to Shweta. However, this incident (of the envelope’s reaching his own room) provides him new insights into the case and enables him to understand the characters of the so-called five sinners as well as the prospective buyer of the stones better. After many twists in the tale, he is able to expose the murderer in the climax and in this bid, narrowly escapes death.
Paanch Paapi is a traditional murder mystery but the backdrop of Nepal makes it special. I have always felt that whenever Mr. Pathak writes a novel with the backdrop of Nepal, that backdrop itself adds value to the narrative.The description of various places of Nepal is colourful and fascinating. The opening scene itself sets the tempo of the novel when Vivek assesses the value of the precious stones being sold with utmost sincerity and bringing his professional knowledge into the act and post completion of his job, accepts the courtesy drink as well as a piece of emrald being gifted to him by Hotchandaani but still does not hide his bitterness towards his host. That’s the specialty of Mr. Pathak that he portrays his characters as real flesh and blood human-beings. The positive characters never claim to be angels and the negative characters also are not typical villains. This trait of his stories makes them acceptable and relatable for their readers.
The language used by the author is simple yet lovable. All the twists in the story have been aptly placed and the momentum of investigation of the murder has not been allowed to go lax at any place. Alongside the mystery, the romance of Vivek and Shweta has also been given due weightage. The climax has also been developed quite interestingly and the ending scene in Dattatreya’s cab and the ending dialog of Dattatreya to Vivek are heart-warming. It is able to fully satisfy the entertainment-appetite of the Hindi readers who are fond of reading mysteries. The entertainment value possessed by this book is several times higher than its peanut like price.
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