Kaagaz Ki Naav (paper boat) is such a (Hindi) novel penned by Surendra Mohan Pathak that always soaks me in tears. The author of this novel has earned name and fame as a writer of mysteries and thrillers. Mysteries and thrillers contain crime and hence some crime is at the crux of such a story. Kaagaz Ki Naav is also a novel studded with criminal activities of many of its characters. However is it only a crime-thriller ? No ! This is a unique crime-thriller soaked in sentiments. I have read this novel many times and on every occasion, I have shed tears while going through it.
The story of Kaagaz Ki Naav is set in the notorious slum of Mumbai (it was Bombay when this novel was first published in 1986) – Dhaaravi, the hideout of several criminals where plans of crimes are made and thereafter executed in respective different places. Quite naturally, it contains cops too. Honest cops ! Dishonest cops ! Criminals as well as cops are also human-beings. They love. They want to be loved. This story contains many such characters whose activities form a unique blend of crime and love. This so-called crime-thriller is actually a cluster of many love stories and all are tragic (though one of them reaches its desirable destination but too late).
The first love story dates to three decades back from the main story. This is of a Maratha Hindu boy – Yashvant Ashtekar and a Christian girl – Maartha. Due to difference in religious faiths, Yashvant Ashtekar’s parents prevent him from marrying Maartha and she is forced into marriage with a Christian boy by her parents without anybody’s knowing that she’s pregnant through Ashtekar. Only Ashtekar knew it. She gives birth to William who is fondly observed by his biological father, i.e., Ashtekar from his childhood to adulthood without the revealation of their relationship. Ashtekar punishes his parents and also himself (for his cowardice) by deciding never to marry any other girl. Moreover he never gets sexually intimate with any woman after Maartha’s departure from his life. He joins police force and rises up to the level of an inspector. On the other side, Maartha has to undergo a very unhappy married life with an abusive husband. Other than William who has been fathered by her lover Ashtekar, she does not beget any other child too.
William grows up to have his own love story with Monica. On the Christmas eve, he climbs up the cross of a church and threatens Monica that if she does not agree to spend the complete Christmas eve with him, he will end his life by jumping from there (readers may contrast it with the famous scene of the extremely popular movie – Sholay in which Veeru climbs up the water tank and threatens to jump if his marriage is not allowed to take place with Basanti). Monica has to bow before his wish and after enjoying the whole night (without William’s even touching Monica), William proposes to Monica the next morning and they get married the same day. Monica gives birth to William’s son Mickey in due course of time. But …
But meantime another love story was going on involving Monica only but it’s a one-sided love story. William’s partner in criminal activities – Anthony Francoza who is famous as Tony Daada in the locality of Dhaaravi, has been loving Monica within his heart. When Monica gets married to William, he is not able to tolerate it. He designs an intricate conspiracy through the execution of which he is awarded an imprisonment of six months by the court and during this period only, William gets murdered. After his release from jail, Anthony supports William’s widow Monica because he is known as William’s close friend and therefore, is expected to support his widow. Under the disguise of this support, Anthony actually tries to come close to Monica and win her heart. On the other hand, since Ashtekar had always been aware of this fact that William was his son only, he vows to catch his murderer and bring him to book.
The fourth and the most touching love story is of Laalchand Hazaare and Khursheed. Laalchand is the son of Ashtekar’s friend Late Vasant Hazaare. He lives with his mother and grandmother and has unfortunately fallen into the bad company of Anthony aka Tony and his confidante Abbaas Ali and he takes part in bank robberies with them. His nickname is Lallu but since in Hindi Lallu means idiot (or simpleton), he wants everybody to address him by the name of Laalchand only. Ashtekar admonishes him to leave the company of criminals like Anthony and Abbaas but he does not listen. Destiny brings him into contact with Khursheed, a sex worker who has been thrown into this quagmire by her mother only. Lallu is twenty-one years old whereas Khursheed is twenty-four. Lallu is a Hindu whereas Khursheed is a Muslim. However as almost all the Indian music lovers must have listened to these lines of the immortal love-song sung by Jagjit Singh – Na Umr Ki Seema Ho Na Janm Ka Ho Bandhan, Jab Pyar Kare Koi To Dekhe Keval Mann (In love, there is no bar of age or birth as a lover sees only the heart of the beloved), love blossoms between them like anything. Khursheed has always seen males as hungry of her body only. For the first time in her life, a male has seen her heart and fallen in love with that only. She decides to leave her tainted profession whereas Lallu decides to leave the world of crime. Thus both these young lovers decide to shift to some faraway place and start their (joint) life afresh as straight citizens. But man proposes, God disposes. Before Lallu and Khursheed could turn their dream into reality, first Lallu is arrested and thereafter Khursheed is murdered. Their dream is shattered. Lallu is shattered within himself as well. And that prepares the ground for the breathtaking climax of the story which takes place at Anthony’s magnificent bungalow situated in Khandala.
The author has written in the preface of the first edition of this novel (published in 1986) that he has tried to give the novel the shape of an event-oriented one instead of a character-oriented one. He is right because either almost all the characters are to be considered as the principal ones or none is to be considered as such. Every character is a puppet in the hands of the destiny and flows with the events taking place around and with him / her. But these characters have been well-developed by the seasoned author and they emerge from the pages of the novel before the reader as if they were real. The novel grips the reader from the opening scene itself and the grip does not get loosened till the ending scene in which Lallu tells his name to Maartha as Lallu and not Laalchand (Maartha is shown to have married Ashtekar after the death of her first husband and thus at least one of the four love stories finally reaches a positive note). The dialogs of the novel are also very impressive and it is studded with scenes that are able to move any sensitive reader deep within.
I had read this novel first in 1991 when I was doing my C.A. by living in Kolkata (then Calcutta) and thereafter in 1994 when I was preparing for the main examination of the Indian Civil Services by living in Jaipur. Recently I have read it for the third time. What’s common in these three readings of this novel by me ? The common thing is that every time I wept like anything while travelling through the pages of the novel. The title of this novel is Kaagaz Ki Naav (paper boat) which has been kept as such because Ashtekar asserts at a place that crime is like a paper boat which cannot float for too long and cannot go too far. But this paper boat floats on the river of my tears. This is an underrated novel of Surendra Mohan Pathak which despite certain weaknesses, can be considered as one of his very best. This pulp fiction work can definitely be compared to many high profile literary works.
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