My introduction to Surendra Mohan Pathak’s world

Surendra Mohan Pathak is an eminent Hindi novelist who has been writing relentlessly for the past half a century and his pen has not stopped even at the age of 78 years. Though due to the poor paper-quality, printing, binding and covers; such novels were categorized as pulp-fiction and looked upon derogatorily in the so-called literary circles but just like the formula-based Indian movies, they also remained an affordable (very very low cost indeed) source of entertainment for the Indian readers for decades. Surendra Mohan Pathak chose to become a mystery writer (though he penned a couple of social novels, a couple of children’s novels and several joke books too). Very shortly, he carved a niche for himself in the world of Indian pulp-fiction and gradually went ahead to stand tallest among all of his contemporaries. He has been unarguably the most read as well as the most durable (because he is still active) Hindi novelist. Now some of his novels have got translated to English too.

Though since the very childhood, I have been a book-worm and other than the studies (I have been very very studious throughout my student life), I liked only to watch movies (weekly) on Doordarshan and to read different magazines and books. I had never read any novel of Surendra Mohan Pathak till one day, my friend – Vishnu Mantri instigated me to read a novel of his. Vishnu Mantri had a great collection of pulp-fiction novels and I borrowed a novel of Colonel Ranjeet from him to read because I had read certain novels of Colonel Ranjeet (years later, through Surendra Mohan Pathak only, I came to know that it was a fake name) and liked them. Vishnu Mantri was an avid reader of Surendra Mohan Pathak and he forcefully gave me a novel of Surendra Mohan Pathak also alongwith that novel of Colonel Ranjeet and urged me to give it a try. That novel was titled as Kaala Kaarnaama (the evil deed).

I read that novel which was the original and the very first edition of that novel printed by Diamond Pocket Books in 1986. In the authorial (Lekhkeeya) of that novel, I came to know that it was the 94th venture of a serial hero. ‘94th venture ? That means this hero is damn popular’, thought I. And then I start reading and got so lost in the narrative that did not do anything else till the complete novel had been read. What an entertainment ! What a style of writing ! I got so much impressed that I thanked Vishnu Mantri for giving me that novel. And time proved that that reading was just the first step in the miles long journey of knowing this highly popular (still highly modest) author from close. After more than a quarter of a century, the day has come when I am penning a review of this highly admirable Hindi novel which is a murder mystery.

The hero whose 94th venture is Kaala Kaarnaama is Sunil Kumar Chakravarty who functions in the style of an investigator but actually, by profession, he is a journalist and he terms his line as investigative journalism in which the journalist has not only to report the happenings but also to delve deep into them and find out for the public what is not visible on the surface. Right to Information Act has got enacted in India just a few years back but Surendra Mohan Pathak has been maintaining it through the character of Sunil for decades that the public has a right to know. Hiding the truth from the public which is considered as supreme (at least constitutionally) in India is nothing short of a sin. And hence he is hell-bent upon bringing the truth to the fore, come what may and several times, he is not even hesitant to put his own life at stake for this cause.

Kaala Kaarnmaa tells the story of the murder of a stock-broker, Om Mehta who gets killed during a hypnotism-show by his own wife, Vijay Mehta who is supposed to be in a hypnotized state during the act. The showman is Dr. Raazdaan and the person who had arranged it is Om Mehta’s stammerer uncle – Roshanlaal who has to utter several words and phrases twice due to this physical deficiency of his. He is an alcoholic too and apparently a miser as well who has been living like a parasite in his nephew’s home for around a year. The marital life of Om and Vijay has not been a happy one and Vijay has been in love with a journalist colleague of Sunil named as Sanjay Sabbarwaal. The show of Dr. Raazdaan is such that the hypnotized wife has to lay into her husband with a knife which is apparently real but actually is made of rubber. However during the show when the moment of stabbing her husband comes for Vijay, someone substitutes the rubber-knife with a real knife and Om Mehta gets killed when all the spectators of the show as well as the showman are under an impression that it’s just a show and nothing else.

Now Sunil who has not been a part of the audience of the show, comes into picture and alongside police inspector Prabhu Dayaal one hand and Roopa Gupta, the lady reporter of the rival newspaper on the other, starts his own investigation of this murder. Sunil works for the newspaper – Blast whereas Roopa works for another newspaper – Chronicle. When the proceedings are on, attempts are made on the life of Vijay. Through her only, the story comes out that in that household itself, a young girl – Sonia was murdered by Om Mehta a few days back. Besides, someone attacks Roopa Gupta in the dark and tries to molest her. It also becomes known that Dr. Raazdaan is not what he claims to be.Three investigators – our hero Sunil, his professional rival Roopa Gupta and his perennial love-hate buddy inspector Prabhu Dayaal keep on trying to unravel the truth in their own respective ways and the mystery gets solved in a dark, stormy, rainy night.

Kaala Kaarnaama is less a whodunnit, more a howdunnit. It is not very difficult to guess the identity of the culprit but how he could carry out his plan to arrange the murder of the victim in the hands of his wife, is something pretty hard to guess and understand though the skilled mystery writer has spread clues at different places. I don’t know whether the plot of the novel is Surendra Mohan Pathak’s own idea or he has borrowed the basic grains from somewhere else but there is little doubt that this novel is highly entertaining.

The author is very proficient in blending humour in a suspense-based story and Kaala Kaarnaama is no exception. Through the talks of Sunil and his jolly friend – Ramakant Malhotra as well as Sunil’s humourous interactions with inspector Prabhu Dayaal, Sanjay Sabbarwaal, Roshanlaal and above all, his professional rival – Roopa Gupta; the author has left no stone unturned in making the reader laugh out loud alongside enjoying the suspense-filled drama.

Written in simple yet humorous language, Kaala Kaarnaama is a treat for the mystery-readers and through portrayal of different kinds of characters, allows us to understand that it takes all kinds of people to make this world and everybody is interesting in his or her own way, none is boring. This engrossing murder mystery introduced me to the enchanting world of Surendra Mohan Pathak and I unhesitatingly recommend it to all the Hindi readers.

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
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