It’s a philosophical statement given in many books, stories and articles that in a man’s life when one door is closed, another one opens for him. Hindi novelist – Surendra Mohan Pathak’s thriller novel which contains a mystery of a couple of murders too, underscores this statement only in a very impressive and sentimental manner. This novel is Aage Bhi Maut Peechhe Bhi Maut (death in front also, death in back also). The novel tells the story of Harish Mehta, an intelligent young man and his relationship with Durgadaas, a sophisticated gangster who plays the role of the kingmaker for certain politicians. The story is set up in a fictitious city – Vishalgarh which Durgadaas considers himself as the uncrowned king of. He does not hold any political position or any official post, yet his rulings and orders supersede the govt. orders and the authority of the govt. officials as well as the ministers. He controls the awarding of the govt. contracts and keeps the strings of several puppets in his hands who have to dance to his tunes. He arranges deaths of the people unwanted for him without colouring his own hands by their blood. Everybody in Vishalgarh knows that he is responsible for many crimes and unlawful activities but there’s never any evidence against him. A high profile reporter of a newspaper – Daily Express, Vinod Puri keeps a watch on his activities and remains willing to expose him before the law but the thing is that even the local police behave like his slave.
Harish Mehta is the hero of this novel whose father was an honest building inspector in the local corporation and got killed by opposing a corrupt builder – Prakashdev Khanna who was constructing a school building by usage of poor quality materials. Prakashdev Khanna was considered Durgadaas’ man and Harish was told by his neighbour Vinod Puri that the real culprit behind his father’s death was none other than Durgadaas. Then a law-student – Harish was in love with a girl – Deepa and she was also of the opinion that held by Vinod Puri. Her love was the only source of solace in Harish’s life now as he was all alone after his father’s death. However she only gave him the biggest setback of his life by refusing to marry him and opting to marry Pramod Khanna, the son of Prakashdev Khanna. Harish visited the venue of her marriage after drinking heavily, with an intention to create a filmy scene there but upon reaching there better sense prevailed upon him and he did nothing except congratulating Deepa and Pramod. On his way back, he happened to meet Durgadaas who was drinking liquor alone, sitting separately from all the other guests gracing the occasion. Harish (being under heavy intoxication himself) bluntly accused him of masterminding his father’s murder. Durgadaas listened to that and denied of doing any such thing. Then he shared drink with Harish and listened to the tale of his heartbreak also. He felt that Harish was very talented and offered him to join him. Harish did not grab that opportunity immediately but after two years, when as a law-graduate, he could not find any job, he joined Durgadaas only and in no time, became his right hand. Earlier Durgadaas had his henchman – Gogiya as his most trusted lieutenant but now Harish has replaced him. Durgadaas seeks Harish’s consultation only in different matters now and the position of Gogiya has gone down in his empire.
The novel starts with the death of the mayor of the city – Kailashnaath whose car has fallen into the Sona river (a fictitious river flowing through this fictitious city). Kailashnaath was known to be anti-Durgadaas and quite naturally, people were suspecting Durgadaas only for being on the back of that mishap. Harish being the PRO and the spokesman of Durgadaas, tackles the different agencies involved in this case – viz. the police, the press and Shaamnaath, the representative of the chief minister of the state. However the very young wife of Durgadaas (many years younger to him) – Hema is in his flat when Gogiya visits him to convey the message of Durgadaas to him in this regard. Durgadaas trusts Harish very much but Harish has entered into an illicit relationship with his young wife for which he sometimes feels guilty also within heart. Hema hides herself in the bathroom when Gogiya suddenly reaches there but he happens to see her clothes lying outside and is able to understand immediately that Harish is having an affair with their boss’ wife.
Shaamnaath has been specially sent by the chief minister to look into the death of the mayor of the city. However Shaamnaath who is a womanizer, himself gets murdered mysteriously after a few days when he is all set to be appointed as the head of the inquiry commission to deeply investigate that tragedy. His wife – Kaanta is the prime suspect in the eyes of the police who want to make her a scapegoat to save the skin of Durgadaas in this regard. Finding herself to be in several troubles and completely lonely with almost everybody appearing to be against her, Kaanta seeks Harish’s help, trusting him despite his being the lieutenant of the person who wants herself to be trapped in the murder of her husband. Harish is originally a good man from inside and not at all happy with his association with the crime empire of Durgadaas. He saves Kaanta from all the troubles including the talon of a licentious petty criminal – Amarnaath. Now he is willing to start his life afresh with Kaanta, leaving the crime world of Durgadaas forever. However it’s never easy to get out of such quagmire. Moreover, Gogiya exposes his affair with Hema to Durgadaas. The novel ends on a tragic note but after revealing the suspense regarding the killer of Kailashnath and Shaamnaath.
The biggest plus point of this very interesting sentimental thriller is the highlighting of this fact that when a person finds a door as being shut on his face, he should not get disheartened and instead, keep himself alert to see another door that might have simultaneously opened for him. The loss of Deepa’s love and getting an opportunity to rise in life by working for Durgadaas happen simultaneously in the life of Harish. And he himself is amazed to see that he is working as the right hand of the person he used to hate like anything, considering him as responsible for his father’s death. Moreover the same person trusts him like his real son but he has an affair with his wife only. Such strange and contradictory things do happen in real life because truth is stranger than fiction. And since every moment of life is able to spring up a surprise, the best and the most practical life-philosophy is – ‘ACCEPT THE LIFE AS IT UNFOLDS’ (I follow the same only).
Written in the lucid and spellbinding style which the author (Surendra Mohan Pathak) is famous for, this small novel is a treat to read. The whodunit factor has not been stressed very much but it remains there only to render a shock to the reader in the climax. The aspect pertaining to the suspense regarding the perpetrators of the high profile murders has been kept in low profile by the author whereas the emotional aspect of the story has been given more footage and attention. Still it’s the mystery aspect only which enthralls the reader in the ending pages because the revelation of the mystery is something that could not be easily guessed by the reader.
The novel contains less number of pages and the canvas of the story is also not vast. However it makes an engrossing reading right from the very first scene to the very last scene with nothing superfluous appearing in-between. The dialogues between different characters are witty and impressive. Durgadaas’ firm belief that things like faithfulness and dedication cannot be bought by money and his abundant trust on Harish does not allow him to be considered as a typical villain. The author has paid ample attention to the evolution of the principal characters who emerge in live form out of the pages of the novel. The reader gets a feeling of seeing them with own eyes and hearing them with own ears.
The title of this novel is related to the tragic ending of the novel because the path of crime is such that anybody treading it is bound to find death at both the ends of it – death in front of him as well as death at the back of him. And it’s a small consolation for such a person that he himself doesn’t commit any crime because aiding and abetting a crime is a misdeed of equal gravity. However this is how people like Harish play hide and seek with their own conscience. Attempts are made to deceive oneself but is it really possible ?
If you can read Hindi and are interested in an emotion-soaked suspense thriller, this compact novel is the perfect choice for you.
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