In my review of Hindi movie Damini (1993), I have asserted that there is one apex court above all the worldly courts, the court of a person’s conscience which none can escape. Where all the worldly courts fail in their job, the court of conscience takes the charge. A man of conscience may be compelled by his circumstances to do something wrong or against the law, his conscience always keeps on hitting him hard deep within and ultimately forces him to do something as a penitence or compensation of whatever wrong he has done. Hindi novelist Surendra Mohan Pathak’s novel – Maut Ka Aatank is based on this theme only.Maut Ka Aatank (the terror of death) starts with a shootout incident in which a sub-inspector of Bombay police – Shivraaj Mehta shoots four persons dead who were supposedly gambling in their private get-together. While running away from there after killing that foursome, he himself gets shot dead. Now there is a question before his widow Damayanti and his younger brother Nikhil who is a novelist, as to why Shivraaj did so. He was known as a dead honest cop who always kept his duty above everything else. Due to the poor salaries of the policemen in India, he was always hard pressed by his monetary requirement to raise his family. He was not able to pay any dues of the shopkeepers, milkmen etc. in time and was always indebted to them. However shortly before that strange shootout carried out by him, he had paid all his dues. Where did that money come from ?
Nikhil sets about seeking answers to these questions. He had been living separately from his brother because of difference of opinion between them regarding his joining the police force. The boys of their lineage had been joining the police force for quite a few generations and therefore, it’s considered to be their family tradition. Nikhil decided against following that tradition and opted to be an author. Now after the tragic death of his brother, his quest for the reason behind his killing four persons takes him to a renowned film heroine – Saroj Baala whose precious jewellery was stolen when she was returning from abroad by ship. Gradually the truth comes out before Nikhil that the four shot dead persons were involved in that theft and his ‘honest’ brother had helped them. One of those four victims, was Raaju Mamtaani whose brother Gopu Mamtaani is a trusted lieutenant of a gangster Madan Potdaar who is known as the uncrowned ruler of the port area (of Bombay). Soon after Nikhil’s coming into action, the two children of his deceased brother are first kidnapped and then killed, leading his sister-in-law to go insane. What happens thereafter leads the novel to its action-packed climax.The USP of this small but very interesting novel is that it’s a hard-hitting comment on the police system as prevailing in India. And this comment was made as early as in 1986 when this novel was first published. Why and how the gangsters come into existence and become more and more powerful, has been explained very well in the novel. The police has its own excuses in its failing to tackle crime that the public doesn’t cooperate with the police, witnesses either do not come forward or retreat from their statements in the court and certain similar reasons. However that cannot exonerate the police force from the allegation of not doing its duty sincerely and diligently. Quite subtly, through the character of Shivraaj Mehta, the author has underscored the low salaries of the cops are also a prime reason for their going dishonest as their circumstances and their responsibility for their families compel them to do so. The arguments and counter-arguments in this regard as well as the arguments and the counter-arguments for the illegal activities of the criminal gangs are a very big highlight of this novel which strikes the thought-process of the reader in a unique way. Gangsters get the license to keep firearms quite easily whereas the law-abiding citizens find it to be a Herculean task. The higher is the number of laws a businessman wants to break, the bigger is the force of the lawyers available at his service. No lawyer or tax consultant tells his client to pay his taxes in full, instead they suggest ways to evade the same.
The narrative of this novel flows quite freely and fast also despite the canvas of the story being small. The climax is full of action and thrill and the ending scene is highly romantic when Saroj Baala decides to make Nikhil her life-partner and Nikhil reciprocates her feelings.
This Hindi novel is full of witty dialog and there is a lot of sarcasm also in them because the characters belonging to the police, the gangs and the civilian society aim at the fraternities of one another while speaking. And that adds a lot of spice to the story.
The novel also underscores the mentality of the cops that it’s better not to interfere in the gangwars taking place in the city because when the rival gangs are eliminating each other, indirectly they are doing the job of the police itself.
Through the talking style of the high profile gangster Madan Potdaar, the author has inserted humour also in this tragic novel. Madan Potdaar is a modestly educated gangster and is fond of displaying his knowledge of English. Hence he uses abbreviations of English clauses which his advocate and right hand Daaruwaala expands for the audience. It creates fun and humour and serves as a relief in the otherwise very serious narrative.
The complete novel bears a clear stamp of the style of writing of the seasoned Hindi author who has allowed the characters to develop on their own and they come out of the pages of the novel like living-beings when the reader goes through the novel.
Let me declare it loud and clear that this low profile thriller novel of Surendra Mohan Pathak is one of his best works. The rot in the police and the legal systems of the India have only increased and the situation has only worsened for the law-abiding innocent citizens over the past three decades or so. Hence the theme of this 32 years old novel is relevant even today.
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