The disappearance of a dead body

Laash Gaayab (dead body disappearing) is a mystery penned by Hindi novelist, Surendra Mohan Pathak. It’s the 95th venture of his investigative journalist hero, Sunil Kumar Chakravarty. The story starts with the (apparent) suicide of a female guest in a hotel whose identity is not known. The version of the police is that it might be some girl of a decent family who ended her life in a state of poverty to save the repute of her family. However the police does not pay attention to the fact that the dead body which was found as hanging by a rope in the hotel room was completely nude and wet as though she were taking a bath prior to committing suicide.

The story takes off when to the utter shock of not only the police but also the interested journalists (including the hero of the novel, Sunil) who visit the morgue that night to have a look of the dead girl, the dead body disappears like anything in their presence whereas the watchman of the morgue is found as killed. Apparently, someone has stolen the dead body by killing the watchman. Now our journalist hero, Sunil starts his investigation. In addition to his job of preparing a sensational story for his employer newspaper – Blast, he has one more reason to investigate this case. His fast friend, Ramakant Malhotra who is a drunkard Punjabi youth running a night club (named as Youth Club) in the (fictitious) metropolitan city of Rajnagar; has got a call from his maternal uncle from Mumbai (then Bombay) that a girl, Divya Khurana who belongs to a wealthy and reputed family has been missing for a long time and her family members suspect that the dead girl might be Divya only (they have read about the incident of the death of the anonymous girl in the newspaper). Through the maternal uncle of Ramakant, they request for his help in confirming whether the dead girl is Divya or not. Quite naturally, Ramakant seeks the help of his journalist friend, Sunil for this purpose. Now Sunil is on this investigating job day and night without getting any time for taking proper rest or even for attending the office of the newspaper.

Sunil comes to know that Fernando and Pradhan, two dangerous gangsters of the city are also interested in the identification of the dead girl because both of them suspect her to be Nancy who happens to be the wife of Fernando but who had run away with Pradhan. He also comes to know of a boyfriend of Divya, Feroze Padamsee who is a musician and works with a band in a club. Besides, Divya’s mother – Sheela, brother – Mahendra and uncle – Raamnaath also reach Rajnagar in this context. When Sunil’s investigation is underway, one more murder takes place which is of a hearse-driver, Gregory. Since Gregory was working in a graveyard, Sunil feels that the stolen dead body of that girl might have been hidden somewhere in the graveyard only. However when he alongwith Ramakant and Mahendra, finds out the place (a grave) where the dead body was hidden by its thief; it is found as missing from there also.

In Sunil’s opinion, the girl had not committed suicide but someone had murdered her. He arranges photographs of both Divya and Nancy and tries to recall whether the girl (of whose dead body he had got a glimpse before it went missing for the first time) looked like any of them. But he is not able to reach any conclusion. Some confusing letters of Divya further entangle this already intricate mystery. Alongside Sunil, his fellow-journalists – Roopa Gupta (working for the newspaper – Chronicle) and Shaastri (working for the newspaper – Taaza Khabar) are also sniffing and examining the things pertaining to this case. Attempts are made on Sunil’s life also. Finally, Sunil is not only able to reveal the true identity of the dead girl (after locating the missing dead body again) but also unmasks the culprit behind the murders.

Laash Gaayab is a mesmerizing mystery which is eventful right from the beginning to the climax. Normally, in the novels of Sunil Series penned by Surendra Mohan Pathak, it’s Ramakant who gets many things done for Sunil and thus helps in his investigation but in this novel, Sunil undertakes a job for him and carries it out both as a part of his profession and as a duty assigned by his closest friend. Without touching the issue of the originality of the plot, I wholeheartedly admire this fast-paced and at some places, spine-chilling novel.

The novel starts from a scene taking place in the morgue at midnight when it’s raining outside and its climax also comes in exactly the same setting. The environment created by the author for these and other events of the story, adds to the mystery and increases the heartbeats of the reader. The biggest mystery is not of the murders or the disappearance of the dead body but of the identity of the dead girl. Someone is calling her as his sister, some other one is calling her as his wife and someone else is calling her as his sweetheart. However actually whose dead body it is, becomes known in the climax only. Frankly speaking, I also could not guess as to whose dead body it might be before the author himself revealed the suspense.

As always expected from Surendra Mohan Pathak in the novels of Sunil Series, there is a good dose of humour also. The suspense keeps the readers engrossed on one hand whereas the humour keeps on tickling his funny bone intermittently on the other. The teasings taking place between Sunil and Roopa alongwith the interactions of Sunil and Ramakant as well as Sunil and inspector Prabhu Dayaal are quite entertaining. A dog also plays an interesting role in the story. Further, Mr. Pathak has introduced a greedy but funny character in this novel who is a waiter in the hotel where the death of the girl had taken place. His name is Seetaraam and his interactions with Sunil are laughter-provoking. The name of our ex prime minister – Man Mohan Singh also features in their conversation (who was the governor of RBI when this novel was written).

The novel contains a minus point. There are certain material factual errors in the narrative. Normally, Surendra Mohan Pathak corrects the errors in the subsequent editions of the novel. However the factual errors in this novel (which was first published in 1987) were not corrected in its next edition also (which had arrived in 1998). Since then, this novel has not been reprinted. If you do not pay attention to the factual errors during and after the reading, you will be impressed by this novel like anything. Written in a spicy language (Hindi), this humour-studded suspense story is a treat for any mystery-reader who will enjoy it like a roller-coaster ride.

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About Jitendra Mathur

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