Surendra Mohan Pathak is a Hindi mystery writer. He pens suspense-based novels and not horror-based ones. Sunil Series has been his most prominent series of novels in which a press reporter plays the hero and solves the mystery, if any. Quite surprisingly, he has written a novel under this series which is not only suspense-filled but also very very scary and should not be read by weak-hearts during the dark hours. This admirable novel is Kaali Haveli (black mansion).Kaali Haveli is based on the mysterious events taking place in a very old mansion (Haveli) situated on an islet at some distance from the sea shore. The nearest residential area from that Haveli is Devgaam, a village of fishermen known mainly for a fishery there and a seasonal fall (active in the rainy season only) for which it is said that by bathing with its water, many skin diseases are cured. Devgaam is populated by fishermen only and that populace does not seem to be welcoming outside visitors at its place.
The mansion is called as Kaali Haveli because it is around 400 years old (built by some king of that islet in that time) and despite its durability, the battlement of the mansion has turned black with the passage of time. Still it is more or less like a fortress containing 120 rooms and many floors coupled with a minaret though now its impenetrability is doubtful because one floor (which is near the sea-surface) has collapsed some time back and whenever the sea is on a rise or storms arrive, sea-water enters in that part of the Haveli. Therefore that part is no longer fit for residence.The story starts with the journey of the hero – Sunil to Devgaam where he reaches amidst rainfall and his car has a breakdown in a village on the way. Our journalist hero is personally very close to a famous criminal lawyer, Mr. Chatterjee whose firm – ‘Chatterjee and Mukherjee’ is the biggest law-firm of the metropolitan city of Rajnagar (the fictitious city created by the author for this series of novels). The owner of Kaali Haveli, Thakur Joravar Singh has approached Mr. Chatterjee for help because a guest of the Haveli, Vikram Singh had mysteriously disappeared some days back and nothing has been heard of him since then. Thakur Joravar Singh is fond of paintings and a big art-collector. He has collected a lot of scarce and therefore, precious paintings. Vikram Singh himself was a painter and had come back from France after devoting a few years there in refining his art only. He spent just a night in the Haveli and suddenly disappeared. Though apparently he had used the motor-boat of Thakur Joravar Singh for reaching the shore and thereafter his car also for reaching the city but Thakur Saheb feels he has been a victim of some foul-play and seeks the help of Mr. Chatterjee who assigns the responsibility of finding out the truth to Sunil. That’s why Sunil reaches Devgaam after a lot of difficulty and is now in search of some means to reach the Haveli.
In Devgaam, Sunil spends some time in a hotel-cum-restaurant run by an old Goani man and his young daughter, Lucy. He is surprised to see that instead of helping him in reaching the Haveli, almost everybody in the restaurant is interested in sending him back. A seemingly dangerous person, Michael first advises (like others) him to go back to the city by catching a train from a nearby railway station but when finds him hell-bent upon reaching the Haveli that night itself, he gives him a skiff so that he could cross the watery distance between the shore and the Haveli through that, using the oars. Since the sea is on a rise; the night is dark, rainy and stormy and there are high rocks in that watery path; the skiff of our hero meets with a mishap but before falling unconscious he feels that a lady is saving him from drowning in the sea. Coming back to his senses, he finds himself near the gate of Kaali Haveli and finally enters it.
In the Haveli, the most shocking fact that comes to Sunil’s knowledge is that the owner of Kaali Haveli, i.e., Thakur Joravar Singh has been blind for a long time. The other two residents of that gargantuan mansion are Thakur Saheb’s nephew, Jaipaal who spends most of his time in the city (Rajnagar) and the lone in-house servant, Bhoopat. After a brief talk with Thakur Saheb, Sunil apparently retires to bed after getting a caveat from both Jaipaal and Bhoopat that there are ghosts in the Haveli. He gets likewise experiences too during the night but the most terrifying thing is the falling of a large and heavy stone on his bed which he escapes due to his good-luck and caution. The whole combined experience of the bygone evening and the night in and out of the Haveli tells him that there’s something fishy in the whole affair which is being portrayed by different people as supernatural. He returns to the city and seeks the help of his close friend – Ramakant Malhotra and his confidante employees – Jauhari, Dinakar, Rakesh, Mohan etc. in investigating the things. One of them – Jauhari arrives at Devgaam as a tourist willing to cure his skin disease by bathing in the famous fall whereas the other one – Dinakar becomes a servant in the Haveli. After many cabalistic and scary incidents, Sunil and his team is able to lift curtain from all the secrets and bring the truth to the fore.
I have read the first edition of this novel (published in 1976) whose very first page clearly states – ‘A hair-raising novel. Please do not read it in the night’. Though it is not applicable to me (I read it during the night-hours itself) but may be true for a reader with a weak heart. Not only that many of the incidents of the novel are scary but putting it straight, the whole environment of the novel right from the opening scene to the climax, itself is full of suspense and horror. Heartbeats are bound to be fast when going through the story. There is nothing supernatural in the story because the logically thinking author does not believe in the supernatural and has unravelled the mystery as something man-made only. Secrets are unmasked one after another and the whole issue becomes clear to the reader gradually. The more you read further, the more the things become clearer to you.
This is not a typical novel of Sunil series because the story does not move alongside the hero and there are many scenes which do not feature him. The journalist version of the hero is also not there. In addition to the hero, there are many significant characters in the novels who leave their impact no less in the story. Other than the human-beings, an ape is also an important character of the novel. But the most significant character, in my opinion, is a neutral one – Kaali Haveli itself, in other words, the character playing the title role. Kaali Haveli is a gargantuan structure which is more or less a fortress of the bygone era, containing basements as well as secret paths for entering and exiting it and also for moving into the minaret which is an integral part of it. The Haveli is the pivotal point of this novel and the sea in which it is situated, also plays an important role in the narrative.
The language used is as full of suspense as the story is. Since the author has not kept the novel as hero-centric and allowed all the living and the non-living characters to develop properly, the narrative engrosses the reader from the very first word and keeps him / her as hypnotized till the climax. If you are sick of the so-called horror movies, then better enter Kaali Haveli.
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