In my review of an old Bollywood movie – Jhuk Gaya Aasman (1968), I had written that entertainment products whether they are movies, theatre-plays or fiction-books, have to be prepared like spicy dishes with all the spices mixed in the right proportion. Since most of the books, plays and movies are created for the commercial purposes only, they are bound to be entertainment-oriented. The way Bollywood movies are made by using certain tried and tested formulae to entertain the typical audience, the same way pulp-fiction books (i.e., novels) in India have always been written by using a mix of certain formulae to render a similar type of entertainment to the reader who wants to have a nice timepass. However, like movies or plays, in written fiction-work too, the regular formulas are to be mixed in the right proportion so that the dish prepared for consumption is neither too peppery nor too salty nor too sweet nor too acrid for the consumer, it’s perfectly spicy and delicious for him / her. The regular formulas for such books are also like the movies – comedy, romance, sentiments, a bit of suspense etc. (only music cannot be there in the books). The author who is able to mix all these formulas in the optimum proportion, only succeeds in serving an interesting novel to the reader which renders a feeling of satisfaction to him / her after the very last word of it has been read.Hindi novel – Jhaansa penned by Surendra Mohan Pathak lives up to it. It’s such an entertaining novel that I have read it dozens of times and yet whenever I feel myself in low spirits or a bit dull, I pick it up and start reading it. It’s a brilliant mix of all the entertainment formulae as spelled out above in the opening para of this review and despite involving a murder mystery, can be re-read many times after the first reading.
Jhaansa (con / decoy / thuggery) is the story of Ranjeet Mahajan who is a businessman and heads a company dealing in antiques. He resigns from that post on health grounds only to find that the mother and brother of his deceased wife – Vasundhara have captured the company courtesy the misleading will of his deceased wife who, under her naiveness, has given whatever she possessed to her mother and brother only, including the share of her husband in the company. Now the non-deserving brother-in-law of Ranjeet Mahajan – Bhupendra becomes the managing director of the company and a conman – Manoj Purvaar and a crooked lawyer – Madhup Toshniwaal also get opportunity to fill their pockets in collusion with him by digging the roots of the company which had risen and developed due to the sincere efforts of Mahajan only. Bhupendra alongwith his equally unscrupulous mother – Leelavati and his wicked companions is always conspiring against Mahajan whose health is deteriorating day-by-day.
Now an old friend of Mahajan – Mansukh Kedia comes to his rescue. Kedia is as old as Mahajan (54 years) and not so well off like him but their friendship is decades old and unbreakable. He shifts Mahajan from the city to a calm place called Sunderban which is in natural environment and there too, he lives with Mahajan not in the big house (called – Kothi) but in a small cottage outside it which is studded with beautiful and fragrant flowers. Kedia himself takes care of Mahajan with the help of a very sincere and kind live-in nurse – Bhaavna Sood and an equally sincere family doctor – Puneet Paahwa. One more sincere well-wisher of Mahajan, a Goa-ni lady – Sophia Donato comes to live there and starts doing the duty of housekeeper, managing his household at Sunderban with proficiency. She lives there alongwith her husband – Frankie Donato who is a conman and her young daughter – Alisha who is through her ex-husband.
However the wicked ones come to live there also. They live in the Kothi whereas the real owner of that place – Mahajan lives in the outside cottage alongwith his friend Kedia. A young girl – Deeksha Bhatnagar comes in the life of Kedia and he who has earlier not married, falls for her charms and decides to marry her. Mahajan smells some conspiracy in Deeksha’s entering Kedia’s life and feels that she is the agent of the conspirators who want to separate Kedia from him so that he falls lonely.
Now comes our hero – Sunil Kumar Chakravarty into picture who is the chief reporter of a national daily – Blast. His employer – Mr. B.K. Malik (who treats him not as his employee but like his real son) instructs him to help Mahajan who is being legally trapped by his mother-in-law, son-in-law and the crooked lawyer – Madhup Toshniwaal. They are conspiring as such against him that he may be arrested under the charge of doing a fraud with the company he was earlier heading (prior to his brother-in-law’s ascending to the post of its M.D.). Sunil reaches Sunderban and meets all the people to take stock of the things. He does so on the Republic Day of India (26th January) which is the starting day of this story. He seeks advice of an elderly but dead honest lawyer – Mr. Chatterjee who is also a father-figure to him, to help Mahajan. However the same day, there occurs an incident of poisoning in that household affecting Leelavati and Bhupendra and thereafter an incident of shooting as well in the calmness of night. Coming to know of all these things, Sunil reaches Mahajan’s residence again the next day, this time with his close friend – Ramakant. However again there is a poisoning incident which grips Mahajan, Sunil and Ramakant. Mahajan is taken to a hospital by Kedia but before he could be shifted from Kedia’s house-trailer (which is always attached to his old jeep) to the hospital-bed, someone shoots him dead in that house-trailer itself. After his death, a will is found in which he has appointed Sunil as the executor of his will. Amidst all these developments, Sunil himself also finds as trapped in the charge of making a forgery on Mahajan’s share-certificate (pertaining to his ownership in the company). However, being our hero, he is not only able to save himself but also able to expose the murderer of Mahajan as well as the total conspiracy going on against him.
The total timeline of this novel lasts for three days only – 26th January to 28th January. Events take place at a fast pace covering several things – romance, friendship, sentiments, conning, corporate functioning and a murder as well. The mystery of the murder is less engrossing but the mystery of two wills – one of Mahajan’s late wife and another of Mahajan himself is more engrossing. I did not find the resolution of the murder mystery as very convincing. However the novel is highly interesting and so much engrossing that the first time reader should finish it in a single sitting only to enjoy it to the full.
The highlight of this novel is the colourful character of Frankie Donato, the conman who cheats people by faking his second persona – Johnny (like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and imposing all his misdeeds on so-called Johnny. Interestingly, Sunil learns from him only how to trick others to expose the total conspiracy against Mahaajan.
By showing Ranjeet Mahajan as financially helping his friend – Mansukh Kedia without hurting his self-respect, the author has highlighted that just helping someone is not enough, if you are the needy person’s friend / well-wisher, you should protect his self-respect also. It’s no less important than extending your helping-hand.
The novel deals with corporate functioning also and enlightens how corporate laws and rules can be used by the cunning ones to settle personal scores.
The novel contains romantic angles also. I personally like the character of the beautiful live-in nurse – Bhaavna Sood very much who loves Dr. Puneet Paahwa so much that she is ready to take on anybody for the sake of his comfort and welfare. In the ending scene, the author has rendered unprecedented heights to the character of Deeksha Bhatnagar also who was a vamp in the eyes of Mahajan but finally, turns out to be the genuine lover of his friend – Kedia.
The character of the sympathetic housekeeper – Sophia Donato who had closed her Goa-ni restaurant in Rajnagar only to take care of Mahaajan as well as her daughter – Alisha who is in a dilemma as to whether to ditch her mother for the sake of marrying Manoj Purvaar or not, are also no less effective.
Sunil’s jolly-nature friend – Ramakant is there to make the reader laugh time and again. Sunil’s junior reporter – Arjun, Ramakant’s trusted lieutenant – Jauhari, Sunil’s employer – Mr. Malik, his well-wisher Mr. Chatterjee who is an honest aged lawyer, his teasing friend – Renu who happens to be the receptionist in the newspaper’s office, Sunil’s perennial love-hate buddy – police inspector Prabhu Dayaal, the in-charge of the local police chowki – Kirparam etc. are also there to make their presence felt. In fact, this novel has a plethora of characters with everybody having an identity of his / her own and creating an impact on the reader in his / her own way.
The language of the novel is simple, yet spicy. It keeps on amusing the reader from beginning to end and as I have said earlier, it contains all the entertainment-formulas mixed in the perfect ratio. This 17 years old (published in 2002) novel is a very big treat for the lovers of Hindi-fiction which not only entertains but also underscores the virtues of life.
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