Maut Ki Aahat (footstep of death) is a murder mystery written in Hindi by well-known Hindi mystery writer Surendra Mohan Pathak which was first published in 1979. This novel is the 75th (diamond jubilee) venture of his press reporter hero – Sunil Kumar Chakravarty who is a committed journalist with a sensitive heart and who works full time for a national daily – Blast which is published from the fictitious metropolitan city of Rajnagar.The story of Maut Ki Aahat starts from a reference to a fatal accident of two cars which collided head-on in such a way that the driver of one car – Jagdish Sethi died on the spot whereas the driver of the other one – Sonia Khanna suffered severe injuries and she died in the hospital after oscillating between life and death for many hours. In the opening scene of the novel, it is known that Sonia who was struggling to survive, has finally passed away and now her husband – Naarayan Kumar Khanna has been overpowered by the grief of losing his wife who was pregnant, to such an extent that he has drunk a lot of liquor and is about to interrupt the cremation of Jagdish Sethi who was actually guilty for the accident that took place and led to the death of himself as well as Sonia.
In such a situation, Sonia’s aged mother makes a phone call to Sunil informing him about Sonia’s death and Naarayan Kumar’s reaction to it and then seeks his help to stop Naarayan Kumar from doing anything unreasonable and undesirable. Sunil rushes to the cremation ground amidst heavy rainfall by a car of Blast but cannot reach there because the car which was ahead of his car in the traffic suddenly moves in back gear and hits his. Before Sunil could do anything about it, he finds that a high-collar raincoat and hat wearing man comes out of the car (with his back towards Sunil and others) and moves away giving the excuse of getting medical help for the driver of his car who is injured. But then it is found that the driver of that car who was a lady, has been killed. Apparently the man who had come out of the car only has murdered the lady.
Quite naturally our crime reporter hero starts his quest for the murderer. His quest also covers this issue as to how could Jagdish Sethi do that accident when he was a skilled driver and not much drunk also at that moment. The victim lady is a nurse named Padmini who was employed in the clinic of Dr. Kailash Naath Khurana. Sunil meets several people in this regard including Dr. Kailash Naath, Padmini’s employer; Maadhav Rao, Padmini’s boyfriend; Zarina, Jagdish’s ex-wife; Sarla, Jagdish’s elder sister, Rajendra Naath, Jagdish’s brother-in-law; Sumitra, Jagdish’s step-grandmother (the grandfather of Jagdish and Sarla had married very young Sumitra in his advanced years); Deepak, Jagdish’s very close friend and a theatre artist; Roohi Paranjpye, the lady director of the play in which Deepak is going to act; Gulzaari Laal, a financier who had entered into a business deal with Jagdish regarding his inherited wealth and life insurance etc. The needle of Sunil’s suspicion moves from suspect to suspect and finally, he is able to unearth the mystery behind Padmini’s murder and unmask the murderer. Amidst his investigating endeavours, Sunil also admonishes Naarayan Kumar after mortifying him for his immature reaction to his wife’s demise and shows him the right path to move on in life.The novel is damn good but the plot of this four decades old murder mystery seems dated as it is based on an insurance fraud. Now-a-days, it is not that easy to commit insurance fraud of the kind as shown in this novel. Hence the plot appears to be out of sync with the contemporary scenario.
The novel has many pluses. It covers the black money issue also and underscores the significance of being an honest tax-payer. The novel also signifies that a modestly earning person need not be greedy and his integrity and honesty should not be suspected just because he is not well-off or high-earning.
This novel also pinpoints this fact that the price of every life is the same. Considering one life as more precious than the other (as we often see in real life) is incorrect. This fact is spelled out by Sunil when the issue of Sonia’s death is discussed with Sarla and Rajendra Naath in the office of a renowned advocate – Mr. Chatterjee who has filed a damage suit on the estate of Jagdish on behalf of Naarayan Kumar.
Another emphatic plus point of this novel is highlighting this fact that consuming liquor to forget one’s grief is futile. Sunil’s assertion to Naarayan Kumar is the highlight of this novel –‘Liquor consumption may make a happy person happier but it can by no means mitigate the grief of an aggrieved person. On the contrary, the feeling of grief intensifies in the intoxicated condition.’ The people who advocate drinking under the pretext of forgetting (or getting relief from) their grief actually deceive themselves, that’s the point of the author and his brain-child, i.e., Sunil. And mine too.
Like many other novels of this series, the author has highlighted this fact that Sunil is a committed journalist as well as a sensible and sensitive human-being. To reach the cremation ground in time, he snatches the brand new car of Blast from its driver and has to furnish an explanation to the owner and chief editor of Blast for that act of his. But the author has also highlighted this fact that an idealistic and committed journalist finally gets the affection and backing of his employer only. The owner and chief editor of Blast – Mr. B.K. Malik does not remain unhappy with Sunil once he comes to know the reason behind his act of snatching the car from its driver.
The story flows very well. The accident leading to the death of both Jagdish and Sonia has only been referred to in the novel and the story actually starts after that only. Once the murder of Padmini takes place, the story moves very fast alongwith the investigation of the hero and the climax arrives at the opportune point. In the end, everything gets logically connected to everything else and the novel ends on a satisfactory note.
The dialogues between different characters are impressive though the language used is simple Hindi only. Some humour has also been inserted through the interaction of Sunil with Roohi, the director of the play and also his conversation with his perennial love-hate buddy and the investigating officer of the case – Inspector Prabhu Dayaal.
Summing up, Maut Ki Aahat may not be a great novel, yet it is an engrossing murder mystery with some very useful lessons for life. No Hindi reader will repent after reading this diamond jubilee venture of the idealist hero known as Sunil Kumar Chakravarty.
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Excellent book review Jitendra ji.
Thanks Rekha Ji.
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