Hindi novelist Surendra Mohan Pathak created a hero, Sunil Kumar Chakravarty in the world of pulp fiction during the early sixties. This youth is an investigative reporter by profession and works for a national daily, Blast in the fictitious city of Rajnagar. In most of his adventures, Sunil has come before the readers as a journalist only. However Mr. Pathak has also written certain novels during the sixties and the seventies in which this hero appears in a different persona. In these novels, Mr. Pathak has shown that Sunil, other than being a full time reporter, works stealthily for a Govt. of India department – Special Intelligence (mentioned as a branch of Central Investigation Bureau) and reports to its Director, Colonel Mukherjee. In this form, Sunil is not a reporter but a spy whose reality is known to only Colonel Mukherjee and some of his colleagues in the department who also pursue different professions as cover for their identity as spies working for the Govt. of India.
Operation Peking is one such novel of Sunil which had been written by Mr. Pathak in 1970. In those days, the capital of China was not called Beijing. Then it was called Peking. That’s why this novel containing Sunil’s activities in that city carries the title – ‘Operation Peking’ (and not ‘Operation Beijing’). The tension presently going on on Indo-China border, reminisced me about this small but highly impressive novel. Operation Peking begins with the new year eve celebration in Youth Club (a night club run by Sunil’s friend, Ramakant) where Colonel Mukherjee spots Sunil and thereafter while talking in the running car, assigns him the mission called ‘Operation Peking’. The mission is to kill an informer, Marc Harrison in Peking. Marc Harrison is a Britisher living in Peking who supplies useful information to the Indian Intelligence for money but due to his own negligence, he has made himself suspicious in the eyes of the Chinese police. If he is caught, it is quite probable that he will speak out the names of certain other people associated with the Indian Intelligence among whom the main person is a young lady, Azra Gamaal who is apparently an Arabian ballet dancer but actually a trusted and efficient agent of the Indian Intelligence. Hence to protect the Indian spying network in China, it is mandatory to eliminate Marc Harrison. Sunil reaches China with this single point mission only but situations take such a turn that he has to flee from there alongwith Marc Harrison and Azra Gamaal. The Chinese are after them. They seek the help of Chen Piao who is known to Azra Gamaal due to the anti-communism based relationship of their late fathers. Things do not move according to their plan and as the chain of events proceeds further and further, their difficulties also increase. Chen Piao, his wife and Marc Harrison get killed while trying to flee from China but Sunil, alongwith Azra, is able to cross the Indo-China border through such a dangerous route that none could imagine to use.Operation Peking is a very small novel because then (during the sixties and the seventies), lengthy novels were not written in India in the field of pocket books. But the story has been written on a very large canvas and keeps the reader spellbound right from the beginning to the end. As the narrative progresses, the pace of the things taking place in the story also increases, providing a breathtaking reading to the reader. The final phase of the novel is just superb. Without going into the issue of the originality of the story idea, let me praise Mr. Pathak wholeheartedly for penning such a brilliant spying novel.
In addition to thrill, Mr. Pathak has, like always, inserted certain emotions too in the novel. In the penultimate scene, the Chinese agent, Chiang Lu gets an opportunity to kill Sunil sleeping on the Indian side of the Indo-China border but his conscience does not allow him to kill his brave Indian counterpart in that cowardly fashion after his daredevil escape from China. The thoughts passing through the mind of Chiang Lu at that moment are able to move the reader deep within.
Mr. Pathak has always been able to narrate the relevant places whether of India or abroad, in his novels in a very lively manner. Operation Peking is no exception. The different locations of China have been described quite realistically and emphatically in the novel. The language used (Hindi) is simple but impressive.
All in all, this half a century old novel which has not been republished for a pretty long period, provides a mesmerizing reading to the readers of spy fiction. This small novel is leagues ahead of several excessively long overhyped novels which have become bestsellers due to hype only.
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