Betrayal ! Nerve leprosy ! And a ghastly murder !

Khoon Se Ranga Chaaku (a bloodstained knife) is a very intricate murder mystery penned by eminent Hindi mystery writer Surendra Mohan Pathak. It’s a novel under his popular Sunil Series whose hero – Sunil Kumar Chakravarty is a Bengali youth working in the profession of investigative journalism. Living in a fictitious metropolitan city named as Rajnagar, Sunil is an employee of a national daily named as Blast. His employer Mr. B.K. Malik is affectionate to him just like a father but his immediate superior – Roy who is the news editor in Blast is almost always keen to boss over him albeit Sunil never bows before his bossism and more often than not leaves him as embarrassed after interaction with him.

This serial hero, first introduced by the author as early as in 1963, is a stylish character and believes in living the life king size instead of saving for future which is uncertain. He is all alone in life and almost all the assignments which he gets from either his immediate superior (Roy) or the owner of Blast (Mr. B.K. Malik) put him in a situation where he has to resolve a murder mystery. Khoon Se Ranga Chaaku pertains to one such assignment only which Sunil accepts from Roy after his usual teasing and word play with him.

Our journalist hero has to reach ‘Jal Mahal’ and obtain an interview from Deewan Ayodhya Prasad who is a big businessman and owner of Oriental Steamship Company. ‘Jal Mahal’ is his residence which is a very old building, actually a palace earlier belonging to a former prince, situated exactly on the sea-shore in an area known as North Shore which is around 25-30 miles far from Rajnagar. The background of the whole issue is a fraud which Deewan Ayodhya Prasad had allegedly committed with his three friends who were small businessmen, had become his partners by trusting him and had got ruined because of that fraud. Deewan Ayodhya Prasad had left India thereafter and has returned now after a few years because his the only daughter Divya has married a youth named as Anoop. The father has accepted his daughter’s decision and arranged a grand reception party at Jal Mahal to celebrate that. Since Divya is Sunil’s friend, he has got an invitation for that party and it may prove to be an occasion for him to get an interview from Deewan Saheb and get his clarification regarding the said fraud which had destroyed the lives of his friends because whether Deewan Saheb had actually betrayed his trusting friends or not, is still a mystery.

There is a cause of rift between Deewan Saheb and his brand new son-in-law Anoop. Anoop is in the line of bio-chemical research and working under the supervision and guidance of a renowned research scholar – Professor Bhatnagar who is trying to find remedies for many serious diseases including leprosy. However Deewan Saheb considers this as a useless exercise and wants his son-in-law (of an ordinary social status) to join his company as its manager. Anoop is, naturally, not at all interested in that and not ready to bow before the pressure of his father-in-law. Deepa is standing by him.

A few more colorful characters are there in the picture. The present assistant manager of Deewan Saheb’s company – Dushyant is ambitious of becoming company’s manager himself and is wary of the hypothetical situation that Anoop will become manager and thereby, his boss. He is also having a clandestine affair with Shobha who is widower Deewan Saheb’s girlfriend and is likely to get married to him soon. Shobha’s brother Abhishek is Deewan Saheb’s private secretary and through him only, Shobha has come to know that Deewan Saheb has hired the services of a private detective agency to check her fidelity to him. The accountant of Deewan Saheb’s company – Prakash is a habitual gambler and has embezzled company’s cash for this purpose. Now the sword of getting exposed before Deewan Saheb is hanging over his neck. All the servants of the household come to Jal Mahal from a colony of fishermen a little away from there.

When Sunil reaches Jal Mahal, he comes to know one more very interesting fact. Deewan Saheb (out of his generosity or penitence or the like wise) has rehabilitated one of his erstwhile partners and the family of another such one in Jal Mahal itself. One partner is now the caretaker (actually, the watchman) of Jal Mahal whereas the widow of another such partner has become the housekeeper there and living there itself alongwith her younger son, the elder son having left the place and gone to somewhere else a couple of years back. The whereabouts of the third partner are not known.

Since this is a murder mystery, the reader can guess as to who can be the murder victim. Deewan Ayodhya Prasad, of course ! Now the quest for the murderer begins by our journalist hero on one hand and by the investigating officer of police – Inspector Prabhu Dayal on the other. Inspector Prabhu Dayal is from the homicide department of Rajnagar police and he is the perennial love-hate buddy of our hero. The murder has taken place in a ghastly manner. The killer had cut the throat of the victim when he was in his study and sitting on his chair. However just at that time, Divya had heard a scream and when rushed to the study of his father, she had stumbled upon somebody lying unconscious on the floor (because there was darkness in the study at that time). All of a sudden, she had felt something like a knife in the hand of that person which was (as she had felt) blood stained. This must be a very important clue but when coming back to senses, Divya has not found any blood (or anything else) on her hands. Sunil finds a special kind of coin in the study and comes to know from Professor Bhatnagar that such coins are used in the leper colony by its residents (that is, the lepers). He also comes to know a special kind of leprosy known as nerve leprosy in which the leper’s body does not show any white stains (like the usual lepers) but there are some other symptoms for such ailment. There is a possibility that the said unconscious person (whom Divya had stumbled upon) was suffering from nerve leprosy.

As it has to be, the mystery is resolved in the end by our hero and the culprit is caught but the part between the murder and the unmasking of the murderer is damn interesting. Twists after twists, clues after clues and steps after steps of the two-pronged investigation make a fast-paced and engrossing read for the reader. One more murder takes place during the course of the investigation and the suspense deepens after every succeeding scene of the narrative. The novel has the capability to keep the reader as hooked till the very end.

Barring the humorous interaction between our hero and his immediate superior in the opening scene, there is nothing in this novel which is not linked to the main story. The mystery is intricate and the author has not wasted any pages in telling superfluous things. The build-up takes its time but once the murder happens, the narrative moves in fast speed and does not give the liberty to the reader to leave the novel in-between.

I can’t say anything regarding the source of the basic grains of the story but the skilled Hindi author has lived upto his reputation. Usually, Sunil’s friend Ramakant, his junior reporter Arjun and the receptionist of Blast – Renu also remain present in the novels of this series and entertain the reader in their own specific manners but all three of them have been spared in this novel. That’s why I have asserted supra that the author has abstained from including superfluous things in the narrative. And he has shown better sense thereby. Considering the vast canvas of the story and the long list of suspects, this long novel does not appear to be long when read. The language used is simple Hindi. So anybody who can read and understand even a little bit of Hindi, can enjoy it to the full.

Through the characters of Anoop and Divya, the author has underscored the significance of trust between a husband and a wife. This relationship is a peculiar one and contains the level of proximity which is absent in other male-female relationships. The author has, in many of his novels, highlighted the importance of mutual trust and understanding between married people and this novel also falls in that league. A couple can remain a couple only when both the partners understand each other properly and try to see the things from the other’s perspective also and not just in his/her one-sided manner.

The layout and geography of Jal Mahal is another intriguing aspect of the narrative. We have heard of the palaces of the bygone era having peculiar layouts including trap-doors also. Jal Mahal is one such building only. Moreover it’s been shown as situated right on the sea-shore which further enhances the suspense-soaked environment present in the novel.

Overall, Khoon Se Ranga Chaaku is a very good murder mystery which enthralls every mystery fan who reads it. First published in 1983, this novel does not appear to be stale from any angle. Today’s generation can extract the same level of entertainment from it as the yesterday’s generation could.

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
This entry was posted in Book Review and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Betrayal ! Nerve leprosy ! And a ghastly murder !

  1. Great write up. It invokes the interest of the reader in the Novel. Will read it in near future.

  2. birindersethi says:

    Hi Mathur sahab !
    Very good review as usual. I am also loving your video blog. Do post more of those

  3. gc1963 says:

    After a long time….kudos

  4. xhobdo says:

    Beautifully written, Welcome Back.
    Keep sharing 🙂

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