The murderous Diwali night
Diwali is the biggest festival of the Hindu community worldwide. Lord Raam is supposed to have arrived at his kingdom - Ayodhya back after an exile of 14 years in forests on this day and hence this festival, the Festival of Lamps, is celebrated. Devi Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth is worshipped in the households as well as the business establishments, earthen lamps are lit, crackers are fired and sweets are consumed. The shine of this grand festival is mainly at night when the lighted up houses, streets, roads and gardens blow away the darnkess prevailing in the cities and the villages alike. Hence the Diwali night is expected to be a symbol of joy, hope and optimism. However what to say when a murder takes place during this night and going one step further in this negative direction, how will you react when that murder takes place at your own residence without your knowledge ? You are out of your home in this auspicious night searching for a particular person and when you are back, you find yourself as stunned like anything to see that very person as murdered in the drawing-room of your flat.
Well, that's the plot of this highly interesting and intriguing Hindi novel of Surendra Mohan Pathak. It's the 97th venture of his journalist hero, Sunil Kumar Chakravarty. Diwali Ki Raat (the Diwali night) starts with Sunil's finding a wounded girl in a nearby street when the festival is in its full bloom at this night. He takes her to his flat, administers first-aid to her and asks her to take rest in the bedroom while he is out of his flat. The reason for his going out is to search Ramesh Khurana who is the brat of a famous scientist, Jagdev Khurana and it is known that Jagdev Khurana has invented a very important formula related to petrol which may bring enormous fame and money to him. However Ramesh, unlike his father, is good for nothing and he has borrowed money from several people in the city (the fictitious city of Rajnagar which Surendra Mohan Pathak has created for the novels of this series). Hence, just like Sunil, several people (who have lent money to him) are after him (to realize their debts). Sunil happens to meet his fellow-professionals (journalists) viz. Roopa Gupta, Darshan Bajaaj, Niranjan Bhagat etc. while looking for Ramesh. He had kept one key of the main door of his flat under the doormat outside it for the purpose of his junior, Arjun who wanted to arrange a gambling-sitting there during this night (Gambling, though illegal in India, is considered as auspicious by many people in the Diwali night).
The story takes off when Sunil returns to his flat to take care of the wounded girl whom he had left there. To his utter shock, he finds Ramesh Khurana there as murdered in the drawing-room itself whereas the wounded girl is now missing from the flat. Now starts the investigation of our hero. He happens to obtain the services of a jolly taxi-driver to go at different places. The taxi-driver possesses a Shaayarana nature and keeps on uttering SHERs (Urdu couplets). He gladly calls himself as Dev Anand (because he is a fan of the stylish Indian cine-hero, Dev Anand). While Sunil's investigation of the murder as well as the search of the wounded girl who has gone missing, goes on; two more murders take place. One is of Sunil's fellow-professional, Niranjan Bhagat and the other one is of Ramesh Khurana's scientist father, Jagdev Khurana. The most intriguing thing regarding Jagdev Khurana's murder is that the murderer had thrown acid into the eyes of his dead body after killing him. The activities of a rich girl, Natasha who wants to be friendly with Sunil and has given him a wristwatch in gift (kept in his flat when he was out) are also suspicious in this regard. Ditto for a seemingly meek boyfriend of hers. Besides, a hardcore terrorist, Manjeet Raina is also in the picture of this very very intricate case and a stranger having the personality akin to that of a skeleton (referred to as Kankaal) is supposed to have witnessed something significant in this regard. Finally, Sunil is able to unearth the complete mystery and catch the culprit of these three murders.
Diwali Ki Raat is a novel of Sunil series in which his jolly friend, Ramakant Malhotra is absent. Normally, it's Ramakant who provides humour in the novels of this series. However in this novel, despite his absence, there is no dearth of humour for the readers. This time, the humour has been generated mainly by the Shaayarana taxi-driver, Dev Anand. The teasings between Sunil and his rival lady journalist, Roopa Gupta are also quite comic and add to the humour quotient of the novel. Sunil's perennial love-hate buddy, police inspector Prabhu Dayaal is also there to leave his impact. And a cat is also a significant character of this story from the beginning sequence to the very end.
The mystery is enmeshed like a spider's web but the seasoned author has explained everything quite logically in the end. No unanswered questions or untied loose ends have been left and the reader gets complete satisfaction after reading the last word of the novel. Written in an impressive language, the novel is studded with interesting incidents. The mystery is spellbinding and I will salute the reader who is able to leave this novel in-between. Once you are in, you are bound to complete it in one sitting only, holding your breath and guessing about the probable murderer. The author has left clues at many places but it's extremely difficult for the reader to identify the murderer.
Surendra Mohan Pathak has deep knowledge of poetry and Shaayari which he has used quite skilfully in many of his novels. Diwali Ki Raat is one such novel only in which Shaayari has been used to create humour for the reader. This Shaayari alongwith the comic teasings of Sunil and Roopa maintains the balance in the narrative and keeps the reader as completely engrossed. Reading this novel is akin to watching a highly entertaining movie in which every element is in the optimum proportion. Despite the fact that this novel was first published in 1989, the story does not appear to be stale from any angle. It is as entertaining today as it was 23 years ago.
I wholeheartedly recommend this novel to the Hindi readers who enjoy murder-mysteries.