I must have been in Class 7 when I read my first Hindi pulp fiction. It was a novel named Sile Huye Honth (Sewn Lips). The hero of the novel was Major Balwant who was a private detective and I had smuggled the thin book out of Dad's trunk of books. It was supposed to be out of my reach but I managed to get it out. So, I had to turn criminal to get to read my first Hindi detective novel. The name of the author was Colonel Ranjit but I didn't know that it was the pen name of Maqbool Jallandhry. I don't remember the names of the members of Balwant's team. But I remember that he had a dog whose name was Crocodile.
The other thing I remember very well is about the monthly newspaper bill. There was this book stall near the bus stand from where I used to take a bus on my way back from school. Our household newspaper used to come from there. At the beginning of a month, Dad or Mom would settle the bill for the previous month - which would be roughly 100 to 120. But the next month, the monthly bill had increased by ₹400 or so. And I had to plead with Mom to pay off the bill without raising any alarms.
You must have already made a guess. So, it was still the days when a Hindi pulp novel was priced at most at ₹20. It was very rarely that one of those cost ₹25. And I had managed to raise a bill of ₹400.
Before talking about the Hindi pulp novels, there's one curious fact you should know. Though they are popularly known as pocket books, so much so that most publishers have Pocket Book in their name, apart from that first book I had never found any Hindi pulp novel that really fits into my pocket. Though the dimensions are almost pocket-sized, the thickness are out of pocket.
So, who were the authors whose novels were inflating the newspaper bill?
There was Ved Prakash Sharma. He had his Vijay-Vikaas series – which can be broadly called spy novels though there were some extra-terrestrial stuff now and then. Those were mostly patriotic works. See the names of some of the novels from this series: Maati Mere Desh Ki (Soil of My Country), Tiranga Jhukega Nahi (The Tricolor Will Never Bow). The best thing in the Vijay-Vikaas novels were the silly banter that Vijay indulges in to hide his real intentions. Those were some of the funniest monologues I have read. But his crime novels were something else altogether. Some of them has created records in Hindi pulp novel history. One of his crime novels Vardi Wala Gunda (Goons in Uniform) created sales history on the first day of release. If I remember correctly, his novel Wo
Saala Khaddarwala (That Darn Politician) was
priced at ₹50. It was the first Hindi pulp novel to be priced so high. As I
said before, Ved Prakash Sharma had created lots of milestone in the pulp novel
history. Those of you who are Bollywood fan may or may not know that the Akshay
Kumar hit movie Sabse Bada
Khiladi was based on Sharma’s
novel Lallu. There were
few other movies too that were either written by Sharma or based on his novels;
the ones I can remember include the movie Bahu
Maange Insaaf (based on the
novel of the same name) and another Akshay Kumar movie International Khiladi. Some of
his crime or thriller novels include Raam Baan, Kaarigaar, Qateel Ho To Aisa,
Shaakahari Khanjaar. It is impossible for me to recall the names of all the
thrillers, crime or spy novels written by Ved Prakash Sharma.
The next name I am going to mention is the most recognized name of all Hindi crime, thriller, detective novel writers: Surendra Mohan Pathak. His novels are getting translated into English. They are widely popular. Let me try to recall all the series Pathak writes: Vimaal series, Jeet Singh series, Sunil series, Sudheer series. These are the ones I have read. But there are many more series he regularly writes. There are also non-series thrillers coming from his pen all the time. One of the things I remember is that he used to have very informative forewords for his novels: the forewords talked about detective literature from other corners of the world.
One thriller writer that keeps coming up in my mind is Tiger. I don’t remember many of his novels though I am sure I have read a lot. I remember only two of his novels. The first one is: Mujhe Janm Do (Give Me Birth). There are two reasons I remember this. First, the ways the different murders were executed. In one instance, a doctor in the operation theatre is forced to commit suicide. In another murder, the barrel of a pistol is manipulated to make a close shot look like a long-distance shot. But more strikingly, the thriller was based on illegal abortions of female foetuses. It was an issue that hit me hard. The other novel of Tiger that I remember is Teesri Kaun (Who is the Third One). Again, there are two reasons for remembering the novel. One is a scene towards the beginning of the novel – when few female friends meet at the home of a friend to celebrate the birthday of the latter. During the night, one of the friends get killed. When police come to investigate, in different rooms of the building they discover a horde of killing equipment – revolver, knife, poison etc. It was like a get-together of killers trying to kill each other. It was a fantastic scene. Then, there was the killer – the third person of the title; she never lies but the police are unable to identify her till the very end. There was another novel by Tiger: 13 Saal Ki Budhiya (Old Woman of 13 years); it not just dealt with corruption in the country but also had few horrific descriptions of child prostitution. I could never forget that horror. Tiger was also really adept in creating remarkable characters.
Among the other Hindi thriller writers I was reading, I can only recall Raj, who was quite popular at that time. But I can’t remember much about his novels except the name of one thriller: Miss India Hatyakand (The Murders of Miss India).
Even though I was quite hung up on these pulp novels, I stopped reading one writer after another. The reason was quite simple. I started finding the blatant plagiarism in most of the novels I was reading. In the case of one writer, I found plots stolen from Hollywood movies including Minority Report, Paycheck, and so on. In the novels of another popular author, I saw plots lifted from Perry Mason novels and served with minor variations to Indianize it. So, that was that. The end of my affair with Hindi pulp fiction. Maybe not all of their novels have stolen plots. But after finding these dark origins of the novels of some of the authors, I just lost interest in reading any of the authors any more.
Some years later I got lucky because some of the novels of Ibn-e-Safi were translated and published in Hindi, and I became a fan of this long dead writer. His were very short books but they were great reads.