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‘I am like a sweetshop owner’: an interview with Surender Mohan Pathak

By April 2, 2018No Comments

Source : The Hindu

India’s highest-selling crime writer on his long innings in Hindi noveldom


Surender Mohan Pathak is India’s highest-selling crime writer, with 298 Hindi novels to his name. Pathak’s most loved novels come from the Vimal series, whose hero Sardar Surendra Singh Sohal is a gangster with a conscience. Published in 1970, his novel Paisath Lakh Ki Dakaiti (The Sixty-Five Lakh Heist) was a blockbuster that has sold about 2,50,000 copies till date. Na Bairi Na Koi Begana, the first part of his three-volume autobiography, was recently published by Amazon-Westland. Excerpts from an interview:

What led up to the publication of your first novel Puraane Gunaah Naye Gunahgaar in 1963? What made you begin your career as a crime-fiction writer?

I was already a short-story writer when my first novel was published. By that time I had written about 20 mystery stories in four years and an earlier one, titled 57 Saal Purana Aadmi (A Man 57 Years Old), was published in Manohar Kahaniyan, a famous story magazine of those times published from Allahabad. The story drew the attention of many. One of them was Om Prakash Sharma, who at that time wrote a mystery novel every month for a Delhi publication named Jasoos. I met him through a mutual friend and he was the one who prompted me to try my hand at writing a mystery novel, which I did. It was through his efforts that I got my first novel published in Neelam Jasoos, a monthly publication that came out of Delhi. From then onwards I struggled for no less than 20 years and finally arrived.

You are known for your ability to create believable and fascinating heroes, like Sunil, Vimal, Jeet Singh, the philosopher detective Sudhir Kohli, who keep on solving one mystery after the other. From where do you get your insights for these characters?

Well, variety is the spice of life. Mine is a very competitive trade. To keep myself in the race, I have to utilise different principal characters of different moods and styles of functioning. Sunil is as different from Sudhir as white from black. Sunil is an ideal young man, a public-spirited do-gooder, a philanthropist, while Sudhir is a selfish, loud, outspoken, whisky-guzzling womaniser.

I created all these characters to save my long, long innings of writing from monotony. I am like a sweetshop owner — halwai — who does not make only one sweet. If my jalebi doesn’t sell well, I make imarti; if I find the customers’ fascination for it dwindling, I make barfi and so on. And don’t forget, a halwaidoesn’t make sweets for himself. The case is the same with me; I don’t write novels for myself. For me a reader is a consumer for whom my novel is a toothpaste or a soap or a mithai.

I don’t look for insights while creating a new pivotal character. It comes to me automatically. All I have to do is to keep my eyes and ears open. Then some unknown, unforeseen power too helps, my good fortune helps, and life goes on.

The world of Hindi literature has always had a rather flawed opinion of Hindi crime-writing. But the young generation of readers is now celebrating you. Literature festivals are also holding discourses on crime-writing. Do you feel that this genre is now finally getting its due?

Literary festivals’ so-called profound discourses on crime writing are all reserved for those writing in English. Even a first-time crime fiction writer in English is an honoured invitee to such festivals, but not a Hindi writer who is his equal. You may call me the sole exception in this regard and that too because my books are published by international publishers like HarperCollins and Westland.

For 50 long years I wrote similar books for desi publishers and no festival organiser ever acknowledged my existence. This is discrimination not towards me but towards Hindi.

I am the sole survivor of this trade and that too because I had sense enough to diversify. I enjoy a huge fan-following in the Hindi belt of India. My very existence in this trade is due to my diehard fans, who energise me with their enthusiasm.

Every new novel of yours has your responses to your readers, where you even graciously apologise for errors that you may have made in your last publication. Is that really necessary for a writer of your stature?

Yes, it is very necessary, at least for me. I am proud to say that many of my readers are more intelligent, more learned than I am. They are doctors, engineers, lawyers, police officers, educationists, civil servants, research scholars and when they inform me that I have erred in a particular place, they do so with authority.

I would be stupid not to pay attention to it. It helps me correct my mistakes in the next edition of the book. The prefaces to my every novel have become so famous that my readers won’t accept a novel by me that doesn’t have the preface popularly called ‘Lekhkiye’. Through my prefaces I love being in dialogue with my readers.

You begin Na Bairi Na Koi Begana with Samuel Goldwin’s quote, “I don’t think anyone should write their autobiography until after they’re dead.” And yet you go on to write a three-part autobiography…

Sam Goldwin’s quote is in a lighter vein which suggests that writing a bio in one’s lifetime is a short-cut to inviting trouble. I fully agree with it. Writing a bio is the easiest way to turn friends and relatives into enemies. In the beginning I got many warnings from my family. I myself felt the dilemma at every step as the writing progressed. I had many apprehensions but I had to overcome them if I were to write an honest account of my sinful life.

What’s lying on your writing table for the next six months?

Presently, I am on a bilingual novel of the Sunil series. Later, I will be preparing for a three-part Vimal novel.


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