There was a time when crime ruled the roost in Hindi fiction, but that time is long gone. Ibn-e-Safi, Ved Prakash Kamboj, Col Bedi, Ved Prakash Sharma, and Surendra Mohan Pathak were, collectively, an institution in themselves. Surendra Mohan Pathak continues to be one for a certain generation, but the newer generation of readers have not experienced the thrill of crime fiction in Hindi.
In the past five years there have been sporadic ventures into crime writing, but it has essentially been seen as a genre better suited to the western world, where crime writing has moved into noir and beyond from simplistic whodunits and police procedurals.
It needed the Covid-19 pandemic threw up a new author in Hindi crime fiction writing. Sanjeev Paliwal, a well-known name in the world of television news, came up with his first novel, Naina, in 2020, and has followed it up with a second one this year, Pishach.
Pishach, meaning devil is in a way a sequel to the first book, and yet it is different. It takes the story forward, but independently of the first novel, and adds new aspects to it. What has been noteworthy is that within a month of its release the book has gone into a second print, which is a first for a book in Hindi today, and more so in the genre of crime in Hindi.
“I am surprised by the success and thrilled by it too,” said Paliwal. “I have been reading crime fiction forever; first in Hindi and then in English. One fine day I decided to write and it’s a marvel for me that Westland decided to publish it. The second book, Pishach, took a lot more effort and was more thought out. I feel I have honed my craft too.”
The novel is a roller coaster ride. A murder takes place, the investigation begins, and as soon as it seems that a clue is about to be found, another incident takes place, in a way that everything that has happened earlier is nullified. The writer manages to hold the interest of the reader and the suspense till the very end.
On the popularity of crime fiction in Hindi, Aditi Maheshwari Goyal, Executive Director, Vani Prakashan Group said, “We have been trying to promote Hindi crime fiction for a long time now. In 2016 we worked closely with the Crime Fiction Festival and were very well received with Vivek Agarwal’s novel Mumbhai. From the 1990s the genre took a nosedive in Hindi, but has seen an upswing in recent times as the need of the hour is to be both hyperlocal and hyper-global.”
Pishach seems to fulfil this criterion. One of the reasons for the phenomenal response to the book could stem from the fact that it is a very contemporary novel. The language is simple and straightforward, “You don’t have to keep referring to a dictionary and the issues that are raised are from our lives,” said Pratishtha Bhatia, a young reader who was all praise for the book.
“I wrote in the language that I write my television scripts in,” said Paliwal. “Highbrow language and this genre cannot go hand in hand.” According to critics the success of the novel is also owing to its entertainment value. It is a murder mystery that veers towards the thriller, with social issues like rape, child molestation, and the me too movement added.
“Books in Hindi are not written for entertainment but strive to achieve the status of high literature,” said Paliwal. “However, people are looking for entertainment. Pishach, I feel, fills that lacuna. I brought my world of television to the written word. The novel is about the television industry; all that goes on your screens and behind it.”
Award-winning writer Bhagwan Das Morwal said, “Sanjeev Paliwal knows that a fusion of reality, fantasy, fantasy and linguistic artistry can create a cocktail that you can’t get rid of for hours or days. He knows that his readership is young.”
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