Gun-toting detectives, deadly dons, mystical tantriks and spunky women — there’s no mistaking the ingredients of a Surender Mohan Pathak novel. But to get your hands on one of the bestselling works by this doyen of Hindi pulp fiction, you’d probably have to head for the railway station.
Elbow your way past the passengers rushing to board the 2560 Up Shivganga Express, find the lone well-stocked bookseller, make yourself heard amid the clamour of chai garam and grab your copy. What if you don’t know Hindi and you’re still dying for a racy read, desi-ishtyle? Now, an English translation of a Pathak blockbuster
— the first for any Hindi pulp fiction writer — promises all the thrills, chills and kills of the original whodunit.
Painsath Lakh Ki Dakaiti — reborn as The Rs 65-lakh Heist — first came out in 1978. Since then, it has sold a phenomenal 3 lakh copies and had 15 reprints. It also introduced the “negative” hero — a genre that Bollywood made its own several years later.
With Dakaiti’s English translation hitting stores this month, Hindi pulp is set to go where it never has — onto the bookshelves of elite India. Long labelled lowbrow, these big sellers of small-town Hindustan have usually been printed on cheap paper (that’s how pulp gets its name) and sold for a song. Blaft Publications is set to change all that. “Pulp fiction in Indian languages is incredibly popular but no one has ever bothered to translate it,” says Rakesh Mohan of Blaft.
It is both fitting and ironic that the writer breaking the language barrier first hit the big time with his translations of James Hadley Chase novels. Pathak’s writing style — crisp, detail-oriented and fast-paced — suited the Chase translations so well that other publishers began marketing their own Hindi versions of Chase.
The irony isn’t lost on Pathak. “I didn’t think one day someone would be translating my book,” says the 69-year-old, who lives in east Delhi and pens — the old-fashioned way — about four novels a year, to add to his 268 novels. The genre seems to be big business — each print run earns Pathak Rs 4 lakh.
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