REVIEW

Book Review: Daylight Robbery

April 06, 2010
Aaman Lamba

Daylight Robbery is the second English translation from famed Hindi crime fiction author Surender Mohan Pathak's oeuvre by Blaft Publications, the Chennai-based publishing house whose other efforts include The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction and books of picture postcards from Bollywood.

This book is part of the popular series featuring the reluctant criminal mastermind Vimal. Originally published in 1980, reading the book is a lark and a blast from the past. Critical plot devices include a newfangled video cassette recorder and there are lamentations about the mediocre performance of the Janata Dal government, after the 'efficiencies' of the Emergency. Much has changed in India since then, especially in the smaller towns where the novel is set, but there is still a certain timelessness to the characters and their actions.

Dwarkanath, Kooka and Gangadhar hatch a nefarious plan to rob the payroll van of an Agra Steel Mill, the target being worth over Rs. 45 lakhs. They blackmail the security officer of the mill into unwilling compliance by preying on his gangster habit and need to satisfy the desires of his avaricious wife. Dwarkanath is the real mastermind of the plot, being a seasoned criminal and sharp judge of human nature. When their plot becomes hazardous and Gangadhar turns unwilling to carry out an important role, Dwarkanath ropes in Vimal, who is on the run from the police following his last bank robbery, from which he netted a mere Rs. 2000/-

Vimal, who has traditionally been blackmailed or threatened into complying with the criminal plots of others, and who subsequently ensures their just desserts, is surprised to find Dwarkanath offering him a choice and the chance for a fresh start. If Vimal participates in the robbery, he is promised plastic surgery. The relationship between the two develops along intricate lines, especially after the robbery goes somewhat awry and Dwarkanath develops heart complications. Vimal gets deeply embroiled into sorting out a new plot twist involving the lusty and greedy wife of the security officer, Shailaja.

The novel is well written, and the translation quite faithful, retaining vernacular idioms instead of choosing English equivalents. The book features reproductions of book covers of other Hindi crime thrillers. The character development and social commentary are good, as is the ultimate denouement, with a twist a page. One wishes the complete collection of Surender Pathak's books were available in English, although it appears a third is on the way.

Aaman Lamba is the Publisher of Desicritics.org, a Blogcritics network site. He also blogs, more infrequently nowadays, at Audit Trails Of Self
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