You started writing by writing short stories and your first story '57 saal purana admi' was published by ‘Manohar Kahaniyan’ one of famous Hindi magazine in 1959. So, what inspired you to write? How does writing become your passion?

In my younger years I used to read a lot and my preference in reading primarily was mystery stories which were published in abundance in fifties of the last century and such full-length novels were priced as low as 8 Annas i.e. 50 Paisa. I read so much that one fine morning I felt like trying my hand on mystery writing myself. I wrote some short stories, each one of which was published with another author’s novel as he could not make the quorum call of the pages the publisher had set for him. So, initially as a filler my short stories used to be published which were not even properly noticed by the readers, so much so that most of the readers stopped reading the book the moment the main novel came to an end and many even didn’t know that there was a short story ahead by some other author.

Frustrated by this neglect, I very meticulously wrote a considerably long short mystery story with an element of supernatural and sent it to ‘Manohar Kahaniyan’, a monthly magazine published from Allahabad then the most famous one of this genre. I was told that even if the story was approved there, the publication of the same could happen only after 6-7 months. But to my surprise my story was published in the very next issue of the magazine and so my first story ’57 saal purana admi’ came into existence through a magazine of national acclaim and I got noticed. Encouraged by that I stopped writing stories as fillers to other authors novels and started sending my stories to the magazines of repute. And so, I got a dozen stories published in magazines like Nai Sadi, Filmi Duniya, Niharika etc. Then l was prompted by a senior writer known to me to write a full-length mystery novel which he promised to get published and did, too. So, in year 1963 my first whodunit novel ‘purane gunah naye gunahgaar’ was published. Then after some teething trouble of a year and a half, the ball started rolling and is rolling till date.

How and when writing became my passion, I cannot pinpoint at this age. But happen it did as I cannot imagine myself without writing and reading. Munshi Prem Chand once said – ‘The day I don’t write, I don’t find myself entitled to my meals’ (जिस दिन मैं लिखता नहीं, उस दिन मैं अपने आप को रोटी खाने का हक़दार नहीं मानता). Well, I am not bestowed with as fertile a mind as that of great Prem Chand but this much I can still claim that the day I don’t read and write, I feel guilty, I take it as a day wasted out of the little life that is left for me to live.

2.You have written 300 Novels so far. What keeps you going? Your 85th book ‘khoon ke aansu’ was a big hit. Was that the turning point which motivated to write further?

First, a couple of corrections to this question of yours. By far I have written 300 books – all published and reprinted several times – but all are not novels. Out of 300, 26 are joke books, two novellas for kids, and an edited book of ‘world famous mystery stories’. Secondly, ‘Khoon ke aansu’ was my 146th published book and not 85th as stated in the question and was first published in year 1984 when I had already put up 21 years in whodunits writing. Till then I was just an also ran in this trade. “Khoon ke aansu’ was the fourth and concluding part of a four-part-novel and it took the trade by storm. All of a sudden, I found every single publisher of pocket book trade lining up at my house on Sunday mornings as I was in government employment then and was available at my house only on Sundays. I of course could not cater to all the publishers and I would have been a wiser person had I tagged along with the highest bidder for my script. But alas, I was dumb enough not to do so and stupid enough to continue writing for the same thankless, cunning, designing, unappreciative, publisher who published ‘khoon ke aansu’ and for years to come he milked me till I reached my breaking point.

My novel ‘khoon ke aansu’ sure was a turning point in my career as a mystery writer in terms of the popularity but I needed no proverbial motivation because I always was an honest penman at my work and wrote every novel of mine with equal zeal, enthusiasm and attention. The honest labour never goes to waste and it didn’t. I am committed to give my best to my readers and I am doing so till date. I have never short-changed, never wrote a piece in hurry to encash it. The result was that the immense success of ‘khoon ke aansu’ earned me a committed readership which made all my forthcoming novels a success. My readership is such that they may disapprove one of my books but they would never disapprove the author and label it as a has been, a spent force. This, too, is the support that carries me on.

The writing was not only my business, it also was my hobby, so, as a matter of fact I required no motivation for continue writing. Here I could mix business with pleasure and it suited me fine.


3.  How the genre of crime has evolved with time from the time you started writing decades ago and now?

Of late, crime fiction writing has become immensely popular. Every other new writer comes off with a mystery novel to be published and it is much more so in English. Hindi is far behind in this matter. In four decades from sixties to nineties there was many publishers in Hindi-pocket-book trade and many more writers of this genre to cater them. But after nineties this became a diminishing trade. The most of the publishers shut shop and the writers writing for them faded into oblivion. This downwards trend has not stopped even today. Presently a publisher of traditional pocket book is hard to find and either there are no new writers or if at all there are, they have no hopes of their scripts getting published. If at all a new mystery writer in Hindi gets his books published, it is only by surrendering to avaricious monetary demands of the publisher who makes a thorough fool of him by pretending that he would only be sharing the expenditure incurred on bringing out his book but actually cheats him by charging more that the actual expenditure. So, he prints 1000 copies by milking budding author monetarily and gives his 300 copies against the total expenditure incurred by him and those copies are good enough for the author for free distribution only.

So, what did the poor, unassuming author get?

He got his book published. And that’s all. No promotion of the book by the publisher, no future prospects, no career, no nothing.

Thankfully such is not the scenario with English book publishing. There if an author gets a break, it is only and only on the merit of his writing. Secondly, there are many more such publishers as are interested in whodunits publishing in English and hence more chances in English for a new author to get a break.

4. What made you write autobiography? 

I never ever thought of writing a bio as I never imagined my life to be so eventful as to be put down on paper. It actually was my editor at Harper Collins who prompted me to write my bio. First, I flatly – and justly – declined, claiming that it was not a workable proposition, that I could not carry on with it. But on regular insistence of the editor, I finally conceded to the idea with the understanding that I will try my hand on it and if found unmanageable, I will drop the project and say sorry to the editor. When I started writing, I was sure I would not be able to go beyond 50 sheets of the script but to my own amazement, it went on so wonderfully well that when I concluded writing, I found that I had written 600 sheets which were equivalent of 1000 printed pages.

By far only one volume of the bio is published under the title ‘NA BAIRI NA KOI BEGANA’ and there are two more to come in near future.

5. There are not many Hindi writers and much Hindi writing these days. What is the reason behind it? Is influence of Hindi diminishing? Are Hindi writers not paid well?

I am afraid you are mistaken there. There is no dearth of Hindi writers these days. Many new writers are getting published and they are luckily being appreciated, too. But if you indicated to mystery writers in Hindi, you are very correct. And it is so because there is nobody to publish them. Somewhere above I said that traditional pocket books publishing was a diminishing trade. Now this is not so, now this is a diminished trade. From where a Hindi mystery writer would come when there is no outlet to publish him. Nobody would give him a break as there is nobody left to give him a break. Still if he gets his script published, he has to bear himself the total expenditure and he may do it once to satiate his desire to be taken as a published author. But can he do it again and again and again? No, he cannot.

You ask if the influence of Hindi is diminishing. I ask in return – was there ever such an influence in existence? The honest reply is, it never was. Hindi is and always was an also ran, a poor substitute of English. The little patronage that Hindi enjoys is only in Hindi belt namely UP, MP, Rajasthan, Bihar while English rules the roost right from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Kutchh to Kamrup.

You ask, are the Hindi writers not paid well?

This is a joke. What to talk of being paid well, a Hindi writer will be lucky if he is paid at all. Find me one Hindi author who can run his household and raise his family on the proceeds of his royalties and I would find you a miracle alive. The dubious

distinction of a Hindi author lies in some government sponsored award, or if he becomes a really big gun, he may get a Padma award or get his postage stamp published. A Hindi author doesn’t even dream beyond this. Barring one exception in the person of Gulshan Nanda, there is no Hindi author, and there never was, who can even come close to English authors – or it is Hindlish authors – of dubious distinction like. . . well, I won’t name names but you know what I mean. They are the authors whose only claim to fame is that they write and get published in English.

6.How is it to find publisher for Hindi books, easy or difficult? Why do Hindi writers not receive deals and recognition as quickly as English writers do?

I have explained this above. Very few Hindi writers get published if they do not subscribe to the last resort of self-financing the book. If one thinks he can get his book – debut-making-book at that – published on merit, he has got another think coming.

In English there are many publishers who publish light, popular literature, so, it is much easy to get a book published in English. Secondly, an author in English gets an in in the trade through an agent and it is the agent who does all the scouting around. In Hindi there is no such system. For an author the first step is to get his book published and if the book has any merit and the author does not become one-book-wonder i.e. he writes consistently well, the recognition has to come. This process is easier in English because patronage of English is much too vast compared to that of Hindi. Every reading guy is after English. Nobody reads Hindi because it is reading English that is an in thing, Hindi reading is not an in thing with our modern generation, nor it is modern enough to suit their westernised image. I ask you a question? Have you ever seen a passenger in flight reading a Hindi book? And the answer is ‘no’ because if he is clod enough to do so, he would be taken as a backward person. Now, who wants to be labelled as a backward person while flying with ‘happening lot’? Hindi is read in toilet or in second class, unreserved bogey of a train. On a plane one would not be caught dead holding a Hindi book. Likewise, you never see Hindi books on the book stalls at the airports. What an irony! They say Hindi is our national language but it is not the language of the nation; English is the language of the nation. Hindi is only to celebrate Hindi Pakhwada – read fortnight – and that too by the government agencies.

Another example:

A novice author, who has written one book published in Hindi and is not likely to write ever again, is an honoured guest at the literary festivals that have become very fashionable in India and go on all through the year at one place or the other but one SM PATHAK is not writer enough to be extended the same courtesy. This is the outcome of a sick and a biased mind. I absolutely insist that the one who writes is a writer and is entitled to the same honour and attention that an author of English enjoys. I take pity upon people who take English as a respected housewife and Hindi as a maid in the household who may or may not get the attention of his master.

7. Your books were published by the publications like Westland and Harper Collins which generally do not publish Hindi novels. So, is it a positive sign for Hindi writers?

No, it is not. The publishers you named has only a paraphernal interest in Hindi books publication. The 95% of the books brought out by these publishers are in English and only 5% in Hindi and most of them would be translation of English authors’ work. Now, how can this equation be called a positive sign for Hindi writers? These publishers have their token presence in Hindi because they are conducting business in India where Hindi is supposed to have the support of the government.

8. Earlier crime fiction writing inspired crimes in real life, but now crime novels are based on real life crime? Your opinion on this.

About this I can say only one thing – to each his own. A writer has to get his cue from somewhere and what better a place can be than to scan a real-life crime. Likewise, a criminal has to get his cue from somewhere and a published crime chronicle is one such place for him.  Criminals very occasionally take cue from the published crime fiction but they are never successful. All are caught sooner or later. Following a meticulous crime needs a meticulous mind which an ordinary garden variety of a criminal does not have. He takes a chance and generally misses it. He performs by taking risk and in the process falls flat on his face. The perpetrator of UTI bank robbery in Delhi, when caught, confessed in the district’s DCP’s press conference that the idea for the robbery came to him by reading a novel entitled ‘ZAMEER KA QAIDI’ by Surender Mohan Pathak. He picked the idea from a book but did he succeed? He didn’t.

This is how the cookie crumbles.

9. Some of your books were translated into English. Have they succeeded in maintaining your crisp and involving style?

Yes, they have. The reason is that I myself translate my novels into English. The Hindi that I write is not Hindi in stricter sense of the word, it is a concoction of four languages namely Hindi, English, Urdu, and Punjabi and this inimitable concoction has become immensely popular among my readers. Such a text cannot be honestly and judiciously translated by a professional translator. I alone can do that and I am doing it.

10. Are you currently working on any novel? 

I am always working on a book. At 79, I have nothing else to do. I am dreaded of the day in the rest of my life when I find myself without an idea good enough to be transcribed on the paper. Mind it, I don’t use laptop for writing Hindi, I write by hand and that too, never with a ballpoint pen but with a traditional ink-filled pen. In this manner I have written so much that I have a permanent dent in my middle finger which I show to my fans and admirers as a souvenir.