His name is synonymous with Hindi pulp fiction and his books are invariably found in tiny stalls at various railway stations. However, Surender Mohan Pathak’s Hindi books are hard to spot at urban bookstores. Yet, he’s the same guy who, to date, has sold more than 25 million books — a figure that can put Chetan Bhagat’s bestsellers to shame.
Pathak’s book, Daylight Robbery, a translation by Sudarshan Purohit, published by Blaft, was recently launched at the Kala Ghoda Festival. For 47 years now, Pathak has been churning out crime thrillers incessantly. He started with Hindi translations of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and the works of James Hadley Chase. Now, on an average, he writes four books a year.
A self-proclaimed follower of Om Prakash Sharma’s writing, Pathak still admits that most of his influences come from Urdu and Bengali literature. “There’s nothing new in Hindi literature. People read the same old existing literature and the English readers discover it only when a translation is released. This is true of all regional literature. I’m suddenly popular because there have been two translations.”
It’s a sorry state of affairs, according to him. “You’ll see
50-60 per cent English readers reading Chetan Bhagat, whereas, there’s only about two per cent people reading regional literature. Have you seen well-known bookstores stocking Hindi literature?” he shoots back.
Although translation has earned him an English audience, he grumbles about the fact that Hindi doesn’t get the same respectability. “I write in Hindi and don’t see my Hindi publishers benefiting from this,” he says.
Tell him how Bollywood-friendly his plots are and pat comes his reply: “My books have even better narratives. But I’d never come to Mumbai. Who would recognise me there? Rather, they would insult me and make me run around because I don’t know the norms of the industry.”
So, does he mean that he’s never got offers? “Oh, I’ve received many.
But I’m not interested because they always ask me to narrate the story. Nobody wants to read,” he rues. Pathak analyses the logic behind Chetan Bhagat being a bestseller. “It’s the hype. Other authors also write the same genre; he just got lucky. It’s not like another William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy or William Wordsworth has been born. Also, the pricing of his books make them sell more. It’s the publisher’s strategy, not just because Bhagat’s books work. The Rs 99 tag reduces the chances of piracy too,” he explains.
Having said that, he feels that one needs to keep pace with changing times, so he will try his hand at writing in English too.
“May be even start a blog,” he adds after a pause.