Hadal is a strange yet quirky title. It is derived from Hades, which, in Greek mythology, stands for the underworld. Author CP Surendran leaves it to the reader to discover the link between his story and its title, making great space for imagination. He was inspired by a true story to write this novel that revolves around a scheming cop—a schmuck, of course—who fabricates the case of a honey trap by a woman (from the Maldives) whom, he tries to prove by deceit, had used her powers of seduction to obtain details of India’s liquid propulsion engine from scientists at Isro. The cop, angry at being denied sex by Miriam, the Maldivian woman (who wants his help for a visa extension), is named Honey Kumar.
The true story is one that Surendran knows only too well, thanks to his friendship with scientist Nambi Narayanan, whose career hit the skids after the mid-1990s case, a wild creation of Kerala’s media and a few politicians who used the opportunity to oust the incumbent Congress Chief Minister K Karunakaran. What did a CM have to do with a case of alleged espionage in a Centrally-run organisation? Nobody asked that until many years later, when a cryogenic scientist called Narayanan and another scientist were exonerated by the CBI along with two Maldivian women, Mariam Rasheeda and Fauzia Hassan.
Surendran’s contempt of Malayalee conceit comes to the fore in this novel. He also despises Kerala’s revered political heads. His personal dislike of its iconic leaders like EMS Namboodiripad and several others is well known. His strained relationship with his father, renowned rationalist and activist Pavanan (a nom de plume) explains his disappointment with his father’s generation that Surendran accuses of misleading the younger lot.
The novelist’s revulsion at his tribe of journalists, especially those who covered the Isro spy case, is obvious. It is no secret that back in those days, journalists of vernacular newspapers often gathered to drink and gossip in a place called Sangetham (‘sanctuary’), an ill-lit room inside the Thiruvananthapuram press club. Their chats would turn into front-page stories the next day. In whimsical profiles of these ‘man-eating’ Maldivian women (whom they mistakenly referred to as Mali women), they brought in Ferraris and other luxury items to the streets of Kerala’s state capital. In such write-ups, these women allegedly drove around in fast cars and preyed on men in high places, like Narayanan. Drawing on the wealth of information he has gathered from the likes of Narayanan, a victim of inhuman torture at the hands of the police, Surendran reconstructs with artistry the goings-on in the dark underbelly of the state and Central governments, especially within the police system, scientific institutions and the trigger-happy media. Falsehood reigns. The novelist not only captures that piteous situation but also offers a multitude of reasons why the entropy, the order of disorder, is destined to get worse.
Surendran’s wicked sense of humour is apparent in the full page he devotes to painting with successful sarcasm the moment when Honey Kumar discovers the picture of a rocket tattooed on Miriam’s naked body: ‘Honey Kumar yanked Miriam’s flimsy slip at the point below her neck, and it came away in his hands like a piece of perforated paper, down in the middle, all the way to Miriam’s waist, to the point where her hips began their curve…. Honey Kumar saw that all of Miriam’s back was taken up with the tattoo of a splendid rocket blasting off from the launch pad of her hips, through clouds, past a crescent moon and stars, all the way up to her neck, each section clearly flagged and marked.’
Surendran refers to Kumar as a ‘stereophonic masticator’, an uncouth cop who munches noisily but is afraid of coconuts falling and hurting him. Another key character, someone the author seems to admire somewhat, is introduced to us as Paul Roy, a brilliant rocket scientist ‘who never says no to women’. The author admires him because he is unlike most men, who, for all their posturing, are weaklings who need constant mothering.
Despite occasional clichés, Surendran’s novel is all the more readable for his self-irreverence. He is inventive with words and expressions. This book is more than the story of Miriam, the Maldivian women and a wannabe novelist, or of Kumar the cop, or of Roy the sharp mind. It is a novel that offers critical insights into the minds of people in authority, who enjoy misusing their power, and the emotional traumas of the powerless.