Love kills. But, first, there are the thrills. A loyal reader of Crime & Detective, India’s true-crime magazine nonpareil, would know that by now. Every month, the magazine serves up a mix of true stories about lusting women and straying husbands, who find themselves on the road to perdition, and often, murder. The tales are dramatised (and fictionalised) through suggestive dialogue and generous shots of cleavage, and a kink for thunder thighs. In its pages, you glimpse the unflagging, libidinous Indian whose existence annual sex surveys have been trying to convince readers of for years now. The reports of the transgressions come from near and far: ‘Jaunpur: Daughter surrenders to mother’s paramour’, ‘Gurgaon: Lady lust looks lethal’; ‘Lucknow: Shameless sisters sharing lover’, ‘Kanpur: Mausi with a sexy conspiracy’, Pune: ‘Her aggressive sex conspiracy’.
If anything, Crime & Detective pales in comparison to its sister publication Madhur Kathaye, the Hindi magazine that began in 1984, and which remains Nai Sadi Prakashan’s most reliable performer. “Sex padosne ka naya style” and “Pushpa ki pyaas maange suhaag ki bali” are only two of the standout headlines from the February issue. “For our readers, it is a habit, almost like an addiction,” says Shailabh Rawat, the 58-year-old editorial consultant who curates both publications. In 1992, Crime & Detective took off in English, aimed at readers in the metropolises and the south. It ran on the same formula that Madhur Kathaye had perfected — a titillating cocktail of love, sex aur dhoka — but was told in an inventive Hinglish. (“He carried Mohini in his arms and put her on the bed. Then he slid his clothes quickly and jumped in the valley of her provocative glamour.”)
Valentine’s Day special
Fervid in imagination, the stories urge you to re-think ordinary men and women in the numerous faceless towns of India as glamorous players of “the sex game”. Each tale of crime duly ends with details of gory death and punishment, ominous mug shots of police officers, and sometimes even an editorial warning readers about allowing their desires to lead them astray. But the need to moralise is held in check by the delight in voyeurism.
While Madhur Kathaye sells about a lakh copies per month in the north Indian hinterland, a sizeable chunk of C&D readers, says Rawat with some surprise, are in the northeast (Assam) as well as the south. “We have a team of reporters following up on crime stories everywhere, but it is on the rewrite desk that we turn stories around. Reporters can only get a few facts,” he says.
A healthy scorn for realism is a feature of the magazine’s piece de resistance: the photo story. Scripted and directed by Rawat — sometimes in Bombay, sometimes in a studio below his office — it is a tale of temptation, laid out in a comic format. The women are in short dresses, pallus slide down with alarming regularity and there is much biting of lips in the throes of passion. The photo story made its debut in Madhur Kathaye in 1988 as a black-and-white comic — it is now a C&D classic.
“Our reader is a man who lives in a village or a small town, where he has very few means of entertainment, not much TV, and no internet. There has always been a great fascination with crime in the Hindi belt, and that continues till today,” says Rawat when I meet him in his tiny office in Mukherjee Nagar, north Delhi, a neighbourhood choked with coaching institutes. “There is a dark side to everyone, an element that is unmaad, out of control. That is what drives you to crime. That is also what makes you read about crime,” he says.
Rawat was in his 20s, a young man from Ranikhet, preparing for the civil services entrance test in Delhi, when he applied for a post in Delhi Press’s Saritha magazine — just for a lark. He stayed on, moving from one publication to another till he found his métier in Madhur Kathaye in 1986. He remembers with fondness the series he did on prostitution, travelling to the red-light districts in Kamathipura and Juhu in Mumbai in the late 1980s. “I covered the brothels not just as a reporter, but as a client,” he says, a note of pride creeping into his voice.
For its readers, the magazine is a window opening onto the changing laws of attraction. “Our readers are very curious about the upper class and its paap: What are lesbians? Why do they do what they do?” he says. If the magazine did a series on kothewalis then, it went on to do a special on gigolos, wife-swapping, homosexuality and transgenders in subsequent decades.
The magazine is as torn about women as it is between morals and prurience. The misogyny is evident in the round denouncing of “women subservient to sex desire”, or in the many stories of secretaries leading bosses astray. “For the majority of our conservative readers, the modern, city girl, who works and lives on her own, has many friends, smokes and drinks, is nothing short of a khalnayika,” says Rawat. But there is great fascination too about the femme fatale, who drives most of the action in the stories, and is often uninhibited about getting what she wants.
For a man who has meticulously chronicled the fetishes and deviant desires of people, Rawat has a traditional take on modern love. “Relationships and values have changed. People have become more self-centred. People break-up and get over in a few hours,” he says. Technology, he says, has only aided the deceitful. “Ninety per cent of the relationships on Facebook, WhatsApp, and matrimonial websites lead to tragedy,” he says. All this is not love, he says. “Jahan pyaar hai, wahan tyaag hai. (Where there is love, there is sacrifice).”
What if you are not looking for love but “Death hidden in lusty invitation” or “A body to body deal?”? An editorial in the magazine warns you of the dangers ahead: “But such a chance was enoughing within multiple calamities.” That’s not keeping you from getting another copy, is it?