Friday, November 24, 2006

Bayaan: An Urdu novel on Hindu-Muslim relations during the turbulent period around Babri Masjid demolition

Bayaan, the Novel
Musharraf Alam Zauqi's 'Bayaan' is the most important novel that captures the anxieties and fears of both Hindus and Muslims in the turbulent years from 1986 to1992--an era when the right wing BJP grew from strength to strength and ultimately the Ram Mandir movement led to the demolition of Babri Masjid.

I had heard so much about the novel but surprisingly I hadn't met anybody who had even read this novel. Agreed, Urdu has seen a decline in readership in India but it took me nearly a decade to get the book and when I held it, I had to finish it in one sitting.

The story revolves around elderly Balmukund Sharma 'Josh', a retired official and Urdu poet as his 'takhallus' suggests, his friend Barkat Husain and their families.

Balmukund Sharma believes in the culture which developed with the interaction of Hindus & Muslims in the country over centuries. He is an epitome of 'wazadari' and puts principles above everything.

One of his son, Narendera, a doctor, is fiercely anti-Muslim and is member of a right wing party (of course, BJP) while the other son is a trader and a small-time Congress worker. The sons don't understand their father's love for a language 'that is spoken by Muslims and the script which looks strange to them'.

They don't understand why their father goes to 'mushaira' and spends time with his Muslim friends and poets.
His friend Barkat Husain's son, Munna, is a clerk at the electricity office. He is tired of hearing the taunts of being a 'Pakistani at heart'. 

The fathers helplessly watch their sons who turn even more communal than the generation that had seen the horrors of partition. The demolition of Babri Masjid comes as a big setback for Indian Muslims and causes irreparable damage to their psyche.

Munna gets restless and decides to join the anti-Muslim party. 'If we treat them as untouchable and it comes to power, how will we deal with the situation, after all, we have to live and die here', he feels. He starts going to the party meetings and in turn becomes a pariah in his community. No body understands his dilemma, not even his father who could never understand his introvert son.

Meanwhile, Balmukund Sharma Josh has serious differences with his elder son. At a mushaira Josh is mocked at by some unemployed Muslim youths who tell him that his own son is a BJP-wala but Josh enjoys the best of both worlds, as an Urdu poet getting acclaim amongst Muslims.

Josh is sick of his sons who hate everything about him and his culture. Even his grand-daughter asks him, 'Are you Muslim dada-ji, but Muslims are bad'. He decides to deprive his communal sons of any share in the property. 

Now his sons try every bit to please him. Meanwhile, his granddaughter gets ill and Munna and his wife gets the kid admitted in hospital and treated when Narendra was away to a party convention. Narendra's wife, a strict Brahmin who never ate at anybody's place discovers a postive side to Muslims and fights her husband. Munna is her brother now.

But Munna feels that he is a misfit in the right-wing party and begins to distance himself from the outfit that badly needed a few Muslim showboys. The local party leaders feel he might reveal their secrets. A man wearing a skull-cap (Muslim topi) is entrusted by a hard-core party leader to kill Munna and give the impression that Muslims killed the traitor of their community.

Shaken by the grief at the blood and gore, communal riots and the destruction of composite culture in India, Balmukund Sharma Josh is fast getting insane and decides to write a 'bayaan' [a statement, a will or a confession]. His sons are worried what is in store for them...what is going to be this bayaan?

It is undoubtely a magnum opus. It was the story of every Indian town in that era. The curfews, riots, clashes, angry rhetorics against muslims, the steady lumpenisation of the middle-class that was fuelled by politicians and Hindi newspapers in North India, which had threatened the entire social fabric of the country.

The novelist manages to capture it with perfection. Zauqi is a master story-teller and is not only the leading Urdu writer of his generation but also acclaimed Hindi writer, who is published in Hans and other prestigious literary magazines. 

Lots of lessons from the novel. Surprisingly, there are so many major works about partition, Bayaan is the probably the only Urdu novel that focuses on the inter-religious relationships and the communalisation that affected both communities in this era. 

Has this generation even lost its voice?