Friday, November 24, 2006

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

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

Musharraf Alam Zauqi's 'Bayaan' is an important novel that captures the anxieties and fears of both Hindus and Muslims in the turbulent years from 1986 to 1992.

This was an era when the right-wing grew from strength to strength and ultimately the Ayodhya movement led to the demolition of Babri Masjid.
The story revolves around elderly Bal Mukund  'Josh', a retired official and Urdu poet as his 'takhallus' suggests, his friend Barkat Husain and their families.

Bal Mukund strongly 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 all. 
One of his son, Narendera, a doctor, is fiercely anti-Muslim and is member of a right wing party while the other son is a trader and a local Congress worker.

The sons don't understand their father's love for a language 'that is spoken by Muslims and the script which appears alien to them'. They don't understand why their father goes to 'mushairas' 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 right-wing 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 now starts going to the party meetings and in turn becomes a pariah in his own community. No body even understands his dilemma, not even his father who could never understand this introvert son.
Meanwhile, Balmukund Josh has serious differences with his elder son. At a mushaira, Josh is taunted by some Muslim youths who tell him that his own son is a right-winger but Josh enjoys the best of both worlds, especially, 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 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, who never ate at anybody's place discovers a positive side to Muslims and fights with 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) 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 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 bayaanIt is undoubtedly a gripping novel. In fact, it was the story of every Indian town in that era--anxieties, communal tensions and fear of unknown. 
The curfews, riots, clashes, angry rhetoric, the lumpens among the middle-class, this anger against Muslims that was fuelled by politicians and Hindi newspapers in North India, that 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. 

Lot of lessons from the novel. There are so many major works about partition, but Bayaan is the probably among the few Urdu novels that focuses on the inter-religious relationships and the communalism that affected both communities in this era.