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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bihari to Bangladeshi and Beyond: Abdus Samad's novel on partition of India and the after-effects on people in East Pakistan

Abdus Samad's Do Gaz Zameen
It was almost 15 years ago that I first read Abdus Samad's famous novel,'Do Gaz Zameen', that had got him the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award.

For quite sometime I was yearning to read it again. I got it from a library and read the novel that focuses on partition of the India. Unlike most other novels that primarily look at Punjab, it focuses on Eastern India--the affect of partition on Biharis and Bengalis.

Umpteen litterateurs have touched the after-affects of partition in Northern India, but the plight of refugees in the region where East Pakistan was created, didn't get as much expression in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and English literature.

Abdus Samad's novel is important not just in this context. Like Uttar Pradesh (UP), millions of Muslims left for Pakistan [West] from Bihar also.


Apart from Karachi and Lahore, Biharis also went to East Pakistan in huge numbers and from the other side of the border, Hindu Bengalis came to India. Through a Muslim family settled in a town Bihar Sharif [Nalanda], he begins his narration.

The Novel

The head of the family represents the elite Muslims. There is wide support among Muslims for Congress, which has Gandhi in the forefront, but also has Ali brothers, Maulana Abdul Bari Firangimahli and Abul Kalam Azad.

But Muslim League is slowly gaining ground. The next generation is divided between supporters of Congress and Muslim League. Till now the plot is quite similar to many other famous novels that have dealt with this subject in the past.

But Abdus Samad's fantastic narration keeps you spellbound. In Congress, there is a section that has clear right-wing leanings. Riots occur and when there are complaints made about local leaders' involvement, there is little action.

Pakistan, yes, but where?

Muslims are terribly out of touch with reality. A large number attends league functions and raises slogans but have no idea that when Pakistan would be created, it would not be in the midst of the Indo-Gangetic built, but far away.

Post-partition, Muslims feel guilty. However, there are opportunists who were in league but have quickly donned the Gandhi cap. Meanwhile, there are growing fears. Land ceiling is about to take place, zamindaris ending and Muslims fleeing the country side due to fear of reprisal.

Those unwilling to go find it hard to survive. If a family member has left for Pakistan, the property is seen as disputed, as was the situation in the era when custodian had become a dreaded word. People wanted to sell their land to migrate, but weren't getting the price.

Even as there is a great exodus, there are millions who have no wish to go away. An elderly woman who sees youngsters going to Pakistan and never returning while young girls here waiting and remaining unmarried, rues, 'ye muaa Pakistan, sabko khaa jaata hai'.

Post- partition years in Bihar

Finally, Urdu speaking Biharis have got citizenship
Muslim lawyers don't have adequate clients now as landowners have left and not just Muslims but Hindus also desert them.

Businessmen also find it tough and so is the condition of government officials and others. Any mischief maker's complaint that a person has received cash or letter from a kin who went to Pakistan, is immediately under suspicion.

There are inquiries and cases, blames of being a spy or traitor. Elderly Muslims who had faith in Congress find their own sons challenging their conviction.

Failing to get jobs, youth go for 'gardania passport' (illegal way) to get to East Pakistan, where there were more opportunities for them.

Biharis in East Pakistan: A new life begins

Once in Bangladesh, the situation was rosy in the initial years. But it also deteriorates with time. In fact, Samad gives us a peek into the mind of Bangladeshis and muhajirs [Punjabi and Bihari Muslims] who went to Pakistan.

That many people who went to Bangladesh, got jobs and money, but were still not satisfied. They rued that in Western Pakistan, the muhajirs had got a much better deal--in terms of getting bigger houses and more creamy positions in the government.

When novel's protagonist argues with them saying that there was large exodus of Hindus from Punjab and hence more houses to get in return in West Punjab, he is told that no the Bengali qaum doesn't treat the muhajirs well enough.

Oblivious to Amar Sonar Bangal!

In parties and functions, the new entrants who are now well-entrenched look down at the Bangladeshi, terming them as "Ye naachne-gaane wali qaum' [referring to the penchant for dance and music among Bangladeshi Muslims], which was scorned and seen as 'un-Islamic'.

The novel portrays the largely West Pakistan dominated army officers as government officials as ignorant and contemptuous towards the country, looking at it as just a land of opportunities, despite the fact that people here had opened up hearts for them.

There are heated debates over Qaid-e-Azam's vision [Mohamed Ali Jinnah] and the policies during the period of Liaqat Ali Khan and later years. Our protagonist, an 'ashraaf' Muslim, who sneaked into East Pakistan, by calling a 'lower caste Muslim' 'Chamu' as his uncle, manages to get a job, due to a Bengali Muslim gentleman.

English translation
Romance and revolution

He enjoys their hospitality and fells in love with the gentleman's daughter. But the situation is turning fluid. There is growing resentment over the authoritarian rule of the West Pakistan. What follows is a long saga. There is blood and gore. Muktibahini arrives.

Bangladesh emerges as a sovereign nation, after General Niyazi surrenders in Dacca. Biharis stuck in Bangladesh fear for their fate. Innumerable perish, rest of Biharis lead a life of misery in camps as people belonging to no country, while many others manage to escape.


The Biharis who were fortunate enough to come back to West Pakistan, now find that there are no more opportunities for them here. Was it a 'hijrat' indeed when they first left India?

Is Dubai, the El Dorado of Middle East, the next destination?


How many more Hijrats!

Back in Bihar [in India], Muslims are picking up pieces, on the land where a million mosques, madarsas and grave yards tell the story of Indianised Islam for over 1,300 years. And that despite occasional obstacles or communal riots, it is here lies there destiny and dreams.

The novel was translated in Hindi also by the same title. In English, it is available as 'A strip of land, two yards'. It is a fascinating novel and sheds light on the life of people affected by the communal politics and the mindless violence in Eastern part of India, before and after independence.

Though it doesn't have a canvas as wide as many other novels, Do Gaz Zameen gives a reader valuable insight into the politics in Bihar during the pre-independence period. Along with Qurratul Ain Hyder's Aag ka Darya, Abdullah Husain's Udas Naslein, this is another important work, helpful in understanding the era.

Long back, I had written a post on this blog on some of the important novels on Indian Muslims, their culture, psyche and their aspirations. Do read the post, 'Major literary works of Indian Muslims'. 

[*The novel's title comes from Poet-King Bahadur Shah Zafar's famous couplet 'Kitna badnaeeb hai Zafar dafan ke liye/ Do gaz zamiiN bhii mil na sakii, kuu-e-yaar meN]