Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Dying Banyan: Novel explores Hindu-Muslim relationship, Communal fault lines in India

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

Manzoor Ahtesham's novel 'Sukha Bargad' was translated in English sometime back.

I read the novel five years ago and I must say that it is one of the best novels written on Hindu-Muslims relations in this country.

The novel tells the story of a middle-class Muslim family and its struggles in the wake of partition. At times the novel truly astonishes the reader.

The protagonist is a girl, Rashida, [and her brother Suhail] and it is through her eyes that the novelist takes you through the fault lines in the society.

Rashida's father is a liberal man, a humanist with strong ideas about human values, someone who sends his children including the daughter to a co-ed school.

His children are aware that their father, a lawyer, isn't liked by elders of the community because of his unbending views and for his being a bit too outspoken. 

It is because of his thoughts on religion [and religiosity] and his uncompromising views. One day the son confronts the father, "I heard you ate pork once after a bet with friends". The answer is indeed revealing. There are interesting dialogues and arguments.

The siblings are growing up in the decade of sixties. The novel is set in Bhopal. The era of princely state has ended. The City though retains Muslim-dominated character [for a few more decades] is now undergoing a fast change. The novel deals with communalism, joblessness and insecurities.

If you have read the novel, then you can never forget the discussions between Suhail and his friend, and views of the protagonist who falls in love with her brother's friend. Almost every issue, either its right-wing Hindus' questioning Muslim's patriotism or a section of Muslims' complaining of persecution and bias, is dealt with here.

Its not a complex novel. Suhail remains jobless, turns alcoholic, later seeks refuge with a clever  politician. Rashida remains unmarried. People who had migrated to America and Pakistan, return occasionally, with their own issues.

Along side, there are wars with China and Pakistan, later the creation of Bangladesh. Events in Pakistan, particularly, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's execution, and the religiosity during Zia Ul Haq's regime. Though this has been the subject of some other novels, Sukha Bargad hooks the reader.

Originally published in Hindi 
Manzoor Ahtesham had originally written it in Hindi. This was a rare thing, as mostly Muslim authors in those days wrote in Urdu.

Ahtesham has treated the subject well and the reader never gets bored. Besides, it keeps you in a reflective mode.
The description, either its about the children's growing up years, Rashida [a Muslim girl's] romantic involvement with the Hindu boy Vijay, later her job at the radio station and the desolate phase, is enchanting. The novel moves at a steady pace.

In fact, the characters appear quite close to you. Perhaps, lot of it is from the writer's personal experience, and as a result, the book becomes a major novel on Indian Muslims.

From regionalism to sectarianism, Shia-Sunni conflict, it deals with a host of issues, subtly. The book ends somewhere in the aftermath of Jamshedpur riots where a famous litterateur was killed in a riot. A must-read, which you will thoroughly enjoy.

Read similar posts on this blog and reviews of major literary works on Indian Muslims AT THIS LINK

[As far as I knew, the author spells his name as Manzoor Ahtesham, but the cover of the translated book reads as 'Ehtesham'.]