One theme has always attracted most of the Urdu writers, especially to the novelist and short story writers, and that issue is of communal violence in India. Since the first uprising against the British colonialists in 1857, it has not ceased its importance. During that time, the British used the Hindu Muslim communal divide to weaken the freedom struggle. They used more shamefully as and when the cry of freedom gained momentum. The ugliest face we witnessed was during the freedom struggle, and finally, during the painful partition days. Many hundreds and thousands were killed, raped, orphaned and maimed.
Unfortunately, this brutal legacy was carried forward through our political leaders even after independence in 1947.
After that, hundreds of communal violence erupted and killed thousands unchecked. It’s an ugly and diabolical character we witnessed with the revivalism of right wing Hindu chauvinist forces. After the death of the former prime minister, late Mrs. Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv Gandhi, and later on, P V Narsimha Rao could not check and contain it. Finally, it ended with the Babri Mosque demolition. And, as a result of it, brutal and hateful communal violence spread across the length and breadth of this country. Mainly it impacted the cow belt devastatingly due to the naiveness of its public.
I come from a village called Chandanbara in East Champaran, Bihar. And the novel about which I am talking here is also mainly based in the same place in Bihar. There was communal violence that had jolted the state after the Babri Mosque demolition, and it was the Sitamarhi communal violence during Lalu Prasad Yadav’s regime. He had done his best to check and control the violence. Due to his unwavering commitment to uphold the secular values, it could not prove as devastating as we had witnessed in Bhagalpur during the Congress rule of Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi in Gujarat. Everyone knows how they had failed miserably in containing the violence. Both had political reasons behind them.
The reasons night to be many, and it invites a thorough discussion and deliberation.
The main protagonist of this novel is a young postgraduate student of Patna university, Rizwan. He looks much more an idealist than a realist. He witnesses the Sitamarhi communal violence. As a young blood student, it was natural for him to react in an agitated and sentimental way. His mind was different from his peers. His friends were mostly inert, insensitive, and unsentimental.
Finally, Rizwan’s utter sentimentality provokes him to visit the riot-affected areas with some relief materials. And luckily, he finds support and financial help from a businesswoman, Zeba, who seems to be falling in love with him. But this love dies even before blooming prematurely.
Another communal riot takes place in Betia, headquarters of the neighboring West Champaran district, where his one Hindu friend, Rajesh, lives with his family. Rizwan goes to meet him to express his sympathy and solidarity despite knowing that the situation is volatile.
As he meets him, he asks for his support for making the situation calm and friendly. And that effort to bring the two warring religious communities closer to each other finally results in his painful death. During the peace committee meeting, he comes under attack of a bomb blast and succumbs to his injuries in a hospital in Patna, leaving a horde of prickly questions unanswered.
Rizwan comes in the novel as a hero with force and goes away in a sordid way as candlelight burns, and it extinguishes with a gust of wind.
It has neither any complex plot nor characters that look multilayered. Only two simple incidents cannot bear the burden of the complexity of the craft, novel writing.
Anyway, despite its shortcomings, I enjoyed reading it due to a few reasons. First, it looks real and deeply embedded in its local Bihari culture. One can feel the essence and mundane beauty of the simple village life. It was the days of pre liberalization days of the economy when there was no fast internet, mobile, and satellite television. Local Railway still used to run on steam engines on its narrow-gauge line. People loved fishing and farming.
Other things that attracted me most is the depiction of the simplicity of day to day life, language, way of communication, and their simple goals and desires.
I hope this novel will add a new meaning to the deliberation of politics and the violent culture of communal violence in India.
It is the tragedy of this nation that in the name of democracy, our political leaders are free to exploit as they like the naive and gullible Indians to grab power and money. They look not their masters of fate, but the worst kind of exploiters.
This novel has been published by the Arshia publication as it’s the second edition. It was a self-published book two decades back.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Dr. Mohammad Aleem, Editor, ICN Group