Kitaab Review: Amar Aiyaar: King of Tricksters

Mohammad Sajjad reviews Sulaiman Ahmad’s  Amar Aiyaar: King of Trciksters (Hachette India, ISBN 9789350095478, 2012, Rs. 375)

AmarAiyyarIn this age when people have got their companions in technologies like cell-phones and portable computers, it is increasingly becoming unknown that once upon a time children grew up by listening to the fascinating stories, fairy tales preferably from their grandmothers. With growth and development in technology and capitalism, the families as institutions are getting redefined-undergoing transformations and disintegration characterized by Francis Fukuyama as ‘great disruptions’. [The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstruction of Social Order. New York: Free Press, 1999]
In the midst of too busy parents, the children suffer from the feelings of loneliness and alienation. They become stale with the burdens of back-breaking home-works of schools. Quite ‘leisurely’, lending ears to the perpetual suspense in the gripping stories of the grandparents are becoming the practices of bygone era. Many feel that loss of such tradition is adversely affecting the creative potentials of the children.
This loss of human touch caused by replacement of grandmothers’ stories with certain handy technologies have their own implications whereby many traditions of story-telling, as well as the traditional ways of inculcating moral values among the children, look threatened. The new technologies carry some inherent values of consumerism, ostentatious display of wealth and status, and other attendant ills which have their own influences on the impressionistic minds of the children and adolescents.
In the Eastern worlds’ ‘Oriental’ societies, Daastaangoi, has been one such strong tradition.  In the social and literary traditions of Persian-Arabic-Urdu the genre of Daastaan has got unique place which subsequently gave rise to other forms of creative prose including novel, short stories (not to say of versified long stories of Masnavi). The genre of Daastaan is seen as such a strong tool of knowing and understanding and preserving the cultural details that the British colonial project of what Michell Focault said, ‘governmentality’- knowing the India and its people- took recourse to getting re-written the Daastaan in early nineteenth century. Thus in the Fort William College of Calcutta, the Bagh o Bahaar of Mir Umman Dehlvi emerged as most outstanding model of Urdu prose, besides becoming a text of repository of sub-continental cultures. [A greatest living scholar of Urdu language and literature, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, researched on Daastaan-e-Amir Hamza in 1998 and elaborated upon the relationship between the story-teller and the listener. Qamrul Hoda Faridi also brought out an abridged version with informative introductory essay in 1999, Tilism-e-Hosh Ruba: tanqeed o Talkhees]. In 1892, for the first time, its English translation was brought out by Shaikh Sajjad Husain Bhagalpuri, An Oriental Novel: Dastan-e-Amir Hamza.
Concerned with these, Sulaiman Ahmad took up the challenge of plunging into those traditions and to resurrect these too. He is “re-telling” one such story in a unique creative way. Having spent decades of his life as a Bank employee in India, UK, and elsewhere, he re-discovers his hidden creative abilities. Having obtained Masters in English literature with vast and deep readings of Persian, Urdu and English literature, as also having created some nice Urdu poems, Sulaimna Ahmad has ventured to re-tell the story of Daastaan-e-Amir Hamza, i.e., the adventures of Amir Hamza. As put by the author himself, “[it] originated in Arabia in the 7th century to commemorate the brave deeds of Prophet Muhammad’s uncle, Hamza, [the martyr]. In the course of its journey in the Middle East and Central Asia, this story incorporated many local stories, sub-stories, and became an entirely fictitious legend.
Sometime between the 11th and 14th centuries, it found its way to India” (p. 304), and during Akbar’s reign in 16th century this story became popular in Persian, more so by painting illustrations; in 19th century its Urdu versions became popular and incorporated many local colours of the Indian sub-continent with details of its cultures, and picturesque details of the customs and traditions.
This already invaluable volume has added more to its value by having an introductory chapter by the film maker, Imtiaz Ali (who is part of the extended kinship network of the author, and who are one of the most accomplished Muslim families of Bihar). Besides, a few-page long interview of Mahmood Farooqui, the theatre actor and director turned into today’s prominent story-teller, daastaango, and a list of questionnaire enabling a re-cap of the major contents and messages of the stories, and brief profiles of some important characters of the story make the book even more richly useful. In 19th century this art of daastaangoi had become a lucrative, hence an envious, art in the courts of the princely states from Lucknow and Rampur to Hyderabad.
Usually, this genre consists mainly of battles, assemblies, sorceries, and trickery. The volume under review however lifts more of trickery, and less of other aspects.
The craft of the prose and the kind of diction that has been used by the author keeps in mind the purposes of enriching the philological skills of the children and their parents. It will help readers develop their articulation. Besides, the distinctive style of narrative, and specific way of organizing the chapters, provoke the inquisitive minds of the children. Its narrative is designed by Sulaiman Ahmad in a way which sets the readers thinking on many issues, even though willing suspension of disbelief is integral and inalienable part of a daastaan. It is purported to inspire the children in a big way to undertake adventures. Even though this ‘is a book for young readers’ evolving out of the author’s nostalgia, the author’s assertion that it is equally important and useful for the guardians of the youngers, turns out to be too true. Unsurprisingly, within a year of its publication several hundreds of its copies have already been sold out.
This book (of Sulaiman Ahmad,  Amar Aiyaar: King of Tricksters) is strongly recommended for the young minds as also for their guardians.
Mohammad Sajjad is Asstt. Professor, Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University (India).