Critically acclaimed, award winning author Rahman Abbas needs no introduction. A Mumbai based fiction writer whose book Rohzin won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award in 2018, Abbas is known to captivate the readers with unique storylines and unforgettable characters. Since his debut in 2004 with Nakhalistan ki Talaash ( The Search of an Oasis), he has penned one masterpiece after another. From winning awards to having his books translated into various foreign languages, he has done it all. Rohzin was not only the first Urdu novel to be discussed in Germany, it was also adopted as a part of Urdu curriculum in INALCO. Sometime last year, he won a research grant for his next novel and travelled to Europe.
Kitaab has not only witnessed his journey till now but also proudly been a part of it and it is always an honor to talk about him and his work. Recently, we had the pleasure of being in conversation with him and discussing his next novel, his research on Nazism and his thoughts about the current political condition across the world.
Kitaab: At the end of last year, you went to Europe on a Robert Bosch Foundation and Literarisches Colloquium Berlin research grant for your next novel. While your books have always been a heady concoction of politics and love, do we see this research also leading to yet another fictitious account inspired from real life? Please share a bit about your next novel.
Rahman Abbas (RA): You are right Namrata, my novels are in a way a combination of politics and love and the politics behind love. But, none of my novels are autobiographical. Having said that, I would like to clarify that there is no novel devoid of the life of its writer, the time he lives in or the world he is capable of visualizing. I admit that I write fiction to narrate the stories of my time, to capture the essence of existence, to read out the milieu and external impulses affecting the psyche or being. But that doesn’t mean I do follow traditional patterns. No. I try to investigate ‘being’ or to discover ‘the possibilities of existence’.
In a nutshell, the next novel is about the ground realities of our beloved country but at the same time, it is about the lives of many characters- evolving, altering, and suffering from the crisis of existence. It is about the memories and metamorphosis of being or self and sexes. The next novel is my attempt at a political drama, a post-war story, a novel in search of peace, a story about racial prejudices and growth of Nazism-like-nationalism in our beloved nation. About the fears of minorities in Pakistan and India and at the same time a novel about the queer movement.
Kitaab: In Europe, you undertook a research on Nazism and visited Dachau concentration camp, the documentation centre, the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg, Sachsenhausen concentration camp along with the Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp in Poland. Can you please share your experiences and findings from that research?
RA: These and other places I visited in Europe are places of ‘Jay-e-ibrat’ as we refer to them in Urdu, which means a place of admonition or taking lessons from. The concentration camps and extermination camps remind you how low human beings can stoop in pursuit of power. These places are painful reminders of the terrible crimes against humanity committed in the name of race and nationalism, with the false claims of making one’s country greater and powerful than others. These places are a reminder that when you remain silent over the killing of other human beings because they belong to other races, religions, sexual orientations, or tribes you are a part of the crime. Someday, you would face the same consequences and suffer miserably.
To be honest with you, I have begun to believe that man has got a very short memory and is prone to unlearn the lessons. The human species have not evolved enough to learn lessons from such unaffordable mistakes.
Kitaab: Holocaust is considered to be one of the darkest chapters in the history of mankind. Today, even a century later, the mere thought of it gives goosebumps. How much do you think have we evolved since then? As a society, as a world, as countries and most importantly as human beings.
RA: To be honest with you, I have begun to believe that man has got a very short memory and is prone to unlearn the lessons. The human species have not evolved enough to learn lessons from such unaffordable mistakes. As you rightly said, Holocaust is the darkest chapter in the history of mankind. The main factors behind the Holocaust were the abyss of racism and the volcano of nationalism. Racism and nationalism together are the worst abyss of the volcano, it gulps down the nation and humanity leading to burning, killing, lynching, and genocide. Now, after centuries you have witnessed that from America to Turkey and from Poland to India what kind of political parties are in power. Just think!
Kitaab: It is said that Nazism represented an extreme form of nationalism. In the last few years, we have seen a rise in nationalism across the world. How do you think we can curtail this situation from further damage?
RA: Exactly what I was referring to in my previous answer. The world is hastily falling into the hands of people having minds of Hitler, Mussolini, Augusto Pinochet, Saddam, or to an extent that of Joseph Stalin. We are almost nothing in front of such big military powers or the power-thirsty dinosaurs roaming on our planet as humans and dividing people in the name of race, religion, culture, mythology, history, values, beef, cow, dog, pig, masks, veil and every other possible shit. I don’t know if there is any remedy against ultra-nationalism but cataclysmic destruction. German society had only realized how villainous Hitler was after his downfall and destruction of Germany. The only thing we can do is we can keep the memory intact and differentiate between good and evil, between fascism and democracy, and between authoritarianism and democracy.
The only thing we can do is we can keep the memory intact and differentiate between good and evil, between fascism and democracy, and between authoritarianism and democracy.
Kitaab: A lot has been said and written about Nazism including the experiences, signs, warnings and the lessons we could imbibe from it. Still when you look around, you realize there is something that the world is yet to learn. What lessons of Nazism do you think we have missed out on, resulting in the chaos we are surrounded with today in the name of religion and politics?
RA: As I said, we unlearn the lessons or we don’t learn lessons altogether. We are blind or we pretend to be blind. You see, every lesson a rational person can learn from the disaster kicked by the Nazism is before us, Europe and the world at large. Despite it all, the massacre takes place in Bosnia Herzegovina. Despite that a war took place in the Middle East and Iraq is still burning. America had waged a war against tribal people of Afghanistan with a gang of over two dozen countries and has lost it after 18 years of stupidity and hangover of being a military might.
The democratically elected regime was dismantled in Egypt by the patronizing military dictatorship. The UN is unable to resolve issues causing extremism in the Middle East and the sub-continent. The genocide took place in Burma and the world’s largest democracy kept smiling, as a neighboring rogue had turned into a statue of Buddha. The lesson we missed out from Nazism is that this planet is the only home we have and if we destroy it, we are moving towards extinction. We are nonexistent, Shunia i.e. Zero. The lesson we forgot altogether is that all humans are equal and they belong to one race and a single-family i.e. mankind.
P.S: All images used in the interview are copyright of the author, Rahman Abbas and cannot be used or reproduced without proper permissions.