‘The novel unravels the complexity of human relations’- Martin Gieselmann
Twice Academy award winning Urdu novelist Rahman Abbas has astonished the world of Urdu literature with his fourth novel Rohzin, which has been in discussions in the mainstream media since its publication on the occasion of Jashn-e-Rekhta, 2016. The novel has been praised by stalwarts of Urdu literature in both India and Pakistan, like, Gopi Chand Narang, Sayyed Muhammad Ashraf, Shafey Kidwai, Nizam Siddiqui, Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Baland Iqbal, Salahuddin Darwesh, Neelam Bashir and Muhammad Hameed Shahid.
Rohzin is one of those rare Indian novels that have been translated into a European language soon after publication and received praise from academics, professors, artists and students abroad. German linguist and translator Almuth Degener translated Rohzin in German and Draupadi Verlag published it in February 2018. The German title Die Stadt, Das Meer, Die Liebe (The City, They Sea, The Love) was first launched and discussed in Switzerland in a three day literary event, ‘The Day of Indian Literature’ organized by Literaturehaus, Zurich.
Recently, Rahman Abbas was invited to undertake a literary tour from 23 March to 15 June to attend the readings of his novel at South Asian Institute (Heidelberg University), Bonn University, Ev. Akademie (Villigst), Indian Consulate (Frankfurt), Café Mouseclick, Tisch Hochst, Pakban (Frankfurt), Lokalezeitung, Gonsenheim (Mainz), Pfalzer Hof Schonau (Bei, Heidelberg), Bickelmann Family (Heidelberg). Most of the events were organized with the cooperation of Draupadi Verlag and Literature Forum Indian, and South Asian Institution (Heidelberg).
(From The Caravan. Link to the complete article is given below.)
Lucknow, of course, does show up in Masud’s fiction. Its artisan culture features in many stories: the glass worker in “Sheeha Ghat,” the chikan embroiderer in “Ganjefa,” the perfume maker in “Essence of Camphor.” In “Interregnum,” a mason carves designs of fish into the facades of buildings. Fish designs just like these were once the emblem of Awadh, and they adorn Lucknow’s Asifi Imambara, as well as the frontages of many buildings in the neighbourhoods of Chowk, Ashrafababad and Aminabad. Whenever I spot a fish on an old Lucknow building, I inevitably think of the mason in “Interregnum.”
I am, however, uncomfortable with tributes that bind Masud to Lucknow. They form part of a larger tendency to read South Asian authors, particularly those who write in Indian languages, as windows into a distinctive local culture. This approach misses the essence of Masud’s fiction. His Spanish translator, Rocío Moriones Alonso, once noted that Masud’s stories show us that the universal can be found in the extreme local. The blind grandmother cracking betel nuts in “Destitutes Compound” might be an undeniably Lucknavi—or at least north Indian—character, but the sensation she evokes is that of motionless time and placelessness.
Moreover, Masud was in many ways a global writer. He was a professor of Persian, a former global language, and a translator of Persian and English into Urdu. His own works in Urdu were translated into many languages. A few years ago, I found a Spanish translation of a collection of Masud’s stories in Mexico City, in a bookstore called Libreria Gandhi. As I sat rereading “Essence of Camphor,” I realised that Masud might have hardly left his native city, but he travelled more widely than most who board a transcontinental flight every year. One of his most commendable accomplishments is that, through his stories, he ultimately expanded Urdu’s reach. And he did so precisely at a time when the language—as well as its speakers, readers and writers—faced harsh political pressure, and many in India actively sought to restrict and confine it.
I had the pleasure of knowing Masud during the last decade of his life. By then he was ailing. Nonetheless, it was not hard to see how his writing reflected his lifestyle. He owned several books about crafts, and his home was decorated with pieces of art he had created. Masud once told me that he often was afflicted by “craft spells” and described how, two decades earlier, he had become obsessed with making wood and clay sijdegah—small tablets used by Shia Muslims to rest their foreheads on during prayers. He made many sijdegah and gave several dozen away to friends and relatives. Some of them, however, are still lying around his house, and his son, Timsal Masud, offers namaz on one of them every day.
So little is known and even less written about the women who have unflinchingly supported their celebrated men. It is true that Safia Deen would not have been known had she not married Saadat Hasan Manto and become Safia Manto. But on her centenary today, May 11, let it be known that Manto may not have been a hero had it not been for Safia, who stood by him, through the best and worst of times. The best were few and the worst, many.
Both Manto and Safia were born on May 11 (the husband in 1912, the wife in 1916), wore black-rimmed glasses, had Kashmiri origins and had first names that started with an S. But the similarities probably ended there. He was a man of fine taste – be it silver capped Sheaffer pens or gold embroidered juttis. He wanted nothing but the best, whereas Safiawas simple to a fault, needing less and less through their hardships. He was a provocateur and left no opportunity to be noticed, while she was self-evasive and shy.
What began as an arranged marriage in 1936, about which Manto writes a whole essay, titled, Meri Shaadi (My Wedding), soon turned into great fondness and camaraderie. Their best days were spent in Bombay, a city they returned to, after Manto worked in Delhi at the All India Radio. It is there that they lost their first child, Arif. It devastated them, but also brought them closer. They then went on to have three daughters.
Rahman Abbas will read from Rohzin in Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Munich, Mainz & Bonn
Rohzin, Rahman Abbas’s fourth novel, was released in 2016 at the Jashn-e-Rekhta Festival, Delhi. Since its launch, the novel has been widely discussed in the Urdu world both in India and Pakistan. In 2017, the Hindu Lit for Life festival hosted a session on Rohzin with critic Shafey Kidwai in discussion with Rahman Abbas. The Seemanchal, TISS and Dehradun Literature festivals also invited the author to read out from the novel. In 2016, Rawal TV, Canada’s Urdu television, broadcast an hour-long debate on the novel in which critics from India and Pakistan participated.
Gopi Chand Narang, the former President of Sahitya Academy, described Rohzin as a turning point in the history of Urdu novels, while eminent Pakistani author Mustansar Hussain Tarar called it a fearless creative narration. In 2017, Rohzin won the Maharashtra State Academy Award (Abbas had won the award for his first novel too, Khuda Ke Saaye Mein Ankh Micholi – Hide and Seek in the Shadow of God).
Rohzin grabbed the attention of German linguist and Urdu translator Almuth Degener who translated it for Draupadi Verlag under the German title Die Stadt, Das Meer, Die Liebe (The City, the Sea and the Love). The translated version was launched in Switzerland in February 2018.
Rahman Abbas has been invited to undertake a literary tour in various German cities from 23 May to 15 June, during which he will participate in reading sessions and meet his German readers. The tour is sponsored by Draupadi Verlag, Akademie Villigst and Indisches Kulturinstitut e.V (The Indian Cultural Institute).
According to the website of the Indian Cultural Institute, Rahman Abbas will be reading from his novel at Pfalzer Hof-Heidelberg, Indian Consulate General, Frankfurt, Mainz, Munich, and at University of Heidelberg. In addition, the author will attend a three-day conference on the topic ‘The Megacities in Literature’ in Schwerte, organized by Academy Villigst. During this conference where Rohzin will be discussed, Rahman Abbas will also share his experience of living in Bombay and how it has affected his writing. In Bonn University, the author will read from the novel and speak on the future of Urdu in India.
Kitaab International has obtained the rights to publish the English translation of Rohzin.
Lucknow has been the hub of mushaira, Dasstaangoi and kavi sammelan for centuries, but as times change, rituals and traditions also get recreated and rejuvenated according to the prevailing zeitgeist. In a unique collaboration, the first of its kind, writers, poets, translators and scriptwriters from different parts of India and Asia assembled in Lucknow in the first weekend of April to celebrate writing from South Asia and Southeast Asia.
This first edition of the SRMU Kitaab Literary Festival was jointly organized by Kitaab International Pte. Ltd., Singapore and Shri Ramaswaroop Memorial University (SRMU), Lucknow and was held on the 7th and 8th of April, 2018 at the SRMU campus.
Building bridges between Asian writers and readers
Festival Director Zafar Anjum, the festival’s patron A K Singh, Vice Chancellor of SRMU, Chancellor Pankaj Agarwal, Pro Chancellor Pooja Agarwal, and the faculty of SRMU led by Dr. B.M. Dixit, inaugurated the festival. ‘The aim of this festival ties up with the aim of Kitaab—to create bridges and dialogue between Asian writers and global readers and to bring literature to the grassroots,’ said Anjum in his welcome address.
Agarwal applauded SRMU’s collaboration with Kitaab. He said that Kitaab is an esteemed organisation that offers a promising worldwide platform to both budding and established authors, editors and publishers. Extending from the areas of literary fiction and translation to filmmaking (together with Filmwallas, founded by Zafar Anjum), Kitaab caters to all genres in English and other South Asian languages.
The festival featured more than 20 writers in English, Hindi and Urdu from India, Singapore and Malaysia. Well-known and award-winning writers such as Sudeep Sen, Rahman Abbas, Yogesh Praveen, Dr. Surya Prasad Dixit, Isa Kamari, Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil, Dr. Malachi Edwin Vethamani and Novoneel Chakraborty top lined the festival. Theatre and film actor Shishir Sharma, who was present to talk about his journey in the world of acting, presented the film, More Chai Please, Singapore’s first Urdu short film.
The film, shot in Singapore and presented by Filmwallas, tells the story of a couple with the plot spanning Singapore and Lucknow. The film’s writer and producer Sunita Lad Bhamray and its director Zafar Anjum were present during a special screening of the film on the second day of the festival.
The other major highlight of the festival was the launch of Tawassul, a Malay novel by Singaporean novelist Isa Kamari, translated into Urdu by Rubina Siddiqui. It is the first work of Singaporean literature to be translated into Urdu. Award-winning Urdu novelist, Rahman Abbas who has also helped oversee the edits, hailed this avant-garde work of fiction and told the audience that the book’s Hindi edition was in the works.
Urdu novelist Rahman Abbas, 46, had to spend time in jail, even losing his teaching job, over a book he published in 2004. It was only in August 2016 that he was acquitted by a Mumbai court, the culmination of a 10-year lawsuit against his Nakhlistan ki Talash (In Search of An Oasis). The novel, which was slapped with obscenity charges under Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, revolves around love and politics in the aftermath of the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai. It created a furore in conservative Urdu literary and media circles. But such instances of incendiary Urdu novels, with contemporary settings, are hard to find now. Why are there no traces of anything similar to the Progressive Writers’ Movement of yore?
Urdu fiction buffs profusely applaud the seminal writers of the 20th century—Ismat Chughtai, Munshi Premchand, Qurat-ul-Ain Haider and Saadat Hasan Manto. But how much do we know about the contemporary Urdu fiction in 21st century India? Do these unknown novelists still concern themselves with the hoary traditions of ‘Lakhnawi Tehzeeb’ and ‘Awadhi Zubaan’, or have they moved on to ruminate on more topical issues from their immediate surroundings?
How many Urdu novels from Maharashtra, Kolkata or Andhra Pradesh have come to the fore, discounting the usual suspects from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar? Moreover, what ails Urdu novels today?
Hussainul Haq’s novel “Amawas Mein Khwab” initiates a new debate on the Hindu-Muslim relationship
At a time when people cherish to be lied to, what can scare away the spectre of an unprecedented assault on the very idea of truth? Is truth a sociological reality or an unachievable ethical reality? Does the narrative of homogeneity set in motion by new information technology produce a kind of immodesty that allows us to recognise falsehood but we still treat it as if were a reality? Does our intent on peddling fantasy as a fact correspond to “Suspended Disbelief” that Coleridge found essential for literature? These frightening and unsettling questions thrown up by the post-truth period are impeccably sewn together in a novel of a celebrated Urdu novelist and short story writer Hussainul Haq and his latest novel has been doing rounds in the Urdu knowing circles of the subcontinent.
His recently published novel, “Amawas Mein Khwab” (Dreaming in the last night before the new moon), poignantly tells a tale of Ismael Rajai, who lost all his family members in a communal riot but a marked Indian passion for free-flowing of inter-personal relationship unencumbered by religious and cultural affinity and uncontaminated by self-interest enabled him to begin a new life. Ismael, lived in Bombay, Bhiwandi and Patna, and is exposed to many cultures and as a power loom owner, teacher, a friend of a landlord, a father and a thinking human being, he tries to understand why common people do the uncommon to transform themselves. His stint as a lecturer at a college in Bihar provides him with a space where several mediations are carried out. Arousal of mass-hysteria in the name of caste and religion acquaints him with the aggressive and self-destructive potential of conflict and disharmony. His tantalising journey of a new life transcends inadequacies and presents a higher level of synthesis where being apart and being together emerge a reality as audaciously as they can.
Reviewed by Nabina Das
(This review was first published in India Book Review. Re-published here with the author’s permission.)
Author: Rahman Abbas
Publisher: Arshia Publications & Mumba Books India
A book of eight chapters, Rohzin or The Melancholy of the Soul, by Rahman Abbas is a veritable feast for the mind. In Urdu ‘rohzin” is a word that the author coins to signify the souls of people hurt by witnessing the betrayal of their parents with their partners. What ensues is a story of love, lust, belonging, rejection and identity spread lush across the city of Bombay. The core setting, as described in the novel, is a space in the throes of monsoon, perhaps the most defining of seasons in this city by the Arabian Sea.
Rohzin, the author’s fourth novel, has been translated into English by Sabika Abbas Naqvi, and is soon to be published. Its German translation by linguist Almuth Degener has been published in January 2018 by Draupadi Verlag and Literaturhaus (Zurich, Switzerland) has organized its release function on 23 February 2018.
One might recall that Marquez — who is quoted at the novel’s outset — has said in his “The Art of Fiction No. 69” interview with The Paris Review:
‘It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.’
Speaking of imagination and reality readily transmigrating into each other’s realms, Rahman Abbas’ craft could perhaps be called Marquez-esque, but that would be too easy a deliberation. Even then, the vision of Konkan that he evokes is of ‘wildest imagination’. This is juxtaposed with scenes of reality and fantasy jostling together in the deep urban underbelly of Bombay.