Reviewed by Saba Mahmood Bashir

patna blues

Title: Patna Blues
Author: Abdullah Khan
Publishing House: Juggernaut Books
Year of publication: 2018
Price: Rs 499

 

Yeh maikad-e-ishq hai yahan  jaam-e-junoon milta hain
Giriya-e-deed-e-Qaisha wa Qalb-e-Laila ka khoon milta hai

To say that Patna Blues, the debut novel of Abdullah Khan, is about the life of a young boy, an IAS aspirant from Patna, is limiting the scope of the book and the author. Strongly set in the history and politics of the nation of the last 30 years or so, the story is woven on the desire of a middle class, hardworking family to see their son as an administrative officer. What gets sewn in the storyline is the infatuation of Arif Khan, the protagonist, with a Hindu married woman, Sumitra, who is much older to him. However, in actuality what lies within the fabric of the story is the socio-political situation of the country in the background and which keeps jutting out throughout the main narrative. Right from the building up of the political mood of the nation before the demolition of the Babri Masjid to the Gujarat carnage and the then Chief Minister being denied the US visa, the story continues along the arc of political changes that happen in the country. One notices the changes in the storyline with the rise of extremism and its impact on the common man. There are references of how his honest father, a respectable police inspector, had to pay the price for his honesty, and how the corrupt officials tried to settle scores with him after he retired. This issue of corruption has been dealt with rather sensitively, portraying at length the helplessness of an honest officer. Again, when Arif’s younger brother, an aspiring actor, goes missing from a Muslim dominated locality in Delhi, there are suggestions of corruption and an existing fear of the police.

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by Anu Kumar

Admittedly, The Patna Manual of Style is hard to describe, even harder to like. But it is easy to love–travel through its pages and you will see Delhi as it was a decade ago, with its mentions of what the North Campus looked like and perhaps still does, how the winter sunlight slinks gently into an apartment, how you can catch a glimpse of the Qutb Minar from a South Delhi barsati, the traffic around Sarai Kale Khan, the atmosphere around Connaught Circus, and you will automatically fall in step with Hriday Thakur, the aspiring writer from Patna who has loved and not lost, and somehow made a life for himself in Delhi, says Anu Kumar

PatnaThough Siddharth Chowdhury’s The Patna Manual of Style (Aleph Book Company, 2015) includes the word “stories” in its title, it has to be read like a novel, with the stories following one after another. And while these stories are not arranged chronologically, and even the narrative voices vary, it is only when one reads the final story that there is some sense of completion–almost. A novel, after all, should never be complete; its incompleteness must linger with the reader.

Hriday Thakur appears in several of these stories. Read in some order, he has just lost his job, and some time before this he has lost the girl he loved. He even loses his mentor but at the end he does find happiness of a sort, with a job and married to a woman he loves. In Chowdhury’s novel, Day Scholar, which preceded this, Hriday is the wide-eyed and impressionable young university student from Patna, in-part bewildered and blissful–whether it is because of the reckless violence his landlord Zoravar Singh Shokeen is capable of, or due to Hriday’s own obsession with a young girl. But in these stories–though there is a certain writerly detachment about him, given his own ambitions to be a writer–he is more confident, worldly-wise and aware of his own attractiveness to women.

Rats_matterofratsOne night two summers ago, I was in a car speeding across the border into the eastern Indian state of Bihar. The unlit, pitch-black freeway didn’t deter traffic from barreling forward at breakneck speeds. In the inevitable accident, a young man was shredded by a truck. A politician showed up, but instead of taking charge, he distracted the police with laughter and gossip.

amkumarAmitava Kumar is Professor of English on the Helen D. Lockwood Chair at Vassar College, New York and is the author of several works of literary non-fiction, including Passport Photos, Bombay-London-New York, Husband of a Fanatic, and A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb, which was described by the New York Times as a “perceptive and soulful” meditation on “the cultural and human repercussions” of the global war on terror. His novel Home Products was short-listed for India’s premier literary award and republished in the US under the title Nobody Does the Right Thing.

His latest book is A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna. Read the review here.

Kitaab presents an exclusive interview with Professor Kumar:

A Matter of Rats is part memoir and part travel writing. It is a very ingenious way of writing the biography of a city. What did you want to achieve when you started working on this book? How did you define your goalpost?

To be honest, I was working with what my publisher, David Davidar, had asked of me. He had said that this was a part of a series on iconic cities in India, and that he wanted an essay that was about thirty thousand words long. I was comfortable with the thought that I’d put down on the page a series of impressions. Quick images.

Rats_matterofratsA Matter of Rats (Aleph, 342 pages, Rs. 295) by Amitava Kumar never glorifies Patna or defends it. And yet, despite the decline, or perhaps because of it, it feels like a love poem rather than an elegy, writes Oindrila Mukherjee in her review for Kitaab.org.

In the late summer of 2001, I was working for the Indian newspaper, The Statesman. Having completed nearly two years as a reporter who had to cover several beats such as crime and corporation as well as incidents throughout the day and night – bomb blasts, fires, laathi charges, and so on – I was considerably more hardened than when I had started out. Still, nothing had really prepared me for my visit to the state where my father grew up and where I had spent the first year of my life (of which I remembered nothing.) As a child, occasional visits to Patna to see the ancestral house in Rajendra Nagar or to visit relatives and my father’s childhood friends were spent in a whirlwind of feasting and merry-making in comfortable homes. The most exciting or dangerous thing that had ever happened to me on one of those visits was when a passing motorcyclist snatched my mother’s handbag from our rickshaw. Even that incident led to remarks like of course this is expected in Bihar. 

The stereotypes of lawlessness surrounding Bihar grew exponentially as I did. It was considered a dump by not only outsiders who loved to repeat stale jokes about the state’s chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav (referred to typically by only his first name, a term of derision for a village bumpkin – Lalu,) but even by those in my father’s circle who had been born and raised there.