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Rohzin in Germany – The Urdu novel that has attracted readers in the West

‘The novel unravels the complexity of human relations’- Martin Gieselmann

Gonsenheim

Rahman Abbas, Musician Jan Köhler and Dr Almuth Degener

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).

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Reading at Indian Consulate General (Frankfurt)

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Rohzin: First Urdu novel to be discussed in Germany

Das Stadt(1)

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).

Rahman Abbas

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.


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Kitaab Singapore organizes the first SRMU Kitaab Literary Festival in Lucknow

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

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Lighting the lamp: Pro Chancellor Pooja Agarwal (second from right)

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.

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Kitaab’s director Zafar Anjum delivering 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.

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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.

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Eminent poet Sudeep Sen with veteran actor Shishir Sharma

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.

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Rahman Abbas (left) with Isa Kamari (right) launching Tawassul in Urdu

 

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Will contemporary Urdu novelists please stand up?

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?

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Book Review: Rohzin by Rahman Abbas

Reviewed by Nabina Das

(This review was first published in India Book Review. Re-published here with the author’s permission.)

Rohzin

 

Title: Rohzin
Author: Rahman Abbas
Publisher: Arshia Publications & Mumba Books India
Pages: 354

 

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.

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An Open Letter to the PM of Pakistan

From: Rahman Abbas

Mumbai, India

20/1/2017

 

To,

Mr. Prime Minister of Pakistan

Mian Nawaz Sharif

SUBJECT:  Appeal to ensure the safety and release of missing poet and bloggers.

Dear Sir,

I’m an Indian Urdu novelist and a person who has spoken against fanatic elements of my own country who indulge in activities against the principles of democracy and secularism. I have also protested against groups of fundamentalists accused of killing writers and critics of rotten religious practices in our country. Additionally, I am one among the Indian writers who returned their respective awards as a symbolic protest against fundamentalism and intolerance.

With this brief introduction about my concern for principles of secularism and the creative fraternity, I am drawing your attention towards the missing poet and bloggers in your country. Since Pakistan is a wonderful country that cherishes democracy, a country where human dignity and freedom of thought is revered and valued, it is saddening that poets and writers have been made to disappear. Sir, I needn’t say that it is a serious threat to what you stand for i.e. freedom of thought and freedom of dissent. I have witnessed that you take a stand for rights of minorities in your country and value contribution of writers and poets.

Sir, it is true that one can disagree with someone’s views on social changes and reforms, but in that case, we have laws and legal processes to punish people who hurt the emotions of others or use offensive language. But there is no situation in which silencing of thinkers and disappearance of a person would be acceptable as it is against the basic principles of Islam and democracy. Sir, you must be aware of the “mysteriously” missing poet and academicians Salman Haider, Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, Ahmed Raza Naseer and Samar Abbas, and must have also felt the pain of the families of these young minds.

Sir, on Thursday 19th January, the Interior Minister of Pakistan Chaudhury Nisar Ali Khan had also taken note of the matter and stated that there was an ongoing negative propaganda on social media against the bloggers. The Interior Minister has also stated on 10th January that he was in contact with intelligence agencies and was hopeful of finding Salman Haider. However, the disappointment is increasing with every passing day. Hence your intervention is needed in the safe and sound recovery of all human rights and social activists.

Sir, I’m appealing to you to look into this critical matter with personal interest and ensure the safety of people who want Pakistan to be a true democratic and secular nation.

 

14910525_1318428548170182_6247381451463410303_nYours sincerely,

Rahman Abbas

rahmanabbas@gmail.com


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Win for Free Speech in India: Urdu novelist Rahman Abbas’ Novel Cleared of Obscenity Charges

Award-winning Urdu writer Rahman Abbas

Award-winning Urdu writer Rahman Abbas

On 19 August 2016, a lower court in Mumbai delivered a judgment on a ten-year-old case against the Urdu novel Nakhlistan ki Talash (In Search of an Oasis). The novel and its author, Rahman Abbas, were acquitted of obscenity charges made under the colonial-era Section 292 (sale of obscene books) of the Indian Penal Code. Abbas feels free today, and vindicated, and so do all readers and writers. But he spent ten years searching for an oasis without regressive, outdated laws, where writers and readers can do what they must without supervision by the thought police.

The book, a romance set in Mumbai after the 1992-93 riots, takes on two themes Rahman Abbas has returned to time and again: love and politics. In 2005, a nineteen year old Mumbai student lodged a complaint against the novel, objecting that two paragraphs in it were “objectionable and obscene”. The publisher, distributor and author were charged. The police went to the author’s home to arrest him. He spent a night in jail; the allegation cost him his job as a school teacher. It also brought him vilification from fundamentalists and sections of the Urdu media for questioning “religion” and “the existence of God”.

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India: Writers Step Up Protest, 6 More Return Sahitya Akademi Awards

Gujarat-based writer Ganesh Devy, ‘Yuva Puraskar’-winning author Aman Sethi and four other eminent writers from Punjab returned their Sahitya Akademi awards on Sunday. Kannada writer Aravind Malagatti resigned from the body’s general council, joining the growing protest by writers over “rising intolerance” and “communal” atmosphere.

The 1983-born Aman Sethi’s ‘A Free Man’, a book of narrative reportage, had bagged the Akademi’s award for young writers under the age of 35 in 2012. The Mumbai-based writer said that he is returning his award as he was “shocked” at the literary body’s refusal to take “a firm stance” on the killing of rationalist writer MM Kalburgi. Continue reading