By Arifa Yesmin
Title: Patna Blues
Author: Abdullah Khan
Publisher: Juggernaut Books, 2018.
An outstanding fictional representation of a less explored region of India, Patna, Abdullah Khan’s debut novel, Patna Blues, focuses on a Muslim family, its culture, and the dream universe of the protagonist, Arif. A young aspirant for UPSC, Arif hails from an orthodox Muslim family in Patna.The story charts the trajectory of Arifs’s life steeped in upheavals. Being smitten by a woman much older to him, his life takes a life-changing swerve distracting him from achieving his aim of becoming an IAS officer.
Arif dreams big but his familial and economic constraints are barriers in his way. He is the elder son of an honest police sub-inspector, Abdul Rashid Khan, who struggles to manage his house with his low salary. Sending his son to Delhi for better education is a near impossibility for him. Arif’s hard work earns him some initial success but he fails to reach his desired goal.
Muslim culture, which is assumed to be more rigid on sexual promiscuity, can never approve of Arif’s clandestine relation with Sumitra. Arif’s looming fear becomes a threat to his love for the woman. This timely story also reflects on the ongoing communal struggle in the country. Love-jihad, born of politically invested ambitions, echoes in the novel. Fearful of being marked as a “love-jihadi”, Arif struggles to subdue his emotions for Sumitra. The author deftly weaves communal tension in a love story.
Being thwarted by harsh realities of life, he readily accepts the offer to be an Urdu translator as his “a tiny but workable dream”. Abdullah Khan seems a polished poet, familiar with the nuances of poetry, who hooks a beautiful poem in the story. This emotionally charged poem, ‘A Workable Dream’ captures Arif’s dilemma and poverty of life. Arif, a Muslim middle class boy, represents the wretchedness of youth from a backward region of India.
Arif’s story runs against the backdrop of many political upheavals – the Babri Masjid demolition, the Gujarat massacre, the aftermath of Hindu-Muslim riots – that India has witnessed from 1990 to 2005. With a realistic depiction of historical events, the author attempts to bring to the fore how these political events affect the collective psyche of the Muslim community, which Arif belongs to. As a hawk-eyed observer, Khan records such numerous happenings in the country that feed as materials for his novel.
What may attract the readers towards the novel is that they can relate themselves to the story. Every character seems to be part of the larger world. There is nothing melodramatic about the characterization. A third-person omniscient narrator relates these stories to the readers in a realistic manner.
The protagonist bears many similarities with the author. Even their initials are the same i.e., A. K. It seems that Patna Blues has been written through the mists of author’s own memories of his personal life. With a graphic detail of the locale of Patna, the author gives the readers a virtual tour of the region. His generous use of famous Urdu couplets makes the novel supremely enjoyable to read.
Patna Blues is available here.
Arifa Yesmin, Research Scholar, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Travel: Cities, Places, People’, edited by Nishi Pulugurtha, academic, Kolkata, India.