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30 December, 2004

Aadha Gaon/ A village divided - Review

It's been a long time since I came upon a book by an Indian writer, that speaks to me - me, the Indian; me, the woman; me, the Shia muslim; me, who lives in a class-divided, caste-ridden, complicated, convoluted, corrupt country... and cannot stop loving it.

'A Village Divided' speaks to me in this way. Originally published in Urdu as 'Aadha Gaon', A Village Divided is written by Dr Rahi Masoom Reza (better known as a script-writer, who also scripted the television series, Mahabharata).

This classic piece of modern Urdu literature has been translated into English by Gillian Wright. Though I have a long-standing suspicion of translated novels, I must confess that this particular book did as much justice to the original as one can humanely expect.

The book traces the story of a small village in eastern UP -Gangauli.
The author, the late Dr Reza had delved deep into his own personal and social history to paint this almost-unbearably true-to-life picture of India before she was divided, though divided she always had been. As Gangauli was.

Dr Reza belonged to Gangauli, and his own undercurrent of consciousness has been set down in the book in the form of the child 'Masoom' (literally, it means 'Innocent').

Gangauli (India) has always known divisions of caste, creed and class, as dictated by money. The shias of the village could not accept a low-caste Hindu woman being the lawfully wedded wife of the snooty Saiyid community. Kept women were acceptable, though. Lovers had to fight their families, elope and sometimes, die. Corruption and red tape have always been rampant, both in the police force and the local bureaucracy, and perhaps the judiciary as well. Marriages have always been arranged, in the name of anything but love. Blood has always been betrayed by blood.

But then, the Muslim League and their Qaid-e-Azam set about the creation of a new country, carved out of the bleeding heart of an unfathoming populace. And Gangauli mourned like it had never mourned before.

Gangauli is not just a village. It is the character of this country, pre-partition. It is the motherland. It is a micro-cosm, but also a metaphor for all those simple folk in rural India who never did want either war or partition. People who kill without remorse for a bhiga of land, but fail to understand why the fabric of mixed social life - Hindus, Shia, Sunnis, Saiyids, Chamars, Thakurs, Thanedaars, Zamindaars and barbers - should be rent apart, simply because there are two religions around.

Masoom is part-observer, part-narrator. He is the child with roots and memories of roots. The child who wanted to grow up to be his uncles and grand-uncles. The child who threw stones across a pond, got whacked by his mother, watched love come to naught, and despaired at the fate of his village, which was being ripped apart by this new calamity called Pakistan.

It is said that Aadha Gaon was a very controversial novel. When it was first published, Urdu writers accused Dr Reza for using this work of ficiton to get back at some real-life people, thinly disguised as characters in the book. In short, Dr Reza has been critisized for being critical.
But let us not forget that the author has simply exposed events and historical decisions in the light of what they did to this country, to Gangauli.

True, Dr Reza has been unstinting with criticism. He has criticized War, Gandhi, the Muslim League, Urdu, Jinnah, the creation of Pakistan, post-independence political systems and our utter failure to bring about any real social change, despite the abolition of Zamindaari and the establishment of democracy. He speaks fondly, but unsparingly. He speaks the truth that is bitter even to him.

To me, Dr Reza's voice is not judgemental. It is a hurt voice, the voice of history crying out to be undone.

Somewhere in the middle of the novel, Dr Reza writes a second introduction. He writes of belonging to Gangauli, his nanihaal (grandmother's home) and not to Ghazipur, where his immediate family stays now, or to Azamgarh, which is his paternal ancestral village. He does not care where his ancestors came from, for all ancestors come from somewhere else. He does not care where his 'rightful' home is. His roots are in Gangauli. His home and heart are in Gangauli. And no one has the right to tell him that he does not belong here.

And in that one chapter, Dr Reza becomes the voice of millions of Indian muslims, who had nothing to do with the making of Pakistan and who refuse to leave the place they call home.

(C) Annie Zaidi, December 2004.


Blogger Geetanjali said...

Sounds interesting - and an excellent recommendation! Shall look out for it in bookstores!

30 December, 2004 20:57  
Blogger SPECKLED_BAND said...

Has an especial poignancy for me personally, Annie! I've lived in UP, I know those places, I know the people...Thank you for this!

30 December, 2004 21:45  
Blogger Anju said...

That sounds like an awesome book. I will have to look for it.

31 December, 2004 20:30  
Blogger Dan Husain said...

Dr. Rahi Masoom Reza was a distant granduncle of mine. He was particularly fond of my father. I remember one of my earliest meetings with him. I was, I guess, in the sixth grade. We had a story called 'Chote Aadmi Ki Badi Kahani' in our Hindi textbook. Rahi Saheb had written that story. When I mentioned at school that I am related to him and he is a guest at home these days, people didn't believe it. So, like any 11 years old I had a point to prove. I went back home and found him relaxing in the lawn after a sumptuous lunch. I took my textbook to him and asked him can he autograph his chapter. He was amused, he said why do you want that. And I narrated the whole tale. He smiled and signed my textbook and then he asked me what have I learnt from this story. I scratched my head and said, 'you don't have to be big to do big things!'. He laughed aloud and his laughing face got etched in my memory forever.

Many years later I read 'Adha Gaon'. First in Hindi and then the English translation. But unfortunately he wasn't alive till then for me to say thank you and to tell him as to how he inspires till date to bring out these little tales tucked in the recesses of my brain.

Thank you Annie for making this book popular. it deserves its space among the best of Indian Literature.

01 January, 2005 13:35  
Blogger perspective said...

thanks annie for the tip...i shall surely look out for the book. i know what dr.reza feels when he talks of all the places his ancestors come from, but cares not for any except the place he's known forever.

i realize i belong nowwhere now, and somehow that feels like a strenght and not a weakness or loneliness.


02 January, 2005 08:18  
Blogger jaygee said...

yep annie.... definitely gonna look for this book... hope u are doing good... have nt heard from ya in a while

18 January, 2005 10:23  
Blogger Anoop Saha said...

Nice review. I just reached this post while searching for "aadha gaon" on the web. The greatness of this book are its characters. The precise understanding of complex situations by seemingly simple and innocent village folks. That, and the way the author described the women, their emotions, their thoughts are a hallmark of the novel.

14 July, 2006 01:32  
Anonymous Parul said...

It is a classic most definitely. However, I feel that the English translation stunts its stature. I was dissappointed with Gillian Wright's translation.The original is a masterpiece, a tour de force, layered, entertaining and insightful. Seeped in the folk traditions of India-ably critiquing its negatives while at the same time highlighting the simplicity of even the supposed crooks. INCREDIBLE WORK OF LITERATURE...INCREDIBLE

26 May, 2009 15:44  

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