Monday, June 20, 2011

Understanding Tolerance


The Good Muslim
By Tahmima Anam


The year is 1971; Rehana Haque awaits the return of her son Sohail. So does Rehana’s daughter Maya; two of them bask in the optimism that the new nation, Bangladesh, offers. We find them in Tahmima Anam’s recent novel, The Good Muslim. Set in the 1970s and 1980s, it traces the after effects of the Liberation War, the hope, disillusionment and cynicism of citizens, and the two faces of religion, through the Haques.
The book begins in 1984 when ‘Muktijoddha’ Maya embarks on a train-ferry-train journey to return to Dhaka, to her Ammoo and brother Sohail. The changes in her beloved Bhaiyya, and in the country on the whole — which drove her to leave home and settle in Rajshahi up in the north to practise medicine — have now become the established norms in the household.
The book depicts on a personal level the two different paths chosen by the two siblings, which is also a reflection on the struggle of going back to the pre-war dreams of building a secular and democratic nation.
Upon learning that Bhaiyya has now become Huzoor, or a leader of a religious community, Maya’s mind goes back to the early days of the independence when Sohail had returned from the war. The novel, which uses the tool of flashback in one chapter and returns to the present in the next, slowly allows the readers a peek into Sohail’s troubled state and Maya’s inability to understand the anguish of her brother.
Written simply, the language succeeds in highlighting the biting anger and helplessness of Maya, the brooding Sohail and his mischievous son, Zaid. However, it is the character of Ammoo — intense, accepting and understanding, who chooses to air her views in few words and small gestures — that stays on with us after having finished reading the book.
Ammoo is the first one to realise that the war has taken its toll on Sohail and hence gives her son the ‘Book’ (Quran) to help him regain his peace of mind. But, when Sohail veers towards the path of religion, Ammoo unwillingly accepts the fact that her son is lost to her forever.
Maya, however, cannot digest the fact that her modern, liberal, secular and fun-loving Bhaiyya has chosen the path of religion. She tries her best to dissuade Sohail despite Ammoo’s warnings that she won’t succeed. It’s only when Maya encounters death does she realise Bhaiyya’s dilemma, guilt and pain. Although she continues on the path of idealism, Maya knows what drove Sohail to change and comes to term with his outlook.
Perhaps that’s what the author would like to suggest with the title of the book: a good Muslim is the one who tries to understand and be tolerant of someone who has made a different choice.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Flight of Pigeons


I first saw the movie Junoon as a teenager and almost a decade later I read the novella – A Flight of Pigeons by Ruskin Bond – on which the film is based.
History was my favourite subject in the school and I found Junoon directed by Shyam Benegal interesting, but incomplete.
I was curious to know what happens to the Labadoors, Javed Khan's family and Lala Ramjimal after the English defeat the revolutionaries. I found the answers in the book.
The story is about the Labadoor family – Mariam, her daughter, Ruth, her aging mother, and cousins – who have to take shelter in the the home of their Hindu friend, Lala Ramjimal. It was the summer of 1857 and there was anger, animosity and hatred towards phirangi by the natives. The narrator of the story, Ruth tells us that her father and all their neighbours and friends were killed in the Shahjahanpur church by Indians. Yet, in the midst of all this hatred, the Labadoor family in hiding are showed kindness, respect and warmth, first by Lala and then by Javed Khan's family.
Javed Khan, along with his cousins, is one of the revolutionaries. And, yet he brings the Labadoor family from Lala's family. He does so because he is in love with Ruth.
The Pathan wants to marry the girl, while her mother, his wife, Firdaus and aunt are against the proposal. Ruth's fate is sealed when Mariam tells Javed that he could marry her daughter if the revolutionaries defeat the Britishers. Javed loses Delhi and consequently Ruth.
The book says that once the British rule was reestablished the Muslim noblemen who sided with the revolutionaries had their estates confiscated. The rebel leaders were either killed or brought to trial. Javed Khan is believed to have escaped to Nepal, while his family returned to Shahjahanpur once everything returned to normalcy. Lala Ramjimal settled down in Bareily, while the Labadoor's after a lot of travails reached Bharatpur, where Mariam's brother was stationed.