Turbulent times

Lead review
Last Updated 12 December 2015, 18:34 IST

The charming fairy tales of Tarawali, Jogi and Vanwati raise the curtain. Childhood can be beautiful if one had a phuphi amma to tell you of Umme Raquiba sheltering under a date tree. But the so-called idealists come and set your sights at a distant star as you enter teenage, force you to become an alien in your own land. You reach out to the distant star but it never works for the storm comes and separates Tarawali from her beloved. The ideal is forever a mirage.

Intizar Husain is telling the story of what happened after 1947, and till today, the pawns in the Partition do not know why they were moved across a certain line, called the political border between India and Pakistan. The Sea Lies Ahead is a tale told by a wise person signifying much for the future generations. Readers who are not students of history and do not have any significant idea of what happened in India in 1947, would do well to go through the translator’s introduction first. Rakshanda Jalil writes to the point.

Large chunks of Indian Muslims moved to Pakistan to be ‘free’. That is what the leaders had told them. A new world, but, was it a new dawn? Rakshanda shifts the Urdu literature of Pakistan’s progression where enthusiasm steadily wanes to the point of silence. The dream had become a reality, not as a consecrated jar, but as a handful of lustreless shards. What was the writer to hold on to? The Sea Lies Ahead itself is summarised literally in a nutshell by Rakshanda: “…once the rosy idealism of the early years rubbed off, the issues of corruption and moral turpitude became as important as rising Islamism.”

The present novel is the second of a trilogy. The first began with the Partition of India when Jawad Hassan gives up his family property in India to become a citizen of Pakistan. The novel revealed the splinters of patriotic dreams lying all around, mocking the youthful idealist. Memories can be terrible. The lost Eden can make the evil situation appear much worse. Two decades later, we take up Jawad’s life again. Once again, memories criss-cross the telling. This time, there is only bitterness at the steady loss of faith in one’s own chosen Eden. The Muhajirs, the Arab term used to describe the immigrant from India, continue to remain the expendable ‘foreigners’. Apparently, religion was no cementing factor. But this need not worry us too much. Integration will come somehow, anyhow, with the passage of years.

It is when religion is used as a cementing factor to create a new race of jihadists that Pakistan confronts a real danger. And that is exactly what is happening right in front of Jawad who had left behind even his fiancé in 1947. The novelist produces a very tender tale and draws freely upon sources of Hindu culture. Was he not brought up in that atmosphere in Bulandshahr before he migrated to Pakistan in 1947? A living legend, a nonagenarian, Intizar Husain lays bare the reality of his chosen motherland, warts and all.

And yet, this novel is more than a fictionalised autobiography. Every move, every sentence rings true and that comes of age and a certain sense of detachment. There was never any honeymoon period for the Muhajirs. First the back-breaking attempts to make a life for oneself in the new land. Jawad is a typical representative who has started with life in a shanty and achieved his own flat. Going back to India to meet relatives only makes the pain keener and these pages in the novel carry all the pain of self-exiles who have burnt their boats.

In the chosen land, there is a steady degradation of societal life. In Karachi, no area is safe. “May Allah have mercy on us!” The nadir is reached with Ghazi Ataullah Sahib, “the epitome of a monolithic and inflexible Unitarian Islam.” He is intolerance personified. The West should be destroyed and all those of Islam if they follow the western scientific advancement. “Musalmanon, I only need 313 mad men to achieve the destruction!” He gets them and achieves it for the city.

The narrative moves seamlessly till the end through memories and hopelessness, terror and betrayal, faith and the tiny spark of fraternity that resides in the human heart, the love of Jawad and Maimuna, an eternal flame that spreads a glow challenging despair. Three hundred and thirty-four pages of tiny print, factual and lyrical, and insinuating a terrible warning. Not to be ignored by the political leaders or the common man. Certainly not by the civilised world.

Intizar Husain, translated by Rakshanda Jalil
Harper Perennial
2015, pp 334, Rs 599

(Published 12 December 2015, 16:04 IST)

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