Archive for July, 2011
For those of us who seek to understand what happened to the kind of writing that Munshi Prem Chand and Mulk Raj Anand did, and that nourished and stirred us, but has faded away, Mere Hisse Ke Roshnai (Hindi) is an essential read. That was a kind of writing which provoked us into action because it advocated equality and attacked social injustice and backwardness. The style was important, but the message was more important, and the writer was always less important than the book.
We remember our Godaan, Adha Gaon, Rasidi Ticket, and ‘woh intezaar tha jiska yeh woh seher to nahin‘ (This is not the dawn we longed for). That was when branding hadn’t defined the business. In fact, writing itself was not a business. Ideas and writing were a way of life around the time of Indian independence and for a few decades after that. The writers sought meaning, not jazz (based on Bulbul’s feedback I recognise that I used the wrong word, so read as: hype or mere publicity).
Mere Hisse Ke Roshnai is part memoir, part character-sketch of the founder of the Progressive Writer’s Movement (most Hindi, Urdu, Bengali writers of the times belonged to the group) the Marxist thinker and writer Sajjad Zaheer (Bannay Mian) and the famous Urdu short story writer Razia Zaheer by their youngest daughter Noor Zaheer.
In a long time I have not laughed as hard in the beginning or middles of the chapters of a book and not cried as I did towards the end of each chapter. Sajjad and Razia Zaheer were pillars of the movement which created a plethora of good writing in India in the last century. Sajjad Zaheer was also a major force within the Communist Party of India before it split into two. Sajjad Zaheer even went to prison and was awarded the death sentence, later commuted and then freed, in the famous Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case 1951 (when the Pakistani Army planned a coup against the PM of Pakistan Liaqat Ali Khan).
Noor brings to us anecdote after anecdote from their lives that were suffused with humanity. Such that though one knows these people were towering individuals who had a huge public persona but what comes across is the simplicity of their being human beings first. What stood out to me were their views on religion: Sajjad did not believe in a God and Razia believed in Khuda but dreamt of Saraswati. Their devotion to the movement. Sajjad’s role in the Shimla Agreement in which he prompted Bhutto to participate and the sad erosion of the house in Lucknow where the movement started in 1936 (Wazir Manzil).
My only complaint with Noor is that the book is too brief. Yet, one can see that every step of those tall individuals, Sajjad and Razia, is possibly fraught with critiques and arguments and counter-arguments. They inked a lot of lives beyond the confines of a family, in fact for them the world was a family. In the face of which a daughter has done her best to bring about a humane and personal perspective on her parents. I strongly recommend this book to gain a historical view on the writing we dish out today where Page 3 appearances and 5-star Hotel launch parties seem to be more important than the books and the readings. Notice, India is much more literate today than in the 50s and can read more meaningfully but have we moved beyond the need to write about the serious flaws we still live with, in an unequal society?