Sunday, August 02, 2009

An excerpt from my novel appears in the Denmark based Literary Magazine ZAPAROGUE


A Novel by Abdullah Khan


The cooker whistled in the kitchen. The aroma of freshly cooked arhar dal pervaded Arif’s room.

“Wake up beta! Breakfast is ready.” His mother’s voice reached his ears. He turned over in bed to avoid the glare of the sun coming in through the half-open window. Drawing a golden, silky Bhagalpuri chadar from under the pillow, he covered himself with it and went back to sleep again.

Once again the cooker whistled. The sound of footsteps approaching his room woke him up suddenly.

“Must be Abba”, he thought, fearing his father’s wrath if he found him in bed at this hour. He got out of bed hurriedly holding the loosened upper end of his lungi. Standing there he arranged the lungi, wrapping it around his waist and then knotting it properly. He rubbed his eyes and looked towards the door.

It was his brother, Zakir. Relieved, he sat down on the edge of the bed, his eyes half open and blurry. His feet were tentively touching the floor, feeling its cool indifference.

He stayed that way for a while.

Then he stood up, stretched and yawned.


His left hand moved swiftly to cover his wide-open, yawning mouth.

“Toba Astagfar! Toba Astagfar! Toba Astagfar!” He said. A smile widened his lips as his Dadi’s warning flashed in his mind, “Cover your mouth with your left hand and say Toba Astagfar thrice whenever you yawn. Otherwise, the shaitan will piss into your mouth.”

During his childhood, he had believed that the shaitan, the devil, was ever ready to piss into every yawning mouth that did not say Toba Astagfar and was not covered properly. So, whenever he yawned he did both. If sometimes he missed doing so he would spit non-stop, and then gargle till he was convinced that he had got rid of the last traces of the shaitan’s urine. He would sometimes use a solution of soap for gargling. He had never seen the shaitan but had believed in its formidable presence.

Even now, at twenty-three, he could not help saying Toba Astagfar whenever he yawned.

He looked around for today’s newspaper.

On the table near the window opening to the east, there were books and his notebooks but no newspaper. He even looked at the tangerine bookrack but all he saw was fat volumes of chemistry texts, novels, back issues of India Today and Sportstar, and a few more books. His eyes rested on Train to Pakistan, a novel by Khushwant Singh that was to be returned to Sinha Library latest by tomorrow, otherwise he would have to pay late fine.

“Zakir, where is today’s newspaper?” He asked his brother standing on the balcony. Zakir was tall, almost six feet, fair complexioned with athletic body, broad forehead, sharp nose, and narrow eyes. There is a mole of black pepper size on his left cheek. He looked like a refined and taller version of film star Govinda. Arif had walked till the door opening to the balcony. Zakir stopped brushing his teeth, spat out the foam and turned to reply ‘ Its there, Bhaiyya!’, Zakir pointed his fingers towards a bedside table.

The Saturday special pull out, Career and Competition Times, accidentally slipped out of his hands.



PJ Stuart said...

Abdullah, I enjoyed your work vey much. It is fun for me to read about life in different cultures. I have a good friend who lives in India and described to me his childhood home. He lived very near a police recruiting place much like you described. It made me wonder if this was the same place. I am sure there are many places like this in India, but it did sound familiar. I am happy you joined our group on Facebook and I look forward to more of your writing. Let us know when you add to your blog. All the best as you continue writing your novel.
PJ Stuart

Devinajones said...

Hello, and thanks for the opportunity to read your work. Reviewing a novel written by someone from a different culture is a tricky business. For me your works reads almost like science fiction, so many difficult and unfamiliar words. I found myself retracing my steps and rereading for clarity.

I find the rythim of your sentence and paragraph structure redundant at times and delightful at other times, and I think I could get used to it. But there is a major problem with the work for a short-attention-span American. If I were making a buying decision about this book, I would make my decision after the first couple of paragraphs. I am at the end of the your excerpt and while I have a lot of local color, I still don't have a story. I would have put your book back onto the rack.

I would like to know fairly quickly why spending some time with your main character might be an enjoyable investment of my time. I hope my review was helpful and I wish you all the best.

Gita Madhu said...

"For me your works reads almost like science fiction, so many difficult and unfamiliar words", says reader Devinajones.
This was kind of how some readers of European descent reacted to some short stories of mine that I shared with them.
And I wonder how we survived our childhood and growing up years where for most Indians, who were brought up almost exclusively with English as Step-Mother Tongue, books read "almost like science fiction, so many difficult and unfamiliar words".
Let me cite Enid Blyton, tons of Westerns, Jane Austen, Gimlet/Biggles, What Katy Did...
Perhaps it was that we had a "slave-mentality" being but newly freed of the yoke of colonialism and it mattered to us to be conversant with the language and customs of our "Masters"?
Or could it be that we are that mythical beast, the "adaptable Indian"?, manifesting that which made it possible for us to spread our influence far and wide without needing to abuse that privilege?