Thursday, December 27, 2012

A New Ghazal

Autumn scenery 002


ख्वाबों के  सलेट पे हसरतों के निशान कितने हैं 
एक है दिल, उस   दिल के अरमान कितने हैं 

हर गली हर कुचे में आदमी ही आदमी 
ये बताओ इस शहर में   इंसान कितने हैं 

चाँद तारों तक महदूद नही  मजिल अपनी 
क्योंकि सितारों के आगे भी  जहान कितने हैं 

मंदिरों और मस्जिदों में तुझ को  तलाशाते हैं 
या खुदा, इस बस्ती के लोग  नादान  कितने हैं 

जीना दुश्वार हो गया  इस  दौर-ए -जदीद में 
लेकिन  मरने के तरीक़े  आसान कितने हैं 
 --abdullah khan 'abd'

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


ये अंधेरों का सफ़र तो  गुज़र जायेगा 
 पर न जाने कब  उजालों का शहर आयेगा 

जब ख़त्म  होंगे तारीकियों के सिलसिले 
तब रात जायेगी  और फिर सहर आयेगा  

वहशत-ए -इश्क़ को न कमतर समझना 
इस जुनूं  में न जाने वो क्या कर जायेगा 

पीछे  आग का दरिया, सामने  दश्त-ए -तन्हाई  
ऐसे में  वो शख्स जायेगा तो किधर जायेगा 

छुपा रखे थे  कई ख़्वाब  हमने  आँखों में 
लगता है वो ख्वाब अब बिखर जायेगा 

आज सातवाँ दिन है इस कर्फ्यू का 'अब्द' 
वो ग़रीब तो अब भूखे ही मर जायेगा 
अब्दुल्लाह खान 'अब्द '

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


About the Noir fiction, the well-known American publisher and editor, Otto Penzler says, 'Look, noir is about losers. The characters in these existential, nihilistic tales are doomed. They may not die, but they probably should, as the life that awaits them is certain to be so ugly, so lost and lonely, that they'd be better off just curling up and getting it over with.' In other words, noir fiction can be defined as a subgenre of crime fiction which is characterized by its cynical characters, the unsentimental depiction of violence and sex and the bleak denouements. In the recent years, Brooklyn based Akashic Books has popularized this genre by bringing out the series of noir short stories. Each anthology in this series is based in a particular city and explores the dark underside of that city. Earlier we had Brooklyn Noir, London Noir, LA Noir, Chicago Noir, Paris Noir, etc. And the accent of India on the horizon of the global economy inspired the publishers to add the Indian cities to their list and Delhi Noir was published in 2009. And, now, it is the turn of Mumbai. 

Edited by author Altaf Tyrewala, the opening story of this anthology, 'Justice', is about a man called Ashagar Khan, who has been convicted by the court for his involvement in a bomb blast. He has committed that crime to seek some sort of revenge for losing almost everything in a communal riot. The author has weaved the narrative quite credibly telling us how a single act of violence can start the chain reactions of violence and counter violence. But, he is not able to carry the story till the end and the denouement appears to be hurriedly made up. It also breaks the basic principle of noir fiction by having a sentimental ending. Then, there is a story of twin brothers, both auto drivers, titled 'By Two'. The brothers suffer for being Muslims (at that poor Muslims) in this post 9/11 and post 26/7 world. The twins are tortured by the police each time a terrorist act happens in the city. The author, Devashish Makhija, has been able to invoke the sense of horror in readers: What if I were in their places? The descriptions of police brutality and helplessness of the main characters are heart -rending. True to the noir genre, the protagonists of this story have no chance. This is a though-provoking and probably the best story of the collection which raises questions about the way we are fighting terrorism. There are a handful of extremists who perpetuate this kind of atrocities on the masses and then there are innocent victims of these attacks. But there are even larger numbers of people who are neither involved in terrorism nor are direct victims of terrorist attacks but have been suffering more than the victims. They are the scapegoats. It has become customary on part of the police and intelligence agencies to pick up and torture Muslim youths (tribal youths in case of Maoist extremism) when terror strikes the country. The twins in this story, in short, are the victims of the shortcuts taken by the biased law enforcing agencies.

Later, two interesting stories take us to the darker alleys of the ‘Maximum City’ where we are told about the hijra culture, transvestite groups and their involvements in a different kind of flesh trades. The first one, Corpse in the Gali by Smita Harish Jain, is so stark in its description of the process of a man being initiated into Hijra community that it might induce nausea in the readers.  Here the writing is very powerful and Smita is a talent to watch out for. Another tale about the Mumbai Hijra Culture, Lucky 501, by Sonia Faleiro is equally impressive.

In The Watchman by Altaf Tyrewala , a guard has an intuition that somebody in the housing society he guards, is going to die. And that troubles him so much that he begins to behave irrationally. This simple but fascinating story has grave and serious underlying meanings. It symbolises the restlessness and uncertainty of the megapolis life. On the other hand, Chachu at Dusk by Abbas Tyrewala is a sentimental journey of a former Mafiosi in to the old world of smugglers and bhais. The protagonist in this story reminisces about his golden days when even underworld had some semblance of ethics and principles. Though beautifully written, it hardly fits into the category of the genre of noir stories.

Besides all these, there are many more stories, each of them confiding some dark secrets about Mumbai to their readers. Some stories, four to be exact, disappoint but the rest are decent offerings. The editor could have been a bit more discriminnating while selecting the stories for this anthology.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

My Review of Namita Gokhale's Book in December issue of The Book Review

The planet called earth has been a lonely place for the women. You move across the continents and across the societies and can see that the fair sex is treated more as some sort of asset than as normal human being. Some societies, we feel, places the women on a higher pedestal but that too is a ploy of the male-centric society to control the feminine power. In India, it must be remembered, the Ganika and Devdasi systems were also an acceptable part of the same society which refers to women as Devi. In some societies, especially in the Middle East, women are supposed to be the gifts of God, so they should always be kept gift wrapped. The various kinds of burqas and veils were invented to keep them covered.
The sound of women’s loneliness and the eagerness to break free from the manacles of the male-centric social norms reverberate in many of the stories of this collection of short stories by the seasoned author Namita Gokhale.

 ‘Life in Mars’, the opening story, tells us about the aloneness of Madhu Sinha, a widow and a mother of three ‘duplicitous sons’ who have virtually abandoned her. As she is fighting with her solitude and a debilitating illness, the arrival of Udit Narain, a young man who feels chasing a girl or a job is sheer waste of time, suddenly ignites a desire to live her life again. The author describes the dilemma as well as the eagerness of a middle aged woman while planning to enter in to a new relationship. The title story, The Habit of Love, also has a widow as the protagonist. But unlike Madhu, the main character of this story is not alone and has her daughters by her side but that doesn’t stop her from grieving perpetually for the loss of her long dead husband. When she goes on a vacation with her daughters to Nepal, one of her daughters, after seeing the mountain peaks, asks her: how does a mountain know it is a mountain?’ Discomfited by the question she travels back to her happy days and thinks of her husband who might have given a perfect answer to this question. And there she realises how she has internalised the pain she had received by losing her husband and how ‘the habit of grief’ has created walls between her and her daughters. The opening sentence of this story is very thought-provoking and it reads: The habit of grief can be as insidious as the habit of love.
There is another outstanding story that comments upon the position of a woman in our society. In ‘Love’s Mausoleum’, Malika is deserted by her husband for not bearing any child for him. She visits Taj Mahal and discovers that Shahjahan had built Taj Mahal for his favourite wife Mumtaz.  And , she is  outraged when the guide explains to her about the tombs built outside the Taj Mahal by emperor Shahjahan for his two other wives because (unlike Mumtaz) they were childless. Time has changed, but not the attitude of male chauvinistic society, she angrily thinks.
There are two stories which have two famous female characters from Mahabharata as their protagonists. In one story, Kunti tells us about her dilemma to reveal that Karna is her son. Kunti as mother craves to hug her first born but the fear of social stigma is so huge that she let her son go. What if Kunti were a man?  In the other story a maid servant of Qandhari, wife of king Dhrutrashtra, tells us about her queen’s struggle as a woman, as a wife and as a mother. In both the stories, Kunti and Qandhari are not portrayed as the larger than life mythological characters but as the regular women who have their own set of dreams and insecurities.
Each of the thirteen stories is written in Namita’s signature style.

Sunday, December 02, 2012


ایک غزل 

اشاروں سے تم نے کچھ تو کہا ہے
یا اٹھلانے کی یہ تیری  ادا ہے

نگاہیں تو  میری سب کہہ رہی تھی
 تم نے نہ سمجھا  تو کس کی خطا ہے

جو میں بے وفا ہوں یہ تم کہہ رہے ہو
  کہ تم بے وفا ہو یہ سب کو پتہ ہے

جو تیرے لب پہ ہے  وہ ٹھیک ہے
 یہ بھی بتا دو جو دل میں چھپا ہے

  قاتل ہے منشف اور مظلوم ملذم
یہ  کیسی عدالت یہ کیسی سزا ہے

نمرود فرون سب کےسب  مٹ گئے
سونچا ہے کیا  تو کی  کوئ  خدا ہے

عبدللہ خان ---
एक ग़ज़ल 

इशारों से तुमने कुछ तो कहा है 
या इठलाने  की ये  तेरी  अदा है

निगाहें  तो मेरी   सब कह रही थी 
तुमने न समझा  तो किसकी खता  है 

जो  मैं बेवफा हूँ ये तुम कह रहे हो
 कि  तुम बेवफा हो ये सबको  पता है

जो तेरे लब पे है  वो  ठीक है  
ये भी बता दो जो  दिल में छुपा है

 क़ातिल है  मुन्शिफ़  और मज़लूम  मुल्ज़िम  
ये  कैसी अदालत  ये कैसी सज़ा  है

निमरूद फ़िरौन  सब के सब  मिट गए 
सोंचा है क्या  की तू कोई  खुदा है  
---अब्दुल्लाह खान 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


TOKE by JUGAL MODY (Originally published in The Book Review, November 2012)

Toke means puffing a pipe or pot filled with Marijuana. And true to its title, you get high with the novel’s surreal plot. The story is set in motion as you are introduced to Nikhil the protagonist who is fighting to come out of ganja-induced hallucinatory dreams. He is a regular guy with a regular job and suffers from regular bouts of insecurity, jealousy and disillusionment. Toking is his only escape from his not-so-interesting quotidian life. One day when he is in the middle of a cannabis induced hallucination, Lord Vishnu, the preserver God from the Hindu trinity, makes an appearance and joins Nikhil and his friends in a session of pot smoking. In between, He tells Nikhil the world is going to end in next 72 hours and Lord Vishnu has no time for another incarnation to save the world. So, He entrusts Nikhil with the responsibility of saving the humanity from total destruction. He warns Nikhil if Lord Shiva, the destroyer and reproducer of the trinity, comes to know about the imminent extinction of the human race, He will be more than  happy to destroy this world Himself and then to rebuild it. Nikhil who first thinks it is some sort of joke from that strange person who is wearing a dress like the gods from the mythological serials. But, soon he realises that the person is real Lord Vishnu and the demons have already unleashed mysterious maggots to transform every single human being into zombies. He accepts the challenge and set out with his friends to save the humanity.
The special about this book is the inventiveness of its narrative structure. Plus, the cleaver use of language makes this book highly readable. The dialogues sound real and give you an insight into the lingo of the generation X. At times, the story becomes confusing but the things get cleared once you progress further. Jugal Mody might not be applauded for the literary merits of his debut book by the critics but will certainly get thumbs up from his readers for writing such a fantastical and fun filled book.

India’s Olympic Story 

(The review published in The Book Review, November 2012 issue)

An outcome of three-way collaboration between British Council, Abhinav Bindra Foundation and Tulika Publishers, India’s Olympic Story is a slim book targeted to teenagers but can also be useful to anybody interested in a quick read about the Olympic Games and the Indian achievements at this greatest sporting extravaganza.  

Divided in to two sections, the first part of the book gives us the historical details about the Olympics. It delineates the mythology behind the beginning of the ancient Olympic Games which dates back to 776 BCE. The saga of the modern Olympics started in 1896 when its first edition was organised in Athens, Greece. The first section also has information about the Indian association with the Olympic movement.  In 1900, Norman Pritchard, an Indian of British decent, who had entered the Paris Olympic Games casually, became first Indian to win a medal. Later, in 1927, Indian Olympic Association was formed and  the very next year a contingent of 22 players was formally sent to participate in the Amsterdam Olympics. The team returned with gold in hockey. After that the country has participated in every edition of the Summer Olympics. In the Winter Olympics, Indian participation has been occasional. The most delightful inclusion in this section is the information about the Paralympic, the special version of the Olympics that is organised for the physically challenged people. There is also a chapter on traditional Indian games and rural Olympics.

The second half of the book  profiles some of all-time great Indian Olympians. Noteworthy among them are Dhyanchand, the magician of field hockey, Milkha Singh, the flying Sikh, Abhinav Bindra , the gold medalist shooter and K D Jadhav. Out of these four,  Jadhav remains an unsung Olympic hero despite being the first individual medal winner of independent India. A big achievement by any yardstick. It was K D Jadhav who ‘paved the way for future Olympic athletes with his determination to excel, unflinching dedication, single-minded focus and never-say-die spirit. He achieved the impossible without having access to state-of-the-art training facilities and money’

Aesthetically produced and beautifully illustrated, the book is also replete with interesting anecdotal stories, games trivia and witty cartoons. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Review of Julie O' Yang's debut Novel


In 1937, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese imperial Army captured the city of Nanking (Nanjing), the then capital of the Republic of China, and carried out a massacre in which hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians including women and children were slaughtered and thousands of women and girls were raped. This shameful episode from the history, known as Nanking Massacre or the Rape of Nanking, makes the backdrop of Julie O’ Yang’s debut novel Butterfly.

The eponymous protagonist of this heartachingly beautiful novel, Butterfly, is a married Chinese woman and calligrapher who has lost her teenage son in the Nanking Massacre. Years later, still trying to overcome her great loss, she happens to meet a mysterious young man almost of her dead son’s age and starts a torrid love affair with him. But, then she discovers a horrible secret about the young man and faces the biggest dilemma of her life.

The book is not just a love story with darker shades but also is a treatise on the futility and brutality of wars between nations and a critique on the idea of nation state. Historically insightful with political undertones, the novel has fully fleshed out multi-layered and credible characters. Written beautifully and structured intelligently, you get hooked to the story right from the first page. The denouement is also equally fascinating.
Highly recommended!

You can buy this book from HERE

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

From my old Scrapbook

The Time of the TIME

Sitting idle and killing TIME,
You blame the TIME for being merciless

Trying to cheat and beat the TIME
You cry foul when the TIME plays tricks on you

You yell at the TIME for walking too fast
While trying really hard to be ahead of the TIME.

The TIME you say has no sense of time and
You allege the TIME for arriving at your doorsteps untimely

Have you ever seen
Morning arriving late in the evening.
Or the night sleeping till late in the morning
Have you ever seen that there was 2 ‘O’ clock at 4 p.m?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

My Interview of Nayantara Sahgal

Indira and India

Nayantara Sahgal. Photo: V Sreenivasa Murthy
The HinduNayantara Sahgal. Photo: V Sreenivasa Murthy
We have “ruling families” all over the country, so why single out Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, asks Nayantara Sahgal.
Just released 'Indira Gandhi: Tryst With Power' by Nayantara Sahgal is an in-depth study of Indira Gandhi‘s style of functioning and political leadership which, according to the author, “marked a drastic break with the democratic tradition of her family and Indian politics.” As a member of the Nehru-Gandhi extended family, Nayantara Sahgal had observed her cousin Indira at close quarters and had access to the kinds of documents which an outsider can’t think of laying their hands on. That is why this beautifully written book gives its readers an opportunity to have a peek in to the mind of enigmatic Indira Gandhi. In this interview, Sahgal talks about Indira, India and dynastic succession in politics.
Tryst with Power is different from the other biographies of Indira Gandhi because it gives an insight into her inner life. Please tell us how this book was conceptualised. Do you think it would have been possible for anybody else to write such an intimate biography?
It is not a biography but a study of her political style. It interested me because her style was a definite departure from that of her two predecessors and from the way the Congress party had functioned until then. The book started as a paper I was asked to contribute to a conference on "Leadership in South Asia" at SOAS (School of Oriental & African Studies), London University, in 1974. When my conclusion that we were heading toward authoritarian rule proved to be correct, I expanded it into a book. As a close relative I was able to give it a personal dimension.
What do you think about Indira Gandhi’s decision to intervene in the Bangladesh liberation war? Who benefited from its outcome, India, Indira Gandhi or both?
It was an act of statesmanship and great courage to support East Bengal’s fight to restore its elected government. The whole region benefited by the result, Bangladesh most of all.
How do you look at the stunning defeat of Indira Gandhi in 1977 and then her miraculous rise, like a proverbial phoenix, three years later?
Indians rejected authoritarian rule in 1977 when they defeated the Congress. Equally they showed their good sense in re-electing Indira Gandhi and the Congress party three years later, because the quarrelling coalition of the Janata Party had let them down so badly, failing to punish those who had been responsible for the Emergency’s excesses.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

A Review in Hindu Literary Review

Mystical musings

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Rumi: A New Translation; Farrukh Dhondy.
Special ArrangementRumi: A New Translation; Farrukh Dhondy.
This book offers a great excuse to revisit the poetry of Rumi.
Rumi: A New Translation; Farrukh Dhondy, Harper Perennial, Rs.299.
Reynold A. Nicholson, renowned English Orientalist and Islamic scholar, once said of Sufi mystic and poet Mevalana Jalaluddin Rumi: “The influence of his example, his thought and his language is powerfully felt through all the succeeding centuries; every Sufi after him capable of reading Persian has acknowledged his unchallenged leadership. To the West, now slowly realising the magnitude of his genius ... he is fully able to prove a source of inspiration and delight not surpassed by any other poet in the world’s literature.”
Nicholson made this statement many decades ago but it still holds true. While Rumi has been widely read for the last eight centuries in countries where Persian is spoken, he has now become popular in Europe and the U.S. When it comes to rendering Rumi’s works into English, prominent names include Reynold A. Nicholson, Arthur John Arberry, Coleman Barks and Nadel Khalili. Both Nicholson and Arberry were British scholars and translated Rumi’s poetry either literally or semi-literally. But, the person who made Rumi a household name in the U.S., Coleman Barks, doesn’t know Persian and his translations are not actually translations but reinterpretations of English translations. That is why many critics point out that Barks’ translations (despite their popularity among general readers) are superficial. Another translator Nadel Khalili was a native of Iran and familiar with the essence of Rumi’s mystical musings. But Khallili could not replicate the rhyme schemes of Rumi.
When Farrukh Dhondy, the well known novelist and screenplay writer, embarked on a mission to render Rumi’s poetry in English, he kept three things in his mind. One, the English version should have the fragrance of the original verses. Two, the translation of a poem should be a poem. Three, he would stick to Rumi’s rhyme schemes. The result of his labour is delightful.
Dhondy’s translations reflect that he understands the cultural and philosophical context of Rumi’s poetry. Though, like Barks, he is not a scholar of Persian language but understands Urdu, a language which borrows heavily from Persian vocabulary. And that might have helped him to decipher the real Rumi. This offering is a beautiful excuse for us to revisit Rumi.

Friday, November 02, 2012


 एक  ग़ज़ल 
कई ख्वाब उसकी आँखों में पिघलते देखा
 मैंने अरमानों को सांसों में जलते देखा 

रुख पे थी बेबसी और मायूसी निगाहों में
पर धडकनों  में उम्मीदों को पलते देखा 

कल चुप चाप  थी  समंदर की लहरें  लेकिन
उसके साहिल को हर पल ही  मचलते देखा 

उसने देखा मुझे आज एक  अजनबी की तरह
और मैंने आज एक दोस्त को बदलते देखा 

चोट लगती थी जिनको  फूलों से भी अब्द
 उसे आज मैंने काँटों पे भी चलते देखा 

Abdullah Khan 'Abd'

Sunday, September 02, 2012

My Review of Nikita Lalwani's The Village

LITERARY REVIEW, September 2, 2012


The ‘Gifted’ writer—gifted  used literally as well as metaphorically—Nikita Lalwani’s  debut book was  gem of a novel. The readers liked it. The critics loved it. A story about a child prodigy growing up in 1980s Cardiff, Gifted was published in 2007 and  collected a Booker longlist and a Costa shortlist on its way to be declared winner of the inaugural Desmond Elliott Prize.  And now, Nikita’s second novel, The Village, is just out. By any yardstick, this is a decent work of fiction. But, please don’t try to compare it with her first novel.

In An Open Prison

In The Village, the story begins when three Britishers arrive at an open prison called Aishwer, somewhere in north India, to make a documentary film for BBC on the lives of the people living there. Built as a part of prison reform measures, the prison village resembles a typical Indian village which has bare minimum amenities and all the signs of poverty.  But there is a difference. Each household in this village has one person who has killed somebody and is serving a life term.  

Among the BBC crew is the director of the documentary Ray Bhullar who is of Indian decent,  a virgin and strict vegetarian. Serena, the domineering producer, and Nathan, the ex-criminal and eccentric presenter, are other members of team.

 Initially, things go as planned by Ray i.e. to make a documentary following all the professional and personal ethics. But, then her boss from London pressurises her to add melodrama, conflicts and tears to make the documentary emotionally appealing.  A conscientious person, Ray finds it morally difficult to follow her boss’s orders.
Unlike Ray, Nathan and Serena are more ‘practical’ and are willing to cross the border of morality if it is required to make their programme successful. They manipulate and instigate the prison inmates for the desired footage for their documentary film and, in doing so, they disturb the precariously balanced equilibrium of the prisoners’ mundane lives. The novel opens a bit slowly and becomes even more sluggish as we progress. It picks up pace in the second half, throwing some surprises that are the soul of this offering.

Ray is a properly fleshed out character and her moral dilemma is portrayed impeccably except nothing is known of her background. This reviewer feels that the back story about the protagonist would have made the story more interesting and added a few more layers to the character. Serena and Nathan, on the other hand, are underdeveloped characters. The motivation behind Ray’s fascination for Nathan is also left unexplained.

Satisfying Denouement

Nikita’s writing shines when she tells us about the ambience of the village. The descriptions of open prison transport us to the village and we feel like watching a 3-D movie.  She also does a great job while introducing the inmates of Aishwer to us. Characters like Nandita, Daulath and Ram Payari have been so perfectly etched out that we immediately empathise with them and crave to read more about them.

The best thing about this novel is that it has a very satisfying denouement and it delivers more than what it promises at the beginning.  Plus, it raises a very important question about  reality TV:  How real are the reality ?

My Review of Taj Hassan's Debut Novel in The Hindu

September 2, 2012


The author, Taj Hassan, has made good use of his experience as an IPS officer in the naxalite affected areas while coming out with this insightful novel about the Maoist insurgency. Had his editor invested a little more time and energy and guided the author in shaping this novel up properly, The Inexplicable Unhappiness of Ramu Hajjam, would have been a great book.

Contemporary Ring

The story is mostly set in two fictional villages of Bihar. One village, Tesri, is inhabited by so called low caste people and most of them are either menial labourers or are some kind of small time businessmen. The other village, Bhagatpur, has predominant population of high caste farmers. The main protagonist of this story, Ramu Hajjam, is a poor barber from Tesri who makes his living by running a roadside saloon. One day, Ramu the barber accidentally cuts Subedar Singh’s cheek. Subedar, a high caste man from Bhagatpur, beats Ramu badly for this small mistake. This incident infuriates Ramu’s only son Pawan and he decides to avenge the insult to his father. Pawan runs away from home and joins a Maoist group. The things change for the residents of Tesri and Bhagatpur as a bloody game of violence and counter violence unfolds before their eyes.

Thematically speaking, it is an attention-grabbing book as the Maoist violence and the anti-insurgency operations by the government always remain in the news. The author’s use of multiple point of views suits the story and the use of slangs adds local colour to the prose. However, his failure to do full justice to the two main characters is a negative aspect of this work of fiction. Ramu Hajjam, the chief protagonist, is well chiseled character but he does not get as much space as he deserves. By showing more of Ramu’s back stories, the author would have made this character more interesting and more convincing. Another major character, Achal Singh Mukhiya, the feudal lord of Bhagatpur, is shown as one dimensional creature as one never gets chance to hear his inner voices. In other words, Mukhiya gets the caricature treatment. Further, Pawan’s journey from a village teenager to a hardcore Maoist is too hurried.
Despite these flaws, the novel is successful in taking its readers to the hinterland where the presence of government is negligible and where the brutal inequality and appalling poverty breed extremist ideologies like naxalism. A decent first attempt by the author. This reviewer will definitely look forward to read his next book.

Monday, July 30, 2012



तेरा होना एक ख्वाब सा है 
सेहरा में एक सराब सा है 

जिसके बोसे से जल गया अक्स मेरा 
वो चेहरा कुछ गुलाब सा है 

मुन्जमिद है इसलिए सख्त है 
वरना इस प्याले में कुछ आब सा है 

वैसे कहता है मुहाफ़िज़ खुद को
लेकिन शक्ल से सैय्याद सा है

ग़म-ए-हिजरां का क्या ज़िक्र करें अब्द
उसका विसाल भी कुछ अज़ाब सा है

 सराब: mirage,  बोसे: Kisses, मुन्जमिद: solid,  आब : Water, मुहाफ़िज़: protector,
 सैय्याद :Hunter, killer, ग़म-ए-हिजरां: pain of separation,  अज़ाब , ordeal

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Published in THE BOOK REVIEW, June,2012


On the cover of this elegantly written reportage-cum-travelogue is a shabbily dressed teenage girl holding a toddler. In the background we see the thatched houses and many tell-tale signs of extreme poverty. From the cover photograph itself you have a fair idea what this book is all about. At the top of the cover it reads Beautiful Country: Stories from Another India. The title is apt because the stories here are, of course, from another India; an India which is different from the India portrayed by the worshippers of mindless consumerism and votaries of crony capitalism. This India doesn’t shine and remains unaffected by the impact of double digit growth. This is, in fact, the dark underbelly of one of the world’s fastest growing economies where majority of Indian citizens live. They are ‘resilient and courageous women and men of India whose ordinary lives and extraordinary spirit inspired the author duo, Syeda Hameed and Gunjan Veda to write this book.
 Beautiful Country chronicles the journey undertaken by Syeda Hameed, the social activist and member of Planning Commission, and Gunjan Veda, journalist, to that another India, the India of villages and small town. And what they observed during their visits was quite disconcerting. From a river island of Assam to the tribal areas of Andaman Nicobar, from the freezing valleys of Ladakh to the backwaters of Alleppy in Kerala, they criss-crossed the entire country taking notes of the daily lives of the people living away from the glitz and glamour of the big cities. During their voyage they encountered the people and visited the places which rarely appear in the mainstream media.
Somewhere in this book the authors take us to Daniyalpur, Varanasi, and we are introduced to Maimun Nisa and her son. And it goes like this: Thin face, sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, a frayed light pink dupatta covered her head. Her son, Imran, was tiny and had the face of an old man—shrivelled and shrunk. His feet were so thin that we wondered if he would ever be able to walk. His head seemed too big for his small frail body. These lines speak volumes about the so-called growth that our country has witnessed during the last two decades. Clearly, much applauded Manmohanomics has failed to bring noteworthy change in the lives of the people on the margins. Across the country there are many Daniyalpurs, there are many Maimun Nisas and many Imrans. If we move further, we see a school being run under open sky in Kashmir, thousands of people going untreated on the river islands in Assam, the men and women working on handlooms from dawn to dusk for meagre salaries in Malegaon, the women and the children dying in the tribal areas of Maharashtra and elsewhere in the want of basic medical facilities. Go further and more stories of misery and deprivation will pour in.
 Are we, as responsible citizens of this country, doing our bits for our less privileged fellow Indians? Or at least are we giving voice to their concerns? Perhaps, not. But, there are many individuals whose selfless services are changing the lives of the millions. In Assam we have Sanjoy Hazarika, a former New York Times correspondent who is managing trustee of the Centre for North-east studies and Policy research (C-NES). C-NES is agency behind the idea of boat clinics which reach out to thousands of people living on the different islands of Brahmaputra River.  Then, there are a group of doctors who have left their lucrative jobs and comfortable lives in the metros for serving the poor tribals of Chhattisgarh. Syeda and Gunjan tell us about many such courageous men and women who, in their own small ways, are making a difference.
What strikes me most in this book is the tone of the prose which is laced with empathy and honesty. The authors don’t hesitate to accept that as a nation we have failed to take care of our people on the margins. This fact is generally not acknowledged by our politicians and bureaucrats. For example, in the foreword of this book, Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, lauds Syeda and Gunjan for their remarkable work but at the same time he is reluctant to accept that the bureaucracy has failed when it comes to taking governance to the downtrodden and poor people. At the very end of the foreword, he attempts discreetly to dilute the seriousness of the book. This has been the biggest problem with our bureaucratic set up that they never accept the reality and try to hide the truth under the carpet of the statistical data. So, instead of doing the real work most of them --but not all— are busy stacking data.
 About this book, Khushwant Singh says, ‘The truth about India’s development, as told by those who know it, makes for a compelling read.’ I can’t agree more but would like to add that it also makes for a disturbing read. At the end of this review I would like to quote four lines from Allama Iqbal’s Bal-e-Jibrail (Gabriel’s Wing) which the authors have quoted at the beginning of the book.
 Khol ankh zamin dekh falak dekh fiza dekh
Mashriq se ubhartey huey suraj ko zara dekh
Iss jalwa-e-beparda ko pardon mein chhupa dekh
Ayyam-e-judai ke sitam dekh jafa dekh

Open your eyes, look at the earth and the sky
Look at the sun rising gloriously in the east
Look at its unveiled glory hidden behind veils
Suffer the pain and torture of days of deprivation
 This offering, undoubtedly, is going to be an eye opener for those who have not seen the real India, yet.
Reviewed by: Abdullah Khan ( 

CLICK HERE FOR THE Scanned copy of the review