With rave reviews and brisk sales , Abdulla Khan’s debut novel ‘Patna Blues’ has become a sensation of sorts. The novel has even gone into several language editions. What is the sensation and why it has created so much of a buzz? Simple. Fiction by way of real life incidents.
Arif, the protagonist of the novel, is the son of a sub-inspector in Patna. His once well-to-do family has, because of the vicissitudes of time, slips into penury. But, Arif has a big ambition: cracking the civil service examination and become an IAS officer. He believes this will bring back the family’s fortunes; so he works hard to emerge triumphant. In this quest for status, he, fortuitously, comes across Sumitra. A married Hindu and several years older, Sumitra is wide of the mark for Arif in every way. It is the beginning of an obsession that munches through Arif’s life.
Set in the 1990s and at a place called Motihari – the township the author belongs to, Abdullah masterfully weaves the strands of a ‘forbidden romance.’ ‘Patna Blues’, besides being a wonderful narrative, is also a chronicle of the times making it, at one fell swoop, a period story. Abdullah makes use of some great tools to accentuate the tale. Result? A brusque narration which will keep the reader captivated till the end.
Hindu-Muslim riots, Delhi bomb blast, division of Bihar and Jharkhand, arrest of Lalu Prasad Yadav et al go straight away to enhance the effect of the storyline. The ordeal the Khan family faces for being Muslims, the stigma, the hostility and everything else is brought out in a restrained way.
To augment the embodiment of love between Arif and Sumitra, the author takes recourse to Urdu poetry and he comes out quite successful to make it an enthralling read. ‘Patna Blues’ is a saga from dream to destiny with a fascinating plot and venerable characters: Maya, Ramesh Kumar, Jamaluddin, Rabiya, Farzana, Huma, Zakir and so on. Another interesting aspect of the novel – is the use of local dialect and language, as spoken in the Bihar belt where the story is set.
Abdullah khan’s initial education in Urdu-medium and madrasa schools helped him to employ Urdu verse at precisely those spots where he wants to drive home a point. For instance, when Arif is in two minds about going back to Sumitra, he is reminded of Poet Ghalibs couplet:Iman mujhe roke hai to kheench hai mujhe kufr/Kaba mere peeche hai, kalisha mere age (Faith restrains me, temptations attract me/The holy Kaba is behind me while the idols are in front of me).
What’s engrossing about ‘Patna Blues’ is the cushy language and the smooth flow of words. Besides the central character, Zakir – the younger brother and a wannabe actor who eventually becomes a victim of the circumstances – is an inspiration and holds the moral fibre.
From the time of building up of the political mood of the nation before the demolition of the Babri Masjid to the Gujarat carnage, the story continues along the arc of political changes that took place. Using current event in fiction is a lot paying, as Abdullah has done in his novel. This helps the audience in reconciling with those socio-political events.
‘Patna Blues’ is as engaging a novel as tempting.
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