Monday 22 August 2016

Avarana - A Semi Review

This is a refreshing book in a sea of regressive leftism infested literary world. This is also a case study at why left dominates Indian lit scene. Yes, nepotism, socialist government patronage for decades, all contribute but at the end of the day the quality is simply not up to the mark.

What about your trademark beard’s symbolism, which projects you as both an enlightened socialist intellectual and a modern Muslim at the same time? she was tempted to retort
The story begins strongly. With two protagonists who are liberal - at least considered so by themselves & society around. But soon we see that's not the full picture. Amir can be described at best as city bred Muslim trying to be 'fashionably' liberal outside his home & religious inside it. This is not much of an issue because the world he inhabits, the regressive left dominated 'intelligentsia' makes allowances for his religion due to various reasons.

Razia (lead protagonist) realises this sooner than later and her struggle to come to terms with that starts a journey, interrogating the axioms she had accepted without question from the intelligentsia. She was born a Hindu - Lakshmi - converts to Islam and marries as per Islamic law despite her father's objections who wants her to marry under Hindu rites. This was cheered on by prof Shastri and intelligentsia. When this was suggested to them Amir easily quotes Marxist credo & refuses. Much later, after suffering the consequences of Islamic marriage law, she wonders why she hadn't thrown similar rhetoric at him & asked for secular wedding under special marriage act at least.

This is only a sample and the author shows many problems with the regressive left infested 'intelligentsia' of Indian lit world which refuses to question the regressive practices and laws of Islam, especially those that oppress women. Razia is a strong woman who stands up to society both when she repudiates Hinduism & later on writing a true account of Islamic rule. Though the intelligentsia reacts differently to the two truths.

Was Aurangzeb a historical figure really worth remembering with respect?... She knew the retort that would ensue: Aurangzeb is a historical reality and it’s our duty to remember him. Then why erase his deeds, equally a historical reality, from school textbooks?
As the story progresses Razia is drawn towards Indian history and begins to study notes left by her father & primary sources and is startled to discover the cover-ups made by successive Indian governments & a complicit crowd of historiographers, authors, artists etc. Some of the scenes of temple destruction by Muslim rulers are both movingly written and amply supported by historical evidence.

Here is the trouble though. The claim is that this is a novel, not a manifesto or history book. The story isn't seamless as it should be. This feels like a pamphlet against JNU historians. A well researched one to be sure. And the monologues remind one of Ayn Rand. The points are hammered into the reader again and again and again. It becomes tiresome.

With the exception of protagonists other characters are quite one dimensional. From the blatantly obvious caricature of left wing professor, intellectual, historiographer, propagandist (prof Shastri) to the noble, knowledgeable, humble priest in the village, it is a sore.

‘A Brahmin’s duty is to voluntarily embrace poverty. From the ancient times, this caste has always lived in hermitages in the forest far away from civilization and devoted itself to lifelong learning and transmitting knowledge in the society.
I don't expect author to be neutral or an atheist but the apologia for Hinduism has gone too far for my taste. The benign portrayal of caste was the most jarring of all. Ambedkar and the constitutional protection for Dalits are praised but the work as a whole comes across as little unbelievable in its handling of caste.

‘Raziaji, these concoctions won’t ever come up as discussion topics in any seminar. Carefully-chosen members of the inner circle craft these creations. Then they are slowly… almost casually slid into the public domain. Like-minded folks pick them up on cue and project them as authentic truths.’
As a novel this leaves much to be desired even to a staunch Hindu. This may even force those on the fence to put down the book. The slant is so obvious, apologia for Hinduism plentiful, even if it is being very truthful on the claims of Sharia and Aurangzeb. The left produces works that are sublime, the propaganda subtle, that slowly pulls you in until you no longer realise you didn't share their view before you began reading them.

‘In that case, the Aligarh Muslim University, quite close by, must equally stink. Why don’t you organize a workshop there? Or is that your next destination, professor?’ This met with absolute silence.
No wonder then that left( even the regressive variety) dominates the narrative in India. India barely has any liberals in real sense and the numerous left-liberals could not be bothered about truth, not on economics, not on history. Then this book becomes essential, as flawed as it is. As a liberal I could only sigh and hope that some day there will be more liberals in India to challenge the narratives of left with better quality work.[1]

PS: This is a headline in a newspaper in the novel. I found this (un)intentionally funny since Indian media almost never names the upper castes in caste riots or the Muslims during religious ones, while reporting:
Razia begum’s novel has deeply hurt the sentiments of a certain community who have taken to the streets to express their protest.
Yes, we really don't know who that certain community people are.

[1] Not that I don't want challenges to the idiocy of Hindu right. But there is no dearth of material on that area. The challenges from intelligentsia to left's delusions on economics or their alliance with Islamic right is much rarer.

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