About the Book:
This comprehensive anthology of short stories explores Muslim lives and inter-community relationships in the Indian subcontinent. By sensitizing readers to the multicultural reality of Muslim society it effectively dismantles the notion of a homogenized and inalienable Muslim identiry and experience, a notion that does not take into account the complex and lived realities of India's more than 100 million Muslims.
Selected from at least twelve Indian languages, the short stories in this volume cover almost the entire twentieth century, and include writers like Saratchandra Chatterjee, Premchand, Ismat Chughtai, Vaikom M. Basheer, N.S. Madhavan, Anand and Jayanta De, Ashfaq Ahmad Abdul Bismillah, Fakir M. Katpadi and Thoppil M. Meeran.
An authentic social document, this volume will appeal to the general reader as well as historians and those interested in Indian literature.
About the Author:
Mushirul Hasan is Professor of Modern Indian history, at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
M. Asaduddin is Associate Professor in the Department of English at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
Excerpts from Reviews
'The anthology is rich in stylistic variety ranging from the simple, traditional linear narratives, through psychological realism to post-modern self-reflexivity and even magic realism.'
- NBT Newsletter
'The introduction of the book is extremely enriching as it enables the readers to contextualize the stories in their proper historical settings.'
This anthology was planned in the autumn of 1996 as a collec- tion of short stories depicting Muslims and inter-community relation- ships in the Indian subcontinent. The endeavour emerged out of our conviction that although literature cannot bring about significant social change, it can illuminate aspects of our collective existence often left untouched by political and economic practices.
Of all the forms of literature in modern times, fiction is a privileged site because in it, perhaps better than in any other form, one can see the working of ideology in the lived experience of society. Contrary to the widely-held assumption of its innocence, literature is 'a vital instrument for the insertion of individuals into the perpetual and symbolic forms of dominant ideological formation, able to accom- plish this function with a "naturalness", spontaneity and experiential immediacy possible to no other ideological practice'. 1 It offers multiple versions of 'truth' and thus contributes to a richer understanding of social and historical contexts. Interfacing creatively with other human disciplines, literature makes space for articulating a variety of voices and experiences, and brings to light the interconnections of different strands, rather than an ideologically unified tendency. 2
1 Terry Eagleton, Criticism and Ideology (London: NLB, 1976), p. vii.
2 David Maughan Brown, 'The Noble Savage in Anglo-Saxon Colonial Ideology, 1950-80: "Masai" and "Bushmen" in Popular Fiction', English in Africa, no. 2, October 1983, and his 'Myths on the March: The Kenyan and Zimbabwean Liberation Struggles in Colonial Fiction', The Journal of Southern African Studies, vol. 9, no. 1, October 1982.
Munshi Premchand, the master story-teller of the freedom movement and perhaps the most significant Hindi-Urdu writer of the twentieth-century, explained: 'The litterateur. .. shows us the path, he arouses our humanness, infuses in us noble feelings, broadens our view ... ,3 He believed in the social function of art. The writer, for him, was a missionary who had to gear his writing to the deliberate portrayal of reality-in particular its decadent features, with the intention of reforming it. 'Our social and political circumstances', he wrote to a friend, 'force us to educate the people whenever we get the chance. The more intensely we feel, the more didactic we become'." Saratchandra Chatterjee, Bengal's (and arguably, India's) most popular fiction writer, stressed the social role of the writer. Rabindranath Tagore's 'greatest gift to us', according to him, 'has been the broadening of our minds and the widening of our horizons' .5
We focus primarily on the short story because of its pivotal position in Indian literature, and holding as it were 'eternity in a grain of sand'. In the words of the novelist Amitav Ghosh, 'Nothing that India has given the world outside is more important than its stories. Indeed,so pervasive is the influence of the Indian story that one particular collection, The Panchatantra (The Five Chapters) is reckoned by some to be second only to the Bible in the extent of its global diffusion'." The story, both in its epic form as well as its modem version, has been vital to the creation of the traditions of narrative and the diffusion of a civilization, 'the chosen instrument of the subcontinent in the springtime of nationhood' .7
Our concerns were spelt out to our colleagues who have helped in the making of this anthology. We referred to the tendency, in scholarly and popular literature, to view Islam with a mixture of fear and bewilderment, the construction of a specifically Muslim identity in colonial India, and the widely prevalent misconceptions about
3 Quoted in Geetanjali Pandey, Between Two Worlds: An Intellectual Bio- graphy of Premchand (Delhi: Manohar, 1989), p. II.
4 Ibid., pp. 4, 5.
5 Quoted in Aruna Chakravarti, Saratchandra: Rebel and Humanist (Delhi: National Book Trust, 1985), p. 108.
6 Amitav Ghosh, 'The Indian Story: Notes on some Preliminaries', Civil Lines, 1994.
7 Ibid., p. 49. See also Anita Desai, 'Indian Fiction Today', Daedalus, Fall 1989, and Bhisham Sahni's introduction to Anthology of Hindi Short Stories (Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1993).
India's 110 million Muslims.8 We pointed out how the stereotypical images of Islam and Muslims, mostly invented by the colonial government, were selectively appropriated by some .Muslim groups- the 'unapologetic jockeying' in the words of Clifford Greets-to gain certain advantages from the colonial structures," and explained how, as a sequel to political and constitutional developments, the image of the other was established and perpetuated in Indian politics and society.10
What we did not mention to our contributors, but wish to state in this introduction, is the emergence of wide-ranging communitarian (as against their description of being 'communal') movements from the 1870s onward, notably the Arya Samaj in Punjab and the Tablighi Jamaat and the Jamaat-i Islami in Delhi and the United Provinces, that were designed to homogenize a community, or its important segment, in opposition to the other. II Some of their ideas developed outside the institutional arena created by the British and gathered support and strength independently of colonial policies and influences. Often, they derived sustenance from their own extensive repertoire of ideas, from their own self-image and self- representation, and from their own understanding of where they stood in a world they believed was dominated by the other.
This is not the place to engage with Edward Said's 'Orientalism' or to question his stress on uniformity in the influential western characterization of the 'Orient'. 12 He was not, after all, the first to sensitize us to the portrayal of Islam as a static religion, culturally traditionalist, anti-rational or incompatible with capitalism, or to
8 Incidentally, Bhisham Sahni refers to 'a plethora of stories' in Hindi with a Muslim context that were written before independence. This, according to him, has not been the case after independence, 'a shortcoming which had begun to jar'. Introduction, Anthology of Hindi Short Stories (Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1993), p. 17.
9 Amartya Sen has analyzed how western perceptions and characterizations have considerable influence on the self-perceptions of Indians themselves. See 'Indian Traditions and the Western Imagination', Daedalus, Spring 1997;p. 17. 10 See Mushirul Hasan, Legacy of a Divided Nation: India's Muslims Since Independence (London: Hurst, 1997).
II Nonica Datta, Forming an Identity: A Social History of the Jats (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999).
12 Bryan S. Turner, Orientalism, Postmodernism and Globalism (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 4.
Muslim societies being described as historically retarded, and to their most profound disdain, so said Ernest Renan, 'for instruction, for science, for everything that constitutes the European spirit'. Long before Said opened up the discussion of the relations between power and knowledge in colonial discourses and Orientalist scholarship, the Marxist historian V. G. Kiernan had drawn attention to the consensus in Europe that Islam was hopelessly sterile and stationary, and that its devotees had walled themselves up in a mental prison from which they could neither escape nor be rescued.13 In India, several scholars and literary figures-Syed Ahmad Khan, Ameer Ali, and Shibli Nomani included-had critiqued the Orientalist construction of Islam and the unreflective presumptions about Muslim societies.!" The historian Ameer Ali, 'the chief polemicist of Islam' in the last decades of the nineteenth and the first decades of the twentieth century, was inspired to write his two books because the 'great work' of Islam 'in the uplifting of humanity is either ignored or not appreciated; nor are its rationale, its ideals and its aspirations properly understood'v'f The Spirit of Islam, published in 1891, furnished the first awakening of the political consciousness of Muslims with the reasoned basis of self-esteem which they required in the face of the western world. This book, along with the Short History of the Saracens (which ran into thirteen editions between 1889 and 1961) made a considerable impact in the west and on the Muslim intelligentsia in the Indian subcontinent and in Egypt.16 While we share some of the concerns of the traditional 17 and
13 V. G. Kiernan, The Lords of Human Kind: European Attitudes to the Outside World in the Imperial Age (London: Weidenfeld, 1969).
14 See, for example, Albert Hourani, Islam in European Thought (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1991); Bryan S. Turner, Orientalism, Postmodernism and Globalism (London, 1994) Dale Eikelman and James Piscatori, Muslim Politics (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997).
15 Ameer AIi, The Spirit of Islam (London: Methuen & Co., 1967 reprint), p. vii.
16 H. A. R. Gibb, Mohammedanism (London: Oxford University Press, 1949), pp. 124-5; Akbar S. Ahmed, Postmodernism and Islam: Predicament and Promise (London, 1992), p. 87.
17 Especially the leading alim and head of Lucknow's Nadwat al-ulama, popularly known as Maulana Ali Miyan, and the Delhi-based scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. The latter is controversial because of his unorthodox views on quite a few theological issues.
modern interpreters of Islam," we do not necessarily endorse their framework and world-view, especially when it runs contrary to a liberal and secular discourse and reinforces, despite their protestations to the contrary, the popular stereotypes of Islam and its followers. Any discussion based on scriptures or on the corpus of knowledge inherited from the theologians cannot explain how Islam, or for that matter any other religion, has been historically experienced and observed its adherents. The critical issue in studying the histories of ideas and movements is not the apologetic defence of Islam and its tenets (a project that is at any rate pursued relentlessly by theologians of all hues) but to challenge scholarly exertions to 'essentialize' civilizations. The real task, one that has eluded the grasp of many historians of medieval and modern India, is to bring to attention the enormous diversities and the variety of beliefs and practices, the multiple levels at which a Muslim relates to the temporal and spiritual world in day to day living, and the currents of change, reform and innovation that have influenced the course and direction of quite a few Muslim societies the world over. In a nutshell, the collective experiences of Muslim polities and societies, rather than segments of it, must be adequately considered in plotting their socio-historical evolution. Isolated and sporadic campaigns of Islamic purification, howsoever significant they may have appeared at a given moment, must be seen in perspective and not pressed into service to lend weight to narrow and misleading theories on Islam and Muslim identity.
It needs to be recognized that Islam is not a static point of reference, its interpretations have changed over time, and powerful pluralist visions have shaped Muslim communities in India and elsewhere. Such an approach enables us to challenge, among other things, the distorted vision of the future offered by scholars like Samuel P. Huntington, the author of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. His central argument, developed around the eternal and essential faultlines between Christian and Islamic civilizations, though influential, stands repudiated in several academic circles. So also his view that the survival of the west depends on Americans 'reaffirming their Western identity and Westerners accepting their civilization as unique not universal, and
I8 For example, Akbar S. Ahmed, Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society (London: Routledge, 1988), and his Postmodern'S'" and Islam (London: Routledge, 1992).
uniting to renew and preserve it against challenges from non-western societies'. Such views reinforce stereotypes of Islamic revivalism and of Muslims, more so in the aftermath of the collapse of socialism, and predispose the reader to view the relationship of Islam to the west in terms of rage, violence, hatred and irrationality. Consider another example. In a provocative but lesser-known article published in the September 1990 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, the historian of Islam Bernard Lewis, living up to Said's powerful critique of his writings, laid out an imaginary turf for a supposed historic contest or clash of civilizations between Islam and the western, Judeo- Christian heritage. He stated:
... Islam, like other religions, has also known periods when it inspired in some of its followers a mood of hatred and violence. It is our misfortune that part, though by no means all or even most, of the Muslim world is now going through such a period, and that much, though not again all, of that hatred is directed against us [emphasis added] ... We are facing a mood and a movement for transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations- that perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the world-wide expansion of both.
Mushirul Hasan, M. Asaduddin
Sarat Chandra Chatterjee
The Holy Judges [Hindi]
The Temple and the Mosque [Hindi]
The Tale of a Muslim Woman [Bangla]
Magic Strings [Malayalam]
Vaikom Muhammed Basheer
Sacred Duty [Urdu]
The City of Death [Hindi]
'Try to Understand Me, Sir!' [Gujarati]
Ramesh R. Dave
The Vettamangalam Elephant [Tamil]
Thoppil Mohamed Meeran
Consecrated Brick [Urdu]
The Pendulum [Bangla]
The Infidel Parrot [Hindi]
Guest is God [Hindi]
A Home for the Peeroos [Telugu]
Kethu Viswanatha Reddy
In Search of Ismail Sheikh [Assamese]
Father and Son [Tamil]
Fakir Muhammed Katpadi
Love Across the Salt Desert [English]
The Library Girl [English]
Vishwapriya L. Iyengar
Does Anyone Have the Strength? [Kashmiri]
Where Has My Gulla Gone? [Hindi]
Mohammed Khadeer Babu
About the Translators
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