HYDERABAD: “What kind of law is it which prohibits people from eating their food?” asks a character in Abdullah Khan’s Patna Blues. The book, which is the coming-of-age story of a Muslim man hailing from a lower middle class family in Patna, raises many such difficult questions, which are very easy to relate to in these times when hyper nationalism is the order of the day. And the novel is much more than the sum of the questions raised. However, though immensely readable, the book falls prey to very contrived plot twists.
Arif Khan, who lives in Patna, is preparing for his IAS exams. His father is an honest sub-inspector in the city’s police force, who barely manages to keep the fire in the hearth burning, given his refusal to accept bribes. We see a mother who is forever burdened with cooking for hordes of relatives who come to the city for sundry reasons. There are three sisters who need to be married off, and a brother who dreams of becoming a film actor. In the midst of humdrum existence, Arif’s life does a somersault when he falls for a much older, married, Hindu woman Sumitra. Their clandestine affair runs through the novel, as Arif stoically faces challenges life throws at him.
The book brings to the forth the contentious issues that a Muslim living in India might face – food habits, Love Jihad, youths getting arrested on false terror charges and discrimination at workplace. The author also gives glimpses of the political environment of the state by either cursory mentions or introducing them as an instrument to take the narrative forward. While a rally blocks a road shouting ‘Mandal Commission Wapas Lo’, a member of a fascist party affirms that ‘traitors will be shown their place.’ In the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition, Arif has to flee for his life from a frenzied mob.
The book, however, touches these points superficially, and becomes a victim of trite storytelling at several places. Many scenes in the romance between Arif and Sumitra have been done to death in Hindi movies. Their bonding over Urdu poetry, Sumitra falling on him ‘accidentally’ on a rainy evening, Arif misunderstanding her when she hugs her brother – are well-known plot devices of pulp novels. In short, the book is an easy read and falters at some points, but can be read once to look at important political and family issues from the perspective of a contemporary, God-fearing Muslim.
Book Name: Patna Blues
Author Name: Abdullah Khan
Price: Rs 499