Dais of the One day seminar on ELT at Rourkela with Dr.Sanchita Choudhury

June 26, 2015

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A one-day seminar on ELT at Rourkela

June 26, 2015

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XI Annual Conference of Rajasthan Association for Studies in English at Jodhpur on Nov.1&2,2014

September 21, 2014

XI Annual Conference of Rajasthan Association for Studies in English is scheduled on Nov.1&2 at Jodhpur.The conference will be hosted jointly by the departmentr of English,J.N.Vyas University, and Mahila  MahaVidyalaya, Jodhpur .Please contact Prof.Sudhi Rajeev,Professor and Head, for the details. The theme of the conference is Learning from the masses:Exploring the Folklore.Please send the abstract of your papers by 15th October to rasecon2014@gmail.com

Hemendra Singh Chandalia

Dalit Literature of Rajasthan: A Voice Lost in Wilderness

July 28, 2014

Dalit Literature in Rajasthan: A Voice Lost in the Wilderness
Rajasthan, as the name itself suggests, has been ‘a land of the Kings’. Before the formation of a United Rajasthan in 1948 A.D. it was divided into nineteen princely states like Mewar (Udaipur), Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Kota, Bundi, Jhalawar, Bharatpur etc. The dynasty of Mewar, with a recorded history of one thousand five hundred years is said to be the oldest one in Rajasthan. The glorification of the past assumes new dimensions with a reference to Maharana Pratap and the battle of Haldighati which is compared to the battle of Thermopolis in Europe. Pratap is presented as an icon of freedom much celebrated in the literature across the country.
Apart from this political history , if one decides to look at the social stratification and the dynamics of caste , he would be appalled to learn that even today it is at the top of the list of states where atrocities against the weaker sections, particularly, the Dalits are on the rise. According to a report in The Hindu, Rajasthan has emerged as the state with the highest incidence of registered atrocities against Dalits across the country. In 2010, the state recorded 51.4 cases of atrocities against Dalits per lakh population under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act. It had registered a similar figure in 2009 too. The latest data from the Union Ministry of Social Justice show that five states namely Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh account for around seventy percent of registered atrocities against Dalits. The feudal traditions continue to exist even sixty five years after the independence , though it is also said that the democratic institutions have grown mature.
The Dalits constitute about eight percent of the population of Rajasthan. Sub-castes of the dalits in Rajasthan like Bairava, Meghwal , Bhangi, Dhanuk, Jatav etc. suffered social exclusion because of their traditional occupation . Some castes as Guar, Kantar, Bavaria etc. were labeled as criminals and had to suffer the stigma for centuries. If the population of scheduled Tribes is added it comes to around seventeen percent of the total population of the state. Due to the feudal dominance the Dalit movement did not emerge as a strong voice in Rajasthan. Those Dalit leaders who got elected to the Parliament, Legislative Assemblies and other bodies of local self government remained confined to their political association but did not care much to organize the Dalits as a movement. As a consequence unlike Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Kerala Dalit literature did not gain much ground in the state of Rajasthan.
Dalit Literature is, in fact, the writings that are about dalits. Dalit (Oppressed or broken) is not a new word. Apparently, it was used in the 1930s as a Hindi and Marathi translation of ‘depressed classes’, a term the British used for what are now called the Scheduled Castes. In 1970s the ‘Dalit Panthers’ revived the term and expanded its reference to include scheduled tribes, poor peasants, women and all those being exploited politically, economically and in the name of religion. So Dalit is not a caste. It is a symbol of change and revolution. The Primary motive of Dalit literature is the liberation of dalits. Dalit struggle against casteist tradition has a long history. For example, in Kannada, it goes back to the first Vachana poet of the 11th century, Chennaiah, the cobbler. The 12th century Dalit saint Kalavve challenged the upper castes for making false accusation against them.
In modern times, because of the legacy of Mahatma Phule and Babarao Ambedkar, Dalit literature got impetus in Maharastra. But before the name came into being in the 1960s, such people as Baburao Bagul, Bandhu Madhav, Shankarao kharat were already creating Dalit literature. In its formal form it sprouted out of a progressive movement called Little Magazine which was a kind of rebellious manifestation of the educated youth of those days against the establishment. These Dalit youths found inspiration in the movement of Blacks in the distant land of North America; their Black Literature and Black Panther became the role models of sorts for them. This protest gained its first expression in the form of a new literature called Dalit Literature. Poems, short stories, novels and autobiographies written by Dalit writers provided useful insights on the question of Dalit identity. Now the subaltern communities found a new name by coming together with the perspective ‘Dalit is dignified’ thereby rejecting the sub-human status imposed on them by the Hindu social order.
Dalit literature is experience – based. In this literature anubhava (experience) takes precedence over anumana (speculation). Thus to Dalit writers, history is not illusionary or unreal as Hindu metaphysical theory may make one to believe. That is why authenticity and liveliness have become hallmarks of Dalit literature. These writers make use of the language of the out-castes and under-privileged in Indian society. Shame, anger, sorrow and indomitable hope are the stuff of Dalit literature. Because of the anger against the age-old oppression, the expression of the Dalit writers has become sharp.
In their search for alternatives, Dalit writers have rediscovered the low caste saint poets of the Bhakti movement. In Rajasthan too, the Dalit consciousness is ingrained in the folk deities who became so because of their selfless service of humanity at large. Folk deities like Ramdev, Dhanna , Tejaji ,Gogaji and Peepaji have been very popular among the Dalits. The shrine of Ramdevji at Ramdevra in Jaisalmer is very popular shrine where thousands of Dalits visit every year. By the side of the main shrine of Ramdevji is a Temple of Dali Bai , who is considered as a deity of Meghwal community. Raidas the Bhakti poet , also known as Ravidas was a Chamar by birth. The great saint poet Meera Bai accepted him as Guru on his arrival in Chittorgarh.
Most of the Dalit writings available in Rajasthan pertain to the folk deities which are worshipped by these communities. Ram Devji is one of them. There are songs, tales and Bhajans related to the deity. Interestingly enough He is also called “ Ram Sa Peer” and is worshipped by the Muslims as a Sufi saint. Swami Gokul Das is a Dalit author who wrote Meghvansh Itihas which depicts the evolution of Meghwal community and also about the deities Ram Devji and Dali Bai. It is interesting to note that all of these deities have lived a human life and became so popular through their heroic, chivalric and philanthropic deeds that people started worshipping them. They had a non-Brahminical World view and did nurture a religion of inclusion with little care for the Brahminical practices of sanctity associated with purity and cleanliness. These deities formed a non-Brahminical cult of worship which developed as an alternative faith drawing millions of people to their shrines irrespective of religion, caste, creed and gender. The social hierarchy of Manusmriti stands irrelevant in these centers of people’s faith. The songs, hymns and stories associated with these deities are composed and sung in the dialects which the people of the “Lower” strata speak. Most of these are available in the oral form only.
Rajshri Dhali of University of Delhi in her research paper traces the identity formation of Meghwal, a dalit community through the reading of oral tradition and written literature especially Meghwansh Itihas written by Swami Gokul Das in 1994. In her perceptive paper she relates the three versions of the story of the birth of Dali Bai who was a disciple of Ram Devji and is worshipped as a deity by Meghwals in her own right. According to one version of the story Bhoj Meghwal had two sons- Sayer and Adsi. Sayer had no issue but Adsi had a son named Munja and a daughter Dali. Adsi died when the children were very young. So Sayer took care of them and brought them up. As she grew up Dali became devout disciple of Ram Dev, a Rajput warrior who had become a saint. She used to accompany Ram Dev to sing Bhajans. One day Dali was looking after the cattle grazing in the fields, she heard some music and singing. On inquiry she learnt that Ram Dev had decided to take Samadhi. She rushed to the spot and insisted on taking Samadhi before Ram Dev did. They argued a lot but could not come to a conclusion. Finally Dali said that let the pit be dug. If during digging, things used by women like combs, bangles etc. appeared she would take the Samadhi first and if things used by men like conch, Jhalar etc. appeared first, Ramdev ji will take the Samadhi first. While digging bangles and comb appeared and Dali Bai took the Samadhi first while Ram Dev ji kept singing hymns near her Samadhi for three days and finally took Samadhi himself.
Swami Gokul Das describes the second version of the story in which Dali Bai is depicted as a daughter of a sage named Bhrigi. Once when the sage was in a state of meditation, a nymph succeeded in distracting his attention by dancing in a seductive manner. Driven by passion the sage released his semen. Feeling guilty for his weakness the sage kept the semen in a cleaved branch of a “Jal” tree and went away. After one year when he returned he saw a girl child born on the cleave of the branch. He picked up the child blessed her, put her in a basket, covered her with his shawl and left the basket in the river afloat. The Tanwar Rajput ruler Maharaja Ram Dev was riding by the side of the river with his attendant Sayer. He spotted the basket and asked Sayer to fetch that. They found a baby girl playing in it. Maharaja Ram Dev said that since Sayer had no issues, God had sent him a daughter. Sayer brought her up and gave her the name Dali Bai, ( Incidently “Dali” means branch) and thus her name could be related to the branch where she was born.
The third version seems to be a latest construct in which Dali Bai is depicted as a victim of Islamic invaders who convert people to Islam. Ram Dev and Dali Bai are described as champions of Hinduism who re-convert the converted Hindus by performing “Shuddhi” or “Purification rites.” It is interesting that except the first one, the remaining two are constructs of the Hindu Brahminical order which conspires to keep the Dalits in their fold and at the same time treats them as untouchables. The second version tries to prove that Dali Bai is not a descendant of Meghvansh. She is the daughter of a Sage, a Rishi. This denotes that she belongs to the Brahminical tradition. It is only the first story which does not hide the birth of Dali Bai and rejoices in her rise as a deity.
Rajshri Dhali makes a very insightful analysis when she says :
The The story firmly establishes Dalibai as a deity and even attempts to free her from dominating influence of Ramdev. Dalibai is no longer a disciple of Ramdev, but a deity with enough miraculous powers to astonish her Guru. It is only through superior miraculous powers that she ensures the discovery of articles used by women when samadhi was being dug and succeeded in taking samadhi before Ramdev. Such a construction was an attempt to attribute a higher status to Dalibai in popular perception.
The History of Meghvansh has been recorded in a number of writings by prominent Dalit writers. Meghvansh : Itihas Aur Sanskriti written by Tararam is a set of two volumes. The author traces the history of Meghwals to a ruling clan called Meghvansh which existed somewhere around 220 – 320 AD. Prof. Angane Lal, in his preface to the book states that “Koshambi” has been the centre of the Meghvansh’s territory. The relics discovered from the nearby archaeological sites suggest that the Meghvanshis were followers of Buddhism. The Meghvansh declined with the rise of Gupta dynasty. The author describes in details various symbols, icons, coins associated with the Megh dynasty during their rise as a power in some parts of the country. Tara Ram writes in this book, “After the Nirvaan of Buddha, he has been represented by the symbols of a tree, foot marks and the religious Wheel ( Dharmcakra). We find these symbols in Avraavati during the regime of Meghwan dynasty. Similar symbols are found in Koshambi, Bandhogarh and Bheeta. Thus, it is clear that Meghwan dynasty and Megh dynasty were the same; they had the same origin and the same religious beliefs.
Most of the Historians consider them Brahmin – born followers of Buddha. But a historical analysis proves it wrong because the Varna system which is so emphasized upon in the Vedic period gets slackened in the Upanishad Era and in the Mauryan period which follow it. In the Smriti Age the existence of all the Varna’s is seen. In the meanwhile, it was assumed that the king will be either a Kshatriya or a Brahmin. As a consequence even the Buddhist rulers were dubbed as Kshatriya or Brahmin. In reality they were followers of Buddhism, opponents of the Varna system and the supporters and propagators of Pali tradition. Thus it is clear that the rule of Meghvansh continued for a long time but due to their faith in the idea of a society without the hierarchical division of the Varnas, their dynasty could not be sustained for long. ( Tararam 62-63)
Another book about Dalit in Rajathan which also talks about Dalit literature is Samanti Jati vyavastha ke virruddh Rajasthan ke Daliton ka Mukti Sangharsh. Edited by Kamalkant Prasad and Dr. Prakash Louis published by Bhartiya Samajik Sansthan, New Delhi. The book contains thirteen articles on various facets of Dalit life, thought and literature. Sajjan Kumar Jaidiya’s article on Dalit literature talks of its various Characteristics and criticizes the writings of caste Hindus. Talking about the importance of Dalit literature because it is based on the experiences of the people who are rooted in the soil,” ( Jadia, 147) Dr. Kusum Meghwal’s article on Dalit Women is another important chapter of the book in which she has traced the condition of women in India right from the Vedic Age to the modern times. She suggests that the domestic work of Dalit women should be evaluated in economic terms. She alleged that women’s welfare agencies are governed by upper caste women who are not sensitive to the plight of Dalit Women. Dr. Kusum Meghwal is the chair person of Rajasthan Dalit Sahitya Academy and has authored several books on the issues of Dalit emancipation. Another important work on Dalit history is Bharat Ka Itihas : Shraman, Brahmin Sanskritiyon Ka Sangharsh. This is written by B. L. Meghwal “Bhagirath,” an officer of Rajasthan Administrative service and also the husband of Kusum Meghwal. The book is an attempt to re-examine and interrogative the Hindu scriptures as well as epic of Sanskrit classical tradition. He presents an in depth study of the Vedas and Quotes a number of couplets describing the methods of hegemony exercised by the Brahmins over the toiling masses. Bhagirath questions the British historians who always portrayed the invaders as the victorious. He maintains that if the Aryans were victorious then how does one account for the Nand Dynasty, Mauryan Dynasty, Gupta Dynasty and vardhan dynasty as rulers? (Bhagirath, 48)
The author examines the text of Rig-Veda and Yajurved to prove that these scriptures allowed the subordinate position of women and provided for their sexual exploitation not just by their husbands but other males including Brahmins who referred the vagina of women as a place of sacrificial fire ( Yagnya) and prayed that they may pour their organs into it as sacrificial wood, suggesting metaphorically an extra marital sexual union as a religious rite. ( Bhagirath 97 )
Other majors writings of the author include “ Ujjale Ki Agwani ( 1991), Shramikon Ke Muktidaata ( 1992 ), Peeda Ke Setuband ( 1996 ), Chaandi Ri Aadhi Roti ( 1996 ), Swatantra Bharat Me Sahi Shiksha Neeti ( 2004 ), Vedadi Dharamgranthon mein Mool Nivasiyon Ka Itihas ( 2005 ), Asur Lok Nayak Krishna ( 2005 ). Dr. Meghwal’s books have been awarded and published by National Book Trust.
Another important work comprising Dalit Literature in Rajasthan is a collection of short stories written by Ratna Kumar Sambhariya. The book is called Dalit Samaj Ki Kahaniyan. The book is published in 2011 by Anamika Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi. Ratna Kumar Sanbhariya is an established author with a progressive outlook. He has a command over language and a style of his own. He is an author of robust optimism and defines it as a necessary characteristic of Dalit Literature. An author of about ten books he has been honoured and awarded by several prestigious institutions and organizations. His attitude to Dalit Writings is inclusive and liberal. In his preface “Meri Baat” he states, “Often this illusion is spread that a Dalit story can be written by a Dalit only. In fact, this can be ascribed to the narrow mentality of those driven solely by the motive of reservation. Just as a person born in a Dalit community can write a general story, in the same way a person born in a general community can write a Dalit story provided that story has a deep sensibility, pain for Dalits and a feeling of awakening. ( Sabhariya 9 )
Witing about the stylistic features of a Dalit story Sambhariya states, “The language of a Dalit story is rooted in its own ground, has its own specialty and its limitation. The language should be colloquial; behavior should be sober and should have a regional touch. The abundance of ‘Deshaj’ ( rustic ) words cannot be denied in a dalit story. There are twenty-four stories in this collection. “ Phulwa”, the first story of the collection was published in the reputed literary magazine Hans in 1997. The story depicts the reversal that has taken place in the social order. The kshatriyas of one time, due to their orthodox views and false pride have lost their past glory and economic power while the Dalits who were serving them have reached a position of power by dint of their hard work and progressive outlook. “ Phulwa “ is a Dalit woman who lost her husband, when an ox hit him with his horns. Despite her poverty, she focused on the education of her son. The story describes the reversal – Phulwa’s son has become an S. P. while the Zamindar’s son is looking for a job for his son. He happens to visit the bungalow of Phulwa and feels envious at her good fortune. But the caste prejudice is so strong that he does not drink even a glass of water. Later his experience at the Pandit’s house is also not happy. At several places Sambhariya makes very subtle remarks at this social transformation:
“ Phulwa “ addressing him again and again as “ Rameshwar” had offended him and he spat on her pitcher. Phulwa broke the pitcher and returns home weeping. Suddenly the memory of this incident brought tears to Phulwa’s eyes. As if two hands had reached the money box ( Gullak) simultaneously. Time is a trader. Rameshwar draws water drom the same well today, Phulwa’s pitcher has running water.” ( Sambhariya 20 )
In another instance Phulwa says, “No Rameshwarji, she is not my daughter-in-law, she is a maid. Kunwar is her name. We did not ask her what her caste is but the poor lady says that she is Rajput. There are thirty six castes in villages. In cities these are only two- the rich and the poor.” (Sambhariya 23 )
The story titled “ Mukti” suggests emancipation of the Dalits through their own act of valour. Nanak Ram, a Dalit takes the responsibility of clearing the path for the cart carrying the statue of a deity. There is a huge Bison blocking the road. No one dares drive him away. Nanak Ram asks his wrestler son to force the Bison move away. He goes but the angry Bison lifts him on his horns and smashes down. He is badly hurt. But the path gets cleared. The cart reaches the temple. People join to unload the statue. Nanak Ram also move to join but the priest stops him angrily saying “The hands that sweep the floor can not touch the statue.” Nanak Ram gets furious and draws a sword to smash the priest who runs to save his life. Sambhariya’s Dalit heroes are not pitiable, weak and miserable beings. They are good human beings – polite and obedient. But when it comes to their honour they are ready to take stand and fight back.
Sambhariya has written Samaaj ki Naak ( One Act Plays ), Baang aur Anya Laghukathayen, Hukam Ki Duggi, Kaal Tatha Anya Kahaniyan, Khet Tatha Anya Kahaniyan ( Short Stories ), Munshi Prem Chand Aur Dalit Samaj ( Criticism ), Dr. Ambedkar : Ek Prerak Jeevan ( Edited ) and Beema Natak. His stories have been made into Radio – plays and one story has been made into a tele – film.
Charan Singh Pathik is a teacher in a primary school in Karauli, North East Rajasthan. He has a keen insight in the rural life and expresses with great lucidity the vicissitudes of village life. Baat Yeh Nahin Hai is a collection of his stories published by Surya Prakashan Mandir, Bikaner in 2005. Charan Singh Pathik also depicts the incongruities of a village society divided into castes. His story “ Dangal “ is a picturesque description of the upper caste and lower caste divisions in the rural society. There is a group of singers in the village which always wins the Dangal. The main singer is Peeru Teli, who belongs to the lower stratum of the society. At some occasion the upper caste members of the group insult him for his lower caste. He with his other friends decides to have his own group of singers. The story ends with the dominant caste group exercising their supremacy by using money. Unlike Ratna Kumar Sambhariya’s stories in which Dalits are depicted as having an upper hand, in Charan Singh Pathik’s story “Dangal”,the lower caste group of singers get defeated.But here too ,they do not fail in voicing their concerns:
Peeru said in a sarcastic tone, “We are ‘Pai’ (Lower caste) .What do we have in this village which we can call ours? This air,this soil,this water and this our sweat- all is yours.In the Dangal of Salavad when the audience praised me and offered a garland of currency notes,lifted me in their arms and tied a turban to honour me-me ,Kajodya and Ramjani, in the eyes of Thakur Nathu Singh and Pundit Fattu became ‘Aai-Pai’.Became ‘Katawe and Mulle ( An abusive word for Muslims).Till then we had never felt that we and our religion were different.( Charan Singh 64)
The story depicts helplessness and desperation of the Dalits who are endowed with higher artistic qualities but are insulted only because of their birth. They do make an effort to assert their identity but the power of money overpowers them. Thus Charan Singh succeeds in indicating that the capitalist system helps in deepening the gulf between the caste groups.
Dr.Gopal Sahar is another young story – writer from Rajasthan who has depicted very realistically the caste hierarchy in rural parts of the state. He has published two collections of stories _ Shabdon Ka Saudagar and Bhor Uge Sanjh Dhale . The stories of the two collections reflect Dalit realities and the atrocities they are face to face in the feudal system. His story “ Saabun Ki Batti “ is one such story in which the central characters “ Dalludi,” an adolescent Bhil girl is sexually exploited by the young son of the village Thakur. In spite of independence of the country and democratic governance the feudal authority continues in village. “ Dalludi “ suffers exploitation and harassment. A young man of her own class Maangu who had some liking for her, knowing fully well her sexual abuse by the Thakur’s son, decides to adopt her and they escape together from the village. Though the writer finds class solidarity as an alternative but the idea of escape could have been developed further to register some kind of resistance also.
In another story “ Kal Koi Mar Jaye,” the author depicts the plight of a Harijan family suffering immense cold. When a person dies, a cotton quilt is prepared for the dead body. When the body reaches the crematorium, the quilt is thrown away. The Harijan protagonist, suffering bitter cold, starts imagining if some body dies, be can use that quilt to save himself from the cold. The stories shows that poverty sometimes dehumanizes people and makes them think in an unusual way.
There is a famous autobiography by the former vice-chancellor of J. N. Vyas University, Jodhpur Dr. Shyam Lal Jaidiya. This autography is an important Dalit text in which the author has recorded his struggle in the academic world. Jai Prakash Pandya “ Jyotipunj “ has written a number of poems and stories about the tribal life. Kasak Bhukhe Bhil Ki is one of his famous works. Some of these writers are Dalits, while others are not. There could be other writers as well but Rajasthan lacks an organized Dalit movement and therefore Dalit writing as a movement, could not make a dent in the otherwise feudal society. Those writers who are committed to Dalit ideology and politics confine themselves to writing prose books about B. R. Ambedkar and other ideologues. There is much scope of creative writing, translation and documentation of Dalit literature available in oral form in folklore.
Works Cited:
Bhagirath, Bharat Ka Itihas : Shraman, Brahmin Sanskritiyon Ka Sangharsh, Udaipur : Mool Niwasi Prakashan, 2005.
D.Sila Khan.Conversion and Shifting Identities: Ramdev Pir and the Ismailies in Rajasthan.New Delhi: Manohar.1997
Gokul Das.Meghvansh Itehas.Ajmer:Phoolchand Bookseller.1994
Pathik, Charan Singh .Baat Yeh Nahin Hei . Bikaner : Surya Prakashan Mandir. 2005
Prasad Kamalkant and Prakash Louis. Samanti Jaati vyavastha Ka Viruddh Rajasthan Ke Daliton Ka Mukti Sangharsh : New Delhi : Bhartiya Samajik Sansthan. 2001
Sahar, Gopal, Bhor Uge Saanjh Dhale .Jaipur : M. B. Publishers and Distributors. 2003
Sambhariya, Ratna Kumar Dalit Samaaj Ki Kahaniyan. New Delhi: Anamika Publishers and Distributors. 2011
Tara Ram Meghvansh : Itihas Aur Sanskriti. New Delhi: Samyak Prakashan .2011

cover page of my recent book of poems

July 23, 2014

unnamed[1]

Dalit Literature in Rajasthan: A Voice Lost in Wilderness

July 15, 2014

Dalit Literature in Rajasthan: A Voice Lost in the Wilderness
Rajasthan, as the name itself suggests, has been ‘a land of the Kings’. Before the formation of a United Rajasthan in 1948 A.D. it was divided into nineteen princely states like Mewar (Udaipur), Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Kota, Bundi, Jhalawar, Bharatpur etc. The dynasty of Mewar, with a recorded history of one thousand five hundred years is said to be the oldest one in Rajasthan. The glorification of the past assumes new dimensions with a reference to Maharana Pratap and the battle of Haldighati which is compared to the battle of Thermopolis in Europe. Pratap is presented as an icon of freedom much celebrated in the literature across the country.
Apart from this political history , if one decides to look at the social stratification and the dynamics of caste , he would be appalled to learn that even today it is at the top of the list of states where atrocities against the weaker sections, particularly, the Dalits are on the rise. According to a report in The Hindu, Rajasthan has emerged as the state with the highest incidence of registered atrocities against Dalits across the country. In 2010, the state recorded 51.4 cases of atrocities against Dalits per lakh population under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act. It had registered a similar figure in 2009 too. The latest data from the Union Ministry of Social Justice show that five states namely Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh account for around seventy percent of registered atrocities against Dalits. The feudal traditions continue to exist even sixty five years after the independence , though it is also said that the democratic institutions have grown mature.
The Dalits constitute about eight percent of the population of Rajasthan. Sub-castes of the dalits in Rajasthan like Bairava, Meghwal , Bhangi, Dhanuk, Jatav etc. suffered social exclusion because of their traditional occupation . Some castes as Guar, Kantar, Bavaria etc. were labeled as criminals and had to suffer the stigma for centuries. If the population of scheduled Tribes is added it comes to around seventeen percent of the total population of the state. Due to the feudal dominance the Dalit movement did not emerge as a strong voice in Rajasthan. Those Dalit leaders who got elected to the Parliament, Legislative Assemblies and other bodies of local self government remained confined to their political association but did not care much to organize the Dalits as a movement. As a consequence unlike Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Kerala Dalit literature did not gain much ground in the state of Rajasthan.
Dalit Literature is, in fact, the writings that are about dalits. Dalit (Oppressed or broken) is not a new word. Apparently, it was used in the 1930s as a Hindi and Marathi translation of ‘depressed classes’, a term the British used for what are now called the Scheduled Castes. In 1970s the ‘Dalit Panthers’ revived the term and expanded its reference to include scheduled tribes, poor peasants, women and all those being exploited politically, economically and in the name of religion. So Dalit is not a caste. It is a symbol of change and revolution. The Primary motive of Dalit literature is the liberation of dalits. Dalit struggle against casteist tradition has a long history. For example, in Kannada, it goes back to the first Vachana poet of the 11th century, Chennaiah, the cobbler. The 12th century Dalit saint Kalavve challenged the upper castes for making false accusation against them.
In modern times, because of the legacy of Mahatma Phule and Babarao Ambedkar, Dalit literature got impetus in Maharastra. But before the name came into being in the 1960s, such people as Baburao Bagul, Bandhu Madhav, Shankarao kharat were already creating Dalit literature. In its formal form it sprouted out of a progressive movement called Little Magazine which was a kind of rebellious manifestation of the educated youth of those days against the establishment. These Dalit youths found inspiration in the movement of Blacks in the distant land of North America; their Black Literature and Black Panther became the role models of sorts for them. This protest gained its first expression in the form of a new literature called Dalit Literature. Poems, short stories, novels and autobiographies written by Dalit writers provided useful insights on the question of Dalit identity. Now the subaltern communities found a new name by coming together with the perspective ‘Dalit is dignified’ thereby rejecting the sub-human status imposed on them by the Hindu social order.
Dalit literature is experience – based. In this literature anubhava (experience) takes precedence over anumana (speculation). Thus to Dalit writers, history is not illusionary or unreal as Hindu metaphysical theory may make one to believe. That is why authenticity and liveliness have become hallmarks of Dalit literature. These writers make use of the language of the out-castes and under-privileged in Indian society. Shame, anger, sorrow and indomitable hope are the stuff of Dalit literature. Because of the anger against the age-old oppression, the expression of the Dalit writers has become sharp.
In their search for alternatives, Dalit writers have rediscovered the low caste saint poets of the Bhakti movement. In Rajasthan too, the Dalit consciousness is ingrained in the folk deities who became so because of their selfless service of humanity at large. Folk deities like Ramdev, Dhanna , Tejaji ,Gogaji and Peepaji have been very popular among the Dalits. The shrine of Ramdevji at Ramdevra in Jaisalmer is very popular shrine where thousands of Dalits visit every year. By the side of the main shrine of Ramdevji is a Temple of Dali Bai , who is considered as a deity of Meghwal community. Raidas the Bhakti poet , also known as Ravidas was a Chamar by birth. The great saint poet Meera Bai accepted him as Guru on his arrival in Chittorgarh.
Most of the Dalit writings available in Rajasthan pertain to the folk deities which are worshipped by these communities. Ram Devji is one of them. There are songs, tales and Bhajans related to the deity. Interestingly enough He is also called “ Ram Sa Peer” and is worshipped by the Muslims as a Sufi saint. Swami Gokul Das is a Dalit author who wrote Meghvansh Itihas which depicts the evolution of Meghwal community and also about the deities Ram Devji and Dali Bai. It is interesting to note that all of these deities have lived a human life and became so popular through their heroic, chivalric and philanthropic deeds that people started worshipping them. They had a non-Brahminical World view and did nurture a religion of inclusion with little care for the Brahminical practices of sanctity associated with purity and cleanliness. These deities formed a non-Brahminical cult of worship which developed as an alternative faith drawing millions of people to their shrines irrespective of religion, caste, creed and gender. The social hierarchy of Manusmriti stands irrelevant in these centers of people’s faith. The songs, hymns and stories associated with these deities are composed and sung in the dialects which the people of the “Lower” strata speak. Most of these are available in the oral form only.
Rajshri Dhali of University of Delhi in her research paper traces the identity formation of Meghwal, a dalit community through the reading of oral tradition and written literature especially Meghwansh Itihas written by Swami Gokul Das in 1994. In her perceptive paper she relates the three versions of the story of the birth of Dali Bai who was a disciple of Ram Devji and is worshipped as a deity by Meghwals in her own right. According to one version of the story Bhoj Meghwal had two sons- Sayer and Adsi. Sayer had no issue but Adsi had a son named Munja and a daughter Dali. Adsi died when the children were very young. So Sayer took care of them and brought them up. As she grew up Dali became devout disciple of Ram Dev, a Rajput warrior who had become a saint. She used to accompany Ram Dev to sing Bhajans. One day Dali was looking after the cattle grazing in the fields, she heard some music and singing. On inquiry she learnt that Ram Dev had decided to take Samadhi. She rushed to the spot and insisted on taking Samadhi before Ram Dev did. They argued a lot but could not come to a conclusion. Finally Dali said that let the pit be dug. If during digging, things used by women like combs, bangles etc. appeared she would take the Samadhi first and if things used by men like conch, Jhalar etc. appeared first, Ramdev ji will take the Samadhi first. While digging bangles and comb appeared and Dali Bai took the Samadhi first while Ram Dev ji kept singing hymns near her Samadhi for three days and finally took Samadhi himself.
Swami Gokul Das describes the second version of the story in which Dali Bai is depicted as a daughter of a sage named Bhrigi. Once when the sage was in a state of meditation, a nymph succeeded in distracting his attention by dancing in a seductive manner. Driven by passion the sage released his semen. Feeling guilty for his weakness the sage kept the semen in a cleaved branch of a “Jal” tree and went away. After one year when he returned he saw a girl child born on the cleave of the branch. He picked up the child blessed her, put her in a basket, covered her with his shawl and left the basket in the river afloat. The Tanwar Rajput ruler Maharaja Ram Dev was riding by the side of the river with his attendant Sayer. He spotted the basket and asked Sayer to fetch that. They found a baby girl playing in it. Maharaja Ram Dev said that since Sayer had no issues, God had sent him a daughter. Sayer brought her up and gave her the name Dali Bai, ( Incidently “Dali” means branch) and thus her name could be related to the branch where she was born.
The third version seems to be a latest construct in which Dali Bai is depicted as a victim of Islamic invaders who convert people to Islam. Ram Dev and Dali Bai are described as champions of Hinduism who re-convert the converted Hindus by performing “Shuddhi” or “Purification rites.” It is interesting that except the first one, the remaining two are constructs of the Hindu Brahminical order which conspires to keep the Dalits in their fold and at the same time treats them as untouchables. The second version tries to prove that Dali Bai is not a descendant of Meghvansh. She is the daughter of a Sage, a Rishi. This denotes that she belongs to the Brahminical tradition. It is only the first story which does not hide the birth of Dali Bai and rejoices in her rise as a deity.
Rajshri Dhali makes a very insightful analysis when she says :
The The story firmly establishes Dalibai as a deity and even attempts to free her from dominating influence of Ramdev. Dalibai is no longer a disciple of Ramdev, but a deity with enough miraculous powers to astonish her Guru. It is only through superior miraculous powers that she ensures the discovery of articles used by women when samadhi was being dug and succeeded in taking samadhi before Ramdev. Such a construction was an attempt to attribute a higher status to Dalibai in popular perception.
The History of Meghvansh has been recorded in a number of writings by prominent Dalit writers. Meghvansh : Itihas Aur Sanskriti written by Tararam is a set of two volumes. The author traces the history of Meghwals to a ruling clan called Meghvansh which existed somewhere around 220 – 320 AD. Prof. Angane Lal, in his preface to the book states that “Koshambi” has been the centre of the Meghvansh’s territory. The relics discovered from the nearby archaeological sites suggest that the Meghvanshis were followers of Buddhism. The Meghvansh declined with the rise of Gupta dynasty. The author describes in details various symbols, icons, coins associated with the Megh dynasty during their rise as a power in some parts of the country. Tara Ram writes in this book, “After the Nirvaan of Buddha, he has been represented by the symbols of a tree, foot marks and the religious Wheel ( Dharmcakra). We find these symbols in Avraavati during the regime of Meghwan dynasty. Similar symbols are found in Koshambi, Bandhogarh and Bheeta. Thus, it is clear that Meghwan dynasty and Megh dynasty were the same; they had the same origin and the same religious beliefs.
Most of the Historians consider them Brahmin – born followers of Buddha. But a historical analysis proves it wrong because the Varna system which is so emphasized upon in the Vedic period gets slackened in the Upanishad Era and in the Mauryan period which follow it. In the Smriti Age the existence of all the Varna’s is seen. In the meanwhile, it was assumed that the king will be either a Kshatriya or a Brahmin. As a consequence even the Buddhist rulers were dubbed as Kshatriya or Brahmin. In reality they were followers of Buddhism, opponents of the Varna system and the supporters and propagators of Pali tradition. Thus it is clear that the rule of Meghvansh continued for a long time but due to their faith in the idea of a society without the hierarchical division of the Varnas, their dynasty could not be sustained for long. ( Tararam 62-63)
Another book about Dalit in Rajathan which also talks about Dalit literature is Samanti Jati vyavastha ke virruddh Rajasthan ke Daliton ka Mukti Sangharsh. Edited by Kamalkant Prasad and Dr. Prakash Louis published by Bhartiya Samajik Sansthan, New Delhi. The book contains thirteen articles on various facets of Dalit life, thought and literature. Sajjan Kumar Jaidiya’s article on Dalit literature talks of its various Characteristics and criticizes the writings of caste Hindus. Talking about the importance of Dalit literature because it is based on the experiences of the people who are rooted in the soil,” ( Jadia, 147) Dr. Kusum Meghwal’s article on Dalit Women is another important chapter of the book in which she has traced the condition of women in India right from the Vedic Age to the modern times. She suggests that the domestic work of Dalit women should be evaluated in economic terms. She alleged that women’s welfare agencies are governed by upper caste women who are not sensitive to the plight of Dalit Women. Dr. Kusum Meghwal is the chair person of Rajasthan Dalit Sahitya Academy and has authored several books on the issues of Dalit emancipation. Another important work on Dalit history is Bharat Ka Itihas : Shraman, Brahmin Sanskritiyon Ka Sangharsh. This is written by B. L. Meghwal “Bhagirath,” an officer of Rajasthan Administrative service and also the husband of Kusum Meghwal. The book is an attempt to re-examine and interrogative the Hindu scriptures as well as epic of Sanskrit classical tradition. He presents an in depth study of the Vedas and Quotes a number of couplets describing the methods of hegemony exercised by the Brahmins over the toiling masses. Bhagirath questions the British historians who always portrayed the invaders as the victorious. He maintains that if the Aryans were victorious then how does one account for the Nand Dynasty, Mauryan Dynasty, Gupta Dynasty and vardhan dynasty as rulers? (Bhagirath, 48)
The author examines the text of Rig-Veda and Yajurved to prove that these scriptures allowed the subordinate position of women and provided for their sexual exploitation not just by their husbands but other males including Brahmins who referred the vagina of women as a place of sacrificial fire ( Yagnya) and prayed that they may pour their organs into it as sacrificial wood, suggesting metaphorically an extra marital sexual union as a religious rite. ( Bhagirath 97 )
Other majors writings of the author include “ Ujjale Ki Agwani ( 1991), Shramikon Ke Muktidaata ( 1992 ), Peeda Ke Setuband ( 1996 ), Chaandi Ri Aadhi Roti ( 1996 ), Swatantra Bharat Me Sahi Shiksha Neeti ( 2004 ), Vedadi Dharamgranthon mein Mool Nivasiyon Ka Itihas ( 2005 ), Asur Lok Nayak Krishna ( 2005 ). Dr. Meghwal’s books have been awarded and published by National Book Trust.
Another important work comprising Dalit Literature in Rajasthan is a collection of short stories written by Ratna Kumar Sambhariya. The book is called Dalit Samaj Ki Kahaniyan. The book is published in 2011 by Anamika Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi. Ratna Kumar Sanbhariya is an established author with a progressive outlook. He has a command over language and a style of his own. He is an author of robust optimism and defines it as a necessary characteristic of Dalit Literature. An author of about ten books he has been honoured and awarded by several prestigious institutions and organizations. His attitude to Dalit Writings is inclusive and liberal. In his preface “Meri Baat” he states, “Often this illusion is spread that a Dalit story can be written by a Dalit only. In fact, this can be ascribed to the narrow mentality of those driven solely by the motive of reservation. Just as a person born in a Dalit community can write a general story, in the same way a person born in a general community can write a Dalit story provided that story has a deep sensibility, pain for Dalits and a feeling of awakening. ( Sabhariya 9 )
Witing about the stylistic features of a Dalit story Sambhariya states, “The language of a Dalit story is rooted in its own ground, has its own specialty and its limitation. The language should be colloquial; behavior should be sober and should have a regional touch. The abundance of ‘Deshaj’ ( rustic ) words cannot be denied in a dalit story. There are twenty-four stories in this collection. “ Phulwa”, the first story of the collection was published in the reputed literary magazine Hans in 1997. The story depicts the reversal that has taken place in the social order. The kshatriyas of one time, due to their orthodox views and false pride have lost their past glory and economic power while the Dalits who were serving them have reached a position of power by dint of their hard work and progressive outlook. “ Phulwa “ is a Dalit woman who lost her husband, when an ox hit him with his horns. Despite her poverty, she focused on the education of her son. The story describes the reversal – Phulwa’s son has become an S. P. while the Zamindar’s son is looking for a job for his son. He happens to visit the bungalow of Phulwa and feels envious at her good fortune. But the caste prejudice is so strong that he does not drink even a glass of water. Later his experience at the Pandit’s house is also not happy. At several places Sambhariya makes very subtle remarks at this social transformation:
“ Phulwa “ addressing him again and again as “ Rameshwar” had offended him and he spat on her pitcher. Phulwa broke the pitcher and returns home weeping. Suddenly the memory of this incident brought tears to Phulwa’s eyes. As if two hands had reached the money box ( Gullak) simultaneously. Time is a trader. Rameshwar draws water drom the same well today, Phulwa’s pitcher has running water.” ( Sambhariya 20 )
In another instance Phulwa says, “No Rameshwarji, she is not my daughter-in-law, she is a maid. Kunwar is her name. We did not ask her what her caste is but the poor lady says that she is Rajput. There are thirty six castes in villages. In cities these are only two- the rich and the poor.” (Sambhariya 23 )
The story titled “ Mukti” suggests emancipation of the Dalits through their own act of valour. Nanak Ram, a Dalit takes the responsibility of clearing the path for the cart carrying the statue of a deity. There is a huge Bison blocking the road. No one dares drive him away. Nanak Ram asks his wrestler son to force the Bison move away. He goes but the angry Bison lifts him on his horns and smashes down. He is badly hurt. But the path gets cleared. The cart reaches the temple. People join to unload the statue. Nanak Ram also move to join but the priest stops him angrily saying “The hands that sweep the floor can not touch the statue.” Nanak Ram gets furious and draws a sword to smash the priest who runs to save his life. Sambhariya’s Dalit heroes are not pitiable, weak and miserable beings. They are good human beings – polite and obedient. But when it comes to their honour they are ready to take stand and fight back.
Sambhariya has written Samaaj ki Naak ( One Act Plays ), Baang aur Anya Laghukathayen, Hukam Ki Duggi, Kaal Tatha Anya Kahaniyan, Khet Tatha Anya Kahaniyan ( Short Stories ), Munshi Prem Chand Aur Dalit Samaj ( Criticism ), Dr. Ambedkar : Ek Prerak Jeevan ( Edited ) and Beema Natak. His stories have been made into Radio – plays and one story has been made into a tele – film.
Charan Singh Pathik is a teacher in a primary school in Karauli, North East Rajasthan. He has a keen insight in the rural life and expresses with great lucidity the vicissitudes of village life. Baat Yeh Nahin Hai is a collection of his stories published by Surya Prakashan Mandir, Bikaner in 2005. Charan Singh Pathik also depicts the incongruities of a village society divided into castes. His story “ Dangal “ is a picturesque description of the upper caste and lower caste divisions in the rural society. There is a group of singers in the village which always wins the Dangal. The main singer is Peeru Teli, who belongs to the lower stratum of the society. At some occasion the upper caste members of the group insult him for his lower caste. He with his other friends decides to have his own group of singers. The story ends with the dominant caste group exercising their supremacy by using money. Unlike Ratna Kumar Sambhariya’s stories in which Dalits are depicted as having an upper hand, in Charan Singh Pathik’s story “Dangal”,the lower caste group of singers get defeated.But here too ,they do not fail in voicing their concerns:
Peeru said in a sarcastic tone, “We are ‘Pai’ (Lower caste) .What do we have in this village which we can call ours? This air,this soil,this water and this our sweat- all is yours.In the Dangal of Salavad when the audience praised me and offered a garland of currency notes,lifted me in their arms and tied a turban to honour me-me ,Kajodya and Ramjani, in the eyes of Thakur Nathu Singh and Pundit Fattu became ‘Aai-Pai’.Became ‘Katawe and Mulle ( An abusive word for Muslims).Till then we had never felt that we and our religion were different.( Charan Singh 64)
The story depicts helplessness and desperation of the Dalits who are endowed with higher artistic qualities but are insulted only because of their birth. They do make an effort to assert their identity but the power of money overpowers them. Thus Charan Singh succeeds in indicating that the capitalist system helps in deepening the gulf between the caste groups.
Dr.Gopal Sahar is another young story – writer from Rajasthan who has depicted very realistically the caste hierarchy in rural parts of the state. He has published two collections of stories _ Shabdon Ka Saudagar and Bhor Uge Sanjh Dhale . The stories of the two collections reflect Dalit realities and the atrocities they are face to face in the feudal system. His story “ Saabun Ki Batti “ is one such story in which the central characters “ Dalludi,” an adolescent Bhil girl is sexually exploited by the young son of the village Thakur. In spite of independence of the country and democratic governance the feudal authority continues in village. “ Dalludi “ suffers exploitation and harassment. A young man of her own class Maangu who had some liking for her, knowing fully well her sexual abuse by the Thakur’s son, decides to adopt her and they escape together from the village. Though the writer finds class solidarity as an alternative but the idea of escape could have been developed further to register some kind of resistance also.
In another story “ Kal Koi Mar Jaye,” the author depicts the plight of a Harijan family suffering immense cold. When a person dies, a cotton quilt is prepared for the dead body. When the body reaches the crematorium, the quilt is thrown away. The Harijan protagonist, suffering bitter cold, starts imagining if some body dies, be can use that quilt to save himself from the cold. The stories shows that poverty sometimes dehumanizes people and makes them think in an unusual way.
There is a famous autobiography by the former vice-chancellor of J. N. Vyas University, Jodhpur Dr. Shyam Lal Jaidiya. This autography is an important Dalit text in which the author has recorded his struggle in the academic world. Jai Prakash Pandya “ Jyotipunj “ has written a number of poems and stories about the tribal life. Kasak Bhukhe Bhil Ki is one of his famous works. Some of these writers are Dalits, while others are not. There could be other writers as well but Rajasthan lacks an organized Dalit movement and therefore Dalit writing as a movement, could not make a dent in the otherwise feudal society. Those writers who are committed to Dalit ideology and politics confine themselves to writing prose books about B. R. Ambedkar and other ideologues. There is much scope of creative writing, translation and documentation of Dalit literature available in oral form in folklore.
Works Cited:
Bhagirath, Bharat Ka Itihas : Shraman, Brahmin Sanskritiyon Ka Sangharsh, Udaipur : Mool Niwasi Prakashan, 2005.
D.Sila Khan.Conversion and Shifting Identities: Ramdev Pir and the Ismailies in Rajasthan.New Delhi: Manohar.1997
Gokul Das.Meghvansh Itehas.Ajmer:Phoolchand Bookseller.1994
Pathik, Charan Singh .Baat Yeh Nahin Hei . Bikaner : Surya Prakashan Mandir. 2005
Prasad Kamalkant and Prakash Louis. Samanti Jaati vyavastha Ka Viruddh Rajasthan Ke Daliton Ka Mukti Sangharsh : New Delhi : Bhartiya Samajik Sansthan. 2001
Sahar, Gopal, Bhor Uge Saanjh Dhale .Jaipur : M. B. Publishers and Distributors. 2003
Sambhariya, Ratna Kumar Dalit Samaaj Ki Kahaniyan. New Delhi: Anamika Publishers and Distributors. 2011
Tara Ram Meghvansh : Itihas Aur Sanskriti. New Delhi: Samyak Prakashan .2011

Abbas ,the Journalist

June 24, 2014

Roving Camera: The Journalistic Writings of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas

Dr. H.S. Chandalia*

Khwaja Ahmed Abbas was essentially a ‘Communicator’, the identity he chose for himself. While communicating for more than fifty years he chose different forms of writing including journalism, novel, short-story, cinema and autobiography. Much critical attention has been drawn towards his contribution to Indian Cinema, a little to his world of fiction including his novels and collections of short stories but the genre which kept him engaged and fulfilled his urge for communication most – journalistic writing, did not get the proper critical attention it deserved.

Abbas began his career as a journalist when he joined the National Call, a New Delhi based paper after finishing his B.A. Later while studying Law in Aligarh Muslim University in 1943, he started Aligarh Opinion, India’s first University Weekly during the pre – independence period.

Abbas’s father wanted him to become a lawyer but he was more interested in journalism. So, on a stipend of a small amount he reached Bombay and joined The Bombay Chronicle in 1935.While at Bombay Chronicle, he started writing a column called “Last Page”. When he shifted to The Blitz weekly, he carried the column with him and continued writing this column till 1987. It was published simultaneously in Urdu and Hindi as “Azad Kalam”. Thus, it became the longest – running political column (1935 – 87) in Indian Journalism.

Besides the column Abbas wrote several works in prose which border on diary, biography, autobiography, travelogue, screenplay, interviews and political commentary. In his case it becomes really difficult to classify a particular work in a specific category. His wide experience as a journalist seems to be present in almost all of his works including the works of fiction. Even the screenplays and stories he wrote for other producers and directors and the films that he directed and produced himself bear the stamp of his journalistic vision.

However, for the convenience of literary appraisal one may classify the non – fiction of K. A. Abbas into the following categories. The first category is his journalistic writings in the form of columns published in The Chronicle, Bombay The Blitz, Bombay and other newspapers and magazines. Selections from the columns arranged chronologically are published in two books namely I Write As I Feel (1948) and Bread, Beauty, and Revolution (1982). The second category of Abbas’s non-fiction is a series of books based on his meetings with important personalities of the world. He had travelled around the world twice and gathered a lot of experience and exposure which finally got recorded in the form of his books, some of which are In The Image of Mao-Tse Tung ( 1953), Face to Face with Khruschev ( 1960 ), Till We Reach The Stars, The Story of Yury Gagarin ( 1961), That Woman : Her Seven Years in Power ( 1973 ) , Jawahar Lal Nehru : Portrait of An Integrated Indian ( 1974 ) and Indira Gandhi : The Last Post ( 1989 ). Three of these books are about the charismatic personality of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the iron lady of Indian Politics. Abbas was much impressed by Pdt. Nehru and saw Indira Gandhi’s arrival on the scene of Indian Politics as an extension of the Nehruvian era. However, in his later writings he grew a little critical of the policies of Mrs. Gandhi.

 Another category of his non – fiction includes the books that he wrote in response to some political changes or events that took place in the world politics and politics at home. They are books like Outside India : The Adventures of a Roving Reporter ( 1939 ) , An Indian looks at America ( 1943 ) , A Report to Gandhiji : A Survey of Indian and World Events during the Twenty one Months of Gandhiji’s Incarceration ( 1944 ) , Kashmir Fights for Freedom ( 1948 ) , China can Make It : Eye Witness Account of The Amazing Industrial Progress in China ( 1952 ) , 20th March 1977 : A Day Like Any Other Day ( 1978 ) , Janata In a Jam ( 1978 ) . These books depict perceptive accounts of contemporary political and social activities.  The approach is realistic and Abbas depicts the objective reality with an internationalist’s point of view.

Abbas became associated with the world of cinema quite early in his career. He started as a film critic but soon took up the challenge of writing scripts and screenplays. Later he directed films, produced films and formed his own film company’ Naya Sansar’ , which continuously produced films that were socially relevant and took up issues related to the down – trodden and the middle class. It was the scripts which gave Raj Kapoor the image of a common man or Aam Adami through his films like Jagte Raho, Awaara, Shri 420, Mera Naam Joker etc. He wrote the screenplay for Neecha Nagar, a film which became the first film to win the Palme d’ Or (Golden Palm) at Cannes Film Festival.

Besides writing scripts and screenplays Abbas wrote critical books on Indian Cinema. His book Mad, Mad, Mad World of Indian Films and Bombay, my Bombay are collection of his small essays about Indian Cinema and the personalities which were very important in the formative years of Indian Cinema. How Films Are Made (1999) is another book on Film making published by National Book Trust, New Delhi. In the introduction to his book Mad, Mad, Mad world of Indian Films, Abbas made a very perceptive remark about the contradiction of the film world:

Madness is part of this art industry – its fantabulous star- prices, it’s larger – than – life figures of success and its grimmer – than death failures. Money makes the film, but money alone can not act, money alone can not adjust the lens that bends beauty and glamour to the famous and glamorous star – faces. Money is everything, but money is nothing!

                                         (Introduction, Mad, Mad, Mad world of Indian Films)

Among his other non – fiction writings are his famous autobiography I Am Not An Island and two plays. One play Barrister At Law is based on early life of Mahatma Gandhi. The other play is not very well known and its text also is not easily available.

There are several interviews of K. A. Abbas which have been either recorded and aired on Radio or published in journals, Newspapers and Magazines. These are non – fictional almost autobiographical musings of the author narrated by him but recorded and documented by other persons. One such interview was recorded for radio and its transcript is available with Cambridge University. The interview is taken by one Mr. Shanker and reveals several undisclosed facets of the life and mind of K. A. Abbas. In the course of the interview Abbas talks of his days as a scholar of Aligarh Muslim University and describes how four friends including Ansar Harvani, Sibt –i- Hasan, Akhtar Hussain and himself went some forty kilometers away from Aligarh to meet Jawahar Lal Nehru who was travelling by a train. In the interview Mr. Shanker has recorded the description of the complete dialogue that took place between the four young students and Pdt. Nehru. The group of four friends including K. A. Abbas asked several questions about democracy, revolution, socialism, justice and the condition of peasants in the country, particularly, that of those living in villages near Aligarh. Abbas recalls that the answers given by Pdt, Nehru to their questions were quite different from what they had imagined. He was forth right in his views and believed in people’s education and organization as a tool for any revolution. In this interview, Abbas quotes Nehru’s vision of revolution:

If you want to bring about a revolution in the minds of the people, you must learn, and the people must learn, to ask questions, not to take anything on trust, but to question everything, to adopt an attitude of enquiry, of quest, of discussion, of not believing anything till it had been proved on the touchstone of logic and reason.

                                                                                               (Transcript 8)

As a young scholar these words must have made a lasting impact on the mind of Abbas. Most of his writings reflect his uncompromising commitment to the voice of reason and enquiry. Abbas challenged the policy of the Censor Board in the court of law and succeeded in convincing the jury that an artist has to have the freedom to depict reality.

It is difficult to examine critically all the works of non – fiction written by K. A. Abbas in a short paper, Hence, the scope of this paper is limited to two books only namely I Write as I Feel and Bread, Beauty and Revolution. These two books contain selected pieces of his journalistic writing from 1941 to 1982 which roughly covers the maximum stretch of his career. Though it must be noted that Abbas kept on writing till his last breath in June 1987 and his story “Mother and Child” was published posthumously by the Illustrated Weekly of India.

I Write As I Feel contains one hundred and nine pieces of Abbas Sahab’s prose writings which appeared as his columns between 1941 to 1947. This period was a turbulent time in the world history. Europe saw the most fatal blow and the stains of the blood of innocent people were spread all over the so called civilized world. The world war second ended with the United States dropping atom bombs on Japan. The freedom struggle of India sharpened with the Quit India movement and the famous Naval revolt. Abbas’s vision caught the glimpses of these events like a roving camera and responded to them in his typical style – full of wit and wisdom. He was conscious of his role as a progressive journalist who would dream of building an egalitarian society not with in the country but in all countries across the globe. The world was changing rapidly and so was journalism. From international politics to the issues of poverty and hunger, from European economic crisis to the Indian theatre and art – everything became the subject matter of these columns. Unlike traditional canons of objectivity, these writings are quite subjective. The author, who remained anonymous initially, could not remain so for long. The identity of the author as a secular, democratic and progressive thinker became the hall mark of these pieces. In the preface to the book titled in a typical Abbas style as  “ The First Last Page “ Abbas admits his subjective approach in these columns :

I have been what may be described as a “subjective reporter”, concerned not so much with collecting objective news but with chronicling the emotional, human background of news. What I have written, therefore, has been necessarily colored by my own views and thoughts and feelings. ‘Subjectiveness: I have been assured is my chief failing. For what has appeared on the “ Last Page “ , I have been variously described and dismissed as a “ sentimental petit bourgeoise”, an emotional dupe of the communists”, ‘ a Middle –of- the- road Marxist, and the most consistent of all the Nehruites – including Nehru ! I shall be the last to challenge any of my critics. They are welcome to their opinions. There is sufficient evidence to show, however, that a fairly large number read the Last Page, many of them because it reflects their own views and their own reactions to various developments in the country and abroad.   (vi)

Abbas is very forth right in his confession. Though he accepts a certain degree of subjectivity as a “ failing “, this very subjectivity turns out to be his strength in more than one ways. One such example in the opening piece of the book titled “We eat our Hats !” The German attack on Russia was an event  which none of the “ Wise” Diplomats, bureaucrats and foreign affairs editors had expected. So the event makes them gobble their hats. Abbas’s use of parody, pun and subtle wit succeeds in making a dig at this entire class of elite intellectuals:

“ And so you see why they are eating their hats…..Whatever hats that come to their hand ! Hence all the dearth of hats in town, and hence all the extra – sapient stuff that has been appearing in your paper for the last two weeks. It is all due to the undigested hats – thanks to the biggest mad – hatter of all the history, Adolf Hatler – alias Mein Fuehrer! “(4)

Abbas does not hesitate in pulling Hitler down through his sarcastic remark and deformation in the very spelling of his name from “ Hitler to “Hatler “ . However, in other pieces which demand greater solemnity and sobriety he easily moulds his style to suit the subject. The “Death of Tagore” written on August 17, 1941 is full of such somberness. Abbas talks of his versatility and also the immortality of his work which we now realize as truth. Tagore was revered in his life time. Tagore is respected today also is one of the best intellectuals of twentieth century. Abbas was right when he concluded the piece with his lines, “Tagore is dead, Tagores never die. “  (5)

Abbas shows keen interest in literature and fine arts. He considered them as highest instincts of humanity. But he is more happy when art becomes a medium of celebrating the strength and potential of human physique and intellect. He is not a votaries of “ Art for Art’s sake, “ rather he rejoices in that art which addresses the contemporary questions of life and depicts them revolting against the traditional mythological narratives. “ The Dance of Machines “is a performance of dance choreographed by Uday Shanker. Admiring his effort Abbas writes:

“And through a medium that he understands and has mastered, in terms of rhyme, movement and gesture, he gives us his analysis of the social break – up of the Indian village community by the intrusion of industrialism. And instead of legendary goods and goddesses he puts real, live human beings on the dance stage! (9)

Similarly, on the question of cinema and morality, he puts forward very rational and progressive views. He challenges the very idea of linking morality with sexual behavior and expands it to the behavior of human beings driven by greed, false pride and chauvinism. He boldly said that feudalism had vulgarized entertainment while the modern cinema has democratized the profession of entertainers. To him the masters who exploited their servants, the doctors who cheated patients giving those quack medicines and women/ men who married for money were more immoral than the people in cinema. He rightly says that the atmosphere of any place is the sum total of the character of its occupants. So, the possibility of morality or immorality is the same in a temple, an educational institution and a cinema studio depending on the people who work there.

Abbas was well read and well informed on the themes he choose to write about. He would do a lot of homework to research and find out the background of the stories he took up. One feels surprised the way he could gather such accurate information. At the arrival of Cripps Commission there were no computers and no means of accessing information as we have today. Yet the amount of information that is available in his column “Prelude to Cripps?” shows the resourcefulness of Abbas. His description of Sir Stafford Cripps reminds one of the description of the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales– full of subtle and mild humor :

Sir Stafford is generally punctual, but one day he hit a new high in punctuality by arriving ten minutes earlier than the time fixed. He generally wore a smile on his face as well as a flower in his button -hole. Also, he wore his (by now) familiar features – a high intellectual forehead, keen eyes behind rimless glasses and yellowing teeth. These last are caused by the solitary vice Sir Stafford allowed himself – smoking. But he is rather promiscuous in the enjoyment of his favorite weed. One day he appeared smoking a proletarian cigarette, on another day a Cigar (which probably Churchill gave him with his blessings!) and on yet another day sucking at a pipe ( which, perhaps, is a present from Stalin! ) It is not known whether he is taking with him a hookah from India. The description shows none of the prejudice (28) that a journalist of a country fighting for freedom against the colonial power could have towards the representative of the empire. Nor does it show any fear that one would feel in penning those critical remarks about his personality which border on his personal traits. Not only this, Abbas, later in the piece criticizes those journalists who always addressed Stafford Cripps as “your Honors”. He writes that it was not befitting of a journalist to address him like that.

The book has a piece titled “Bread and Revolution” though the same is used as a title of the second collection called Bread, Beauty and Revolution. It is a beautiful piece of prose which depicts the reality of India during the period of severe economic depression in the world. The inflating prices of the commodities of daily use and the acute scarcity of food grain has made the life of the Indian masses miserable. Abbas begins the piece by alluding to the Nobel Winning novel The Good Earth written by Pearl. S. Buck and a film based on it. He quotes a dialogue from the film, “What is Revolution ?”

‘ I don’t know, but it has something to do with food.” Later Abbas describes how it was easy to relate this dialogue to the pathetic state of Indian poor and middle classes. It is ironical that though the film based on The Good Earth arouses our pity towards the suffering of famine-stricken people in China, we remain complacent about the similar condition of our own people suffering similarly. Abbas in his very calculative style draws a beautiful comparison between the text and the ground reality in a very touching paragraph:

In The Good Earth there are vivid scenes of a famine – stricken area, showing how the Earth dries up and cracks, how the cattle and the humans have to live by eating roots and even mud, how hunger makes man mad,” This is what we see on screen, and perhaps the complacent Bombay crowd thought of it as something that can happen only in far of China. But in India, we have had famines as acute as the one so dramatically and so poignantly depicted in The Good Earth (68)

Abbas criticizes the black marketeers and the hoarders of food grain. To him food is more important than anything else. It is a crude reality that satisfying one’s hunger is more important than all other abstract values like morality, patriotism, religion, politics, love and loyalty. Abbas seeks the solution to this problem of starvation not in any divine intervention but in a new world order “Which guarantees the elementary material needs and thus releases human energy to flow in channels of more creative purposeful living.”

The book contains more than a hundred articles ranging from Indian freedom struggle to the rise and fall of Nazism and Fascism in Europe. The roving camera of Abbas’s journalistic eye shows a wide range of topics from politics to art, from the intellectual talk of philosophy and economics to the more mundane and coarse realities of the lives of the multitudes. He talks about the debate on’ kissing’ scenes in cinema and the issues related to modernism and orthodoxy. The book ends up with an article written on 22nd August 1947, just a week after the independence of India and is aptly titled as “The End is The Beginning.”

The second volume titled Bread, Beauty and Revolution about thirty five years of the journalistic writings of  K.A.Abbas. The book begins with a piece titled     “Letter To A Child Born On August 15, 1947,” and ends with the another similar article “ A Letter From Future” which is the penultimate piece of the volume followed by the last “ The Story Of A Story.” Thus, the second book of the collection of articles which appeared as the last page of the Blitz reveal Abbas’s preference for the Letter form to address his audience. Perhaps this conscious choice is made to enable the author to address the people directly. “Letter to A Child Born On August 15, 1947” reminds us of Salman Rushdie’s Midnights Children also. The piece beautifully sums up the long history of struggle for independence and tries to capture the mood of the great historical movement of transfer of power. The spirit of the day was “Volcanic” and the upsurge of emotions unprecedented. Abbas talks of the contribution of all streams of freedom fighters from the first war of Independence in 1857 to Gokhale, Tilak, Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Subhas and the common people who remained unnamed in History. He congratulates the generation born on August 15,1947 for being able to breath the air of independence and freedom. Yet he is conscious of the challenges of future and emphatically states that the torch of freedom is being handed over to this new generation so that they may translate the political freedom into more important “ social justice, economic freedom and true democracy.”

Though Abbas calls himself the most consistent Nehruite, he doesn’t spare him when he makes a statement against communism. In his article “Invite Mao To New Delhi” Abbas refers to a meeting of the Common Wealth nations at Colombo. Pdt. Nehru as Prime Minister of India participated in that and criticized feudalism  and colonialism. But he is reported to have added that unless foreign domination were removed, it would be difficult to ‘stem the communist tide in those countries.”Abbas took exception to this and very openly criticized Pdt. Nehru for making such a statement and becoming party to the colonial design of Europe and America. He writes, “Surely Jawahar Lal Nehru must realize the glaring inconsistency between his five, anti-imperialist sentiments and the fact of his participation in the conference the very basis of which is the negation of the freedom of Asia.” ( BBR 40 ) He further adds that the opposition of communism by the common wealth countries is because, “ European and American imperialists and capitalists know that a communist Asia shall not tolerate their continued exploitation of the natural resources of Asiatic countries. “ (40)

The truth of this bold statement is seen in the twenty first century in which the United Stares of America and Britain jointly displaced all those governments which dared to resist the capturing of their natural resources be it Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, or Syria. Of course they could not succeed in Venezuela and Korea but the attempts were of course made.  Even in India the Multi National companies and the corporate world of Indian capitalists are after the resources of the people. And none except the Communists and Maoists are there to fight against such exploitation.

Abbas who revered Gandhi initially, became a Nehruite later but towards the later part of his life, became sympathetic to the Naxalites. He wrote a novel called Naxalites and also made a film with the same name. He got the award for best direction for this film. In this book also occurs a column titled “ Naxalites, My Brothers! “ written in 1973. In this longish essay Abbas describes the Naxalites as “young men (and women too) who have become personally and politically disillusioned with the slow process of democracy which are holding up dynamic social change in India: who are impatient to do away with the hypocrisy, the cant, the him burg, the corruption, the favoritism the nepotism, the callousness, the indifference to the needs of the people, of the establishment in India.” (250)

He is sympathetic towards them and shuns state violence against them. He writes, “ They are not mad dogs to be shot and chained and fettered along with felons and robbers and common murderers.” ( 251 ) On the contrary he blames it on the state which has failed to exercise its duties to the people : “ It is symbolic of our social and governmental failure that some of the finest and the most intelligent of our youth feel frustrated enough to join movements of extremism and adopt tactis of terror.” ( 251 )

There are several pieces about Nehru, Indira Gandhi and other political leaders. In one article Abbas creates an artificial situation in which Indira Gandhi is interviewing Pdt. Nehru. The idea is to raise contemporary issues and to show that the two leaders are interested in those. In still another article Abbas writes a letter to Mrs.. Gandhi. The year i9n 1977, could be the period of emergency. Abbas raise certain very fundamental questions about individual’s freedom to think and to express his ideas. In yet another piece titled “ A Warning To Indira” Abbas cricises the anti-people, anti – revolutionary role of bureaucracy and warns Indira Gandhi of the resentment of people against the excesses of emergency. The last piece of the collection talks about the dispute about his story called “ Sardar ji” which was sued against by some Sikh gentleman in Jhansi. Abbas describes the entire story of the genesis of the story and all the debates that raged around the story.

Reading these columns, one feels fully convinced that Abbas had a mission in life- The mission of building up a democratic, socialist and secular world and of course the nation. There are occasions when some passages appear to be repeated in some other works of fiction. The journalistic tinge is visible in his fiction and his journalism too is not without the impact of his fondness for story telling.

 It would be appropriate to, conclude with what Abbas said in his interview with Indian Literary Review: …. I feel that many of the writers whom I have admired were journalists. They got their inspiration for their creative writing from journalism and continued to write very well indeed,” (An Evening in Lucknow, An Interview).

Works Cited

Abbas, K.A. I Write As I feel.Bombay :Hind Kitabs . 1948.Print

Bread, beauty, and revolution: being a chronological selection from the Last pages, 1947 to 1981, New Delhi: Marwah Publications .1982.Print

I Am not an Island: An Experiment in Autobiography.Ed.SureshKohli.New Delhi: 2010.Print

An Evening in Lucknow.Ed.Suresk Kohli.New Delhi:Harper Collins.2011.Print

 

 

 

*Professor of English,JRN Rajasthan Vidyapeeth ,Udaipur,Rajasthan

 

 

 

 

 

        

 

Contribution of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas to Indian Cinema

June 24, 2014

 Cinema with a Purpose

             “The history of cinema is, like that of Revolution in our time, a chronicle of hopes and  expectations, aroused and suspended , tested and deceived.”- Taylor Mead

Taylor Mead, a movie star said, “The Movies are a revolution.” The statement can be no less attributed to Khwaja Ahmad Abbas who made movies which in truth brought in a revolution in Indian cinema. It was a time when there was a great excitement in the entire world and the forces of change were at work in the social and political arena. This excitement was reflected in the cinema of this era as well. Annette Michelson comments:

The excitement, the exhilaration of artists and intellectuals not directly involved in the  medium was enormous. Indeed, a certain euphoria enveloped the early film making and theory. For, there was, ultimately, a very real sense in which the revolutionary aspirations of the modernist movement in literature and the arts, on the one hand, and of a Marxist or Utopian tradition, on the other, could converge in the hopes and promises, as yet undefined, of the new medium.(Film Theory and Criticism 620)

The contribution of Abbas to Indian cinema  can be understood in terms of the films written, produced and directed by him, the films directed by him for other producers, films directed by him for Children’s Film Society, Short Films written, produced and directed by him for his own Naya Sansaar Trust , short Films written and directed by him for Films Division, short films written and directed by him for National Education and Information Films, Television films produced and directed by him for T.V. Centre, Bombay, films produced by other producers for whom Abbas wrote the stories and screen plays etc. Abbas not only produced and directed films but himself wrote incessantly on Indian Cinema and his experiments with the silver screen. He began writing as a film critic while working with the Bombay Chronicle. He took up writing scripts, direction and production of films as a challenge which was thrown at him when some of the producers and directors felt uncomfortable with his forthright criticism of their films.

To him, like journalism, cinema was also a passion. He made films to prove something. He wrote scripts and screenplays to convey a message. He directed films to raise some issue. The films of Abbas were never box office hits but they brought him laurels at national and international film festivals in the form of several prizes and awards. After completing his education at Aligarh Muslim University, Abbas joined the Bombay Chronicle in 1935. He occasionally served as a film critic, but after the film critic of the paper died, he was made the editor of the film section. Interestingly in 1939, K. A. Abbas wrote a letter to Gandhi urging him to reconsider his opinion on the idea of the ‘evil’ of cinema. He writes:

“Today I bring for your scrutiny – and approval -a new toy my generation has learned to   play with, the CINEMA! – You include cinema among evils like gambling, sutta, horse racing etc… Now if these statements had come from any other person, it was not necessary to be worried about them… But your case is different. In view of the great position you hold in this country, and I may say in the world, even the slightest expression of your opinion carries much weight with millions of people. And one of the world’s most useful inventions would be allowed to be discarded or what is worse, left alone to be abused by unscrupulous people. You are a great soul, Bapu. In your heart there is no room for prejudice. Give this little toy of ours, the cinema, which is not so useless as it looks, a little of your attention and bless it with a smile of toleration”. (https://wiki.indiancine.ma/wiki/K%20A%20Abbas.12-11-2013)

Abbas entered films as a part-time publicist for Bombay Talkies in 1936, a production house owned by Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani, to whom he sold his first screenplay Naya Sansar (1941). Meanwhile he had started writing scripts for other directors, Neecha Nagar for ChetanAnand and Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani for V. Shantaram. In 1945, he made his directorial debut with a film based on the Bengal famine of 1943, Dharti Ke Lal (Children of the Earth) for the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). In 1951, he founded his own production company called NayaSansar, which consistently produced films that were socially relevant including, Anhonee, Munna, Rahi (1953), based on a Mulk Raj Anand story, was on the plight of workers on tea plantations, the National Film Award winner, SheharAurSapna (1964) and Saat Hindustani (1969), which won the NargisDutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration and is also remembered as Bollywood icon, Amitabh Bachchan‘s debut film.

Carol J. Slingo, while paying a tribute to Abbas at the time of his death had rightly said, “Khwaja Ahmad Abbas died on June 1, 1987 after forty one years as the most important voice of the left in Indian Commercial films. While other political film makers addressed their work to educated viewers, he spent his life time to reach the mass, more or less uneducated audience of millions”. (www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC33folder/KAAbbas.html‎ 12-11-2013).

In the introduction to his book Mad, Mad, Mad World of Indian Films Abbas defines his assessment of the world of Indian Cinema:

           Madness is part of this art-industry –its fantabulous star prices, its larger-than-life figures

of success and its grimmer-than-death failures. Money makes the film, but money                alone cannot write the screenplay, money alone cannot act, money alone cannot adjust the lens that lends beauty and glamour to the famous and glamorous star faces. Money is everything. But money is nothing! (5)

Like an adapt film personality Abbas chooses the terms drawn from the cinematography techniques to label various parts of the book. The book begins with the first part titled Three Fade-outs followed by the second labeled as Eight Close-ups, the third as One Planning Shot, the fourth called Six Long Shots, the fifth as Four Film- Land Fables and the sixth as Three Dream- Sequences. It is a book that depicts sketches of the stars of Indian Cinema, especially the Bollywood actors, the issues of Indian film industry of his time and the complexities involved in film production which he himself encountered. In this book Abbas very categorically describes his objective of film – making. He states:

Human destiny in its social setting has been my special preoccupation- some may call              it my obsession. Whether doing my weekly column, writing short stories and novels, scripting screen plays for other producers, or writing, directing and producing my own films, I have been involved with the themes of social transformation and social justice. (63)

Abbas was consciously pursuing his progressive thought in all his creative endeavors. He never felt shy in admitting his socialist leanings. In fact, he very proudly maintained his position as a socially committed writer. As a writer and film maker he was aware of the criticism he was attracting by choosing the kind of themes for his films and stories he did but he believed in the course of life he had chosen and was more than happy to pay whatever price he had to pay for that. An eminent Film-maker M.S.Sathyu writes about Abbas Sahab’s progressive leanings in a piece written for the new edition of I AM Not An Island edited by Suresh Kohli:

Abbas Saheb was a man dedicated to some meaningful cinema even though he     wrote for the great entertainer, Raj Kapoor. He was also part of the PWA

( Progressive Writers Association) ….Abbas Saheb was one of the founder members of IPTA( Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association).He had written and directed a film ,Dharti Ke Lal under the IPTA banner. Many of the IPTA artists participated in this film. Dharti Ke Lal was a highly stylized film.In fact this film inspired Chetan Anand to make Neecha Nagar which won first ever Cannes award. Later this trend was noticed in Zia Sarhadi’s Hum Log, Balraj Sahni’s debut film. The acting was highly stylized. Many years later Bimal Roy made Do Bigha Zameen which also belongs to the same genre. Therefore, the credit for such meaningful films coming out of certain political and ideological leaning goes to Abbas Saheb who could be dubbed somewhat of a pioneer. (Kohli, XI)

Abbas was criticized by the critics as a propagandist and pamphleteer. He was ignored and did not find a place in the mainstream men of letters in literary circles. Similar was his state in Cinema where his films could not emerge as successful films at the box office. Not deterred by the criticism, he draws the lineage of similar authors and film makers to make his stand strong and justified:

Critics and connoisseurs may sneer at me as a propagandist and pamphleteer, but the tradition of social comment and “commitment” in literature (or the Arts) is at least as old as Cervantes, Tolstoy, Emile Zola, Hemingway, Steinbeck, our own Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Subramaniam Bharti and Prem Chand, and in the field of films it goes back to Griffith and Einstein, Capra, John Ford and Chaplin, the earlier Shantaram and much of the work of Satyajit Ray. If I am guilty, I have the consolation of being in distinguished company. (63)

Abbas was fully aware of the strengths of fiction as a medium and film as another. He was also conscious of the limitations of a director who endeavored to transform a piece of fiction into a film. Many of his novels and short stories were used to make important films. While writing about those stories he never said that they were stories of such and such film. He would rather call them as stories or novels on which a particular film was based. In the present   era of serious research on the phenomenon  of scripts being transformed into films, it would be pertinent to look at some of the remarks made by Abbas himself on the issue of the relation between a work of fiction and the film based on it. In the introduction to his novel Bobby, which was made into a film with the same title, Abbas writes:

Since the cinema is a director’s medium, it is his creative vision and his decision that must be supreme and final. I venture to hope that in the original literary form it may interest some readers, not as the story of the film but as the story on which the film was based. The intelligent readers may also get an insight into the creative process by which a competent film-maker transforms a story into a film, translates the author’s word pictures into cinematic images, how and where and why deviations are made, for instance, to accommodate songs and dances.(6)

Abbas began his career in cinema as a story writer. In the film reviews “the inconsequential and shoddy film stories” were the main targets of his attack. One of the producers challenged him by saying that it was easy to criticize but not so to write a good story for a film. He took up the challenge and wrote a story called Naya Sansaar which he sold to the producer S. Mukerjee of Bombay Talkies in 1940.It won the Bengal Film Journalist’s award for the best story and screenplay, celebrated several silver jubilees and started a cycle of films with the word “ Naya”or “Nayi” in their titles. The film Naya Sansaar was based on the struggle of a young idealist journalist Puran and his beloved Asha. They struggle against the fundamentalist forces through the power of pen. Puran works as a journalist in a Newspaper called “Sansaar”. When the owner of the newspaper gets involved with wrong doers, the hero abandons it and launches his own newspaper with the title “Naya Sansaar” and compels the reactionary powers to bow down. To some extent the idealism of the protagonist matches with that of the author and reflects the progressive stance of Abbas. “ Mei Harijan Ki chhori”, “Akhbaar ka Daftar He Ye”, “Ek Naya Sansaar Basa Lein” were the popular songs of the film. The progressive message of building up of a society free from the stigma of  untouchability was conveyed by the film Besides the main cast of Ashok Kumar and Renuka Devi, the dancer Ajuri also performed many dances carrying the message of the film.

Dharati Ke Lal (1946) was a film made by Abbas for Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association (IPTA). It was based on Bijan Bhattacharya’s play “Nabanna” and Krishna Chander’s story “Annadata”.Based on the famine of Bengal, this film portrays the pain and the grief of the exodus of peasants amidst famine and war. At the end they return to their land and devise the method of collective farming. It was similar to the idea of communes in the erstwhile Soviet Union. AliSardar Zafri, the noted Progressive poet, Nemi Chand Jain,Vamik and Prem Dhavan wrote the lyrics for this film. The main cast of the film included Shambhu Mitra, Balraj Sahni, Tripti Bhaduri, Johra Sehgal, K.N. Singh and Damyanti Sahni. The film was not a commercial success but was considered a landmark film as it gave a new direction to Hindi Cinema for making more socially meaningful films later adopted by Bimal Roy and Raj Kapoor.

 When this film was acquired by a Russian distributor to be shown there, Members of parliament made hue and cry that the film would malign the image of India abroad:

When Dharti Ke Lal was acquired by Sovexportfilm for exhibition in USSR there were  MPs who raised a rampus in Parliament that India was being maligned on the Russian screens, but there was little that they could do at that late stage.(Mad Mad Mad World of Indian Films 87)

Doctor Kotnis ki Amar Kahani(1945) was based on the story of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas titled      “ And One Did Not Come Back” He, with V.P. Sathe wrote the script of the film. This film is based on the true story of the life of Dr. Dwarka Nath Kotnis who was inspired by a speech of Pdt. Jawahar Lal Nehru and after completing his medical education decided to go to China to serve humanity. His father encouraged him and when he was boarding a ship to China, gifted him with a ring on which was depicted the map of India. He served the wounded Chinese soldiers but unfortunately catches some infection and succumbs to that. The Chinese people remember his sacrifice. His Chinese wife and son return to India. The major cast of the film included V. Shantaram, Jai Shri, Keshav Rao Date, Babu Rao Pendharkar, Diwan Sharer, Master Vinayak, and Ulhas. The songs of Diwan Sharar were composed into musical melodies by the music director Vasant Desai. He used Russian folk to bring realistic effect. The song “ Chal Aa Gulami Nahi” was based on Chinese war music. V. Shantaram added a few parts of documentaries also including a speech by Nehru to make the film look real. John Dayal described this film as representing the long cherished unity of Asian powers. He wrote:

His China visit had inspired him to write about an Indian who was with Mao in the Long March. Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahaniwas directed by V. Shantaram, who also played Dr. Kotnis in the film. Shantaram’s distinctive brand of acting and the theatrical roots of his direction may make Dr. Kotnis a stilted film in retrospect, but Khwaja’s script for the first time reflected the Indian political aspirations with rare strength and integrity an Asian solidarity in the struggle for freedom and emancipation, and secularism. (http://bargad.org/2012/06/07/khwaja-ahmed-abbas/)

This was the time when Abbas wrote stories and screenplays for a number of films for other producers. They include Nai Duniya (1942), Nai Kahani (1943), Naya Tarana (1944), Panna (1945),Actress(1946), Aadhi Raat(1949), Naaz (1951) etc. He wrote these scripts and stories because some of the films that he commented on in his columns were attacked due to lose stories and screenplays. He was criticized by the producers saying that it was easy to criticize but not so easy to write a story or a screenplay. Abbas responded by writing the stories himself. The year 1951 saw two major films by Abbas .One of them titled Anhonee was written, directed and produced by him for his own Naya Sansaar Trust while the other called Awara was written by him for R.K. Films. Awara became a classic which gave Rajkapoor an identity of a common man.

With Awara (1951)  K.A.Abbas and Raj Kapoor’s relationship in cinema was established. Earlier Mehboob Khan wanted to make the film on Abbas’s story but due to some differences in the selection of cast, finally Raj Kapoor made this film. Abbas wrote the script with V.P. Sathe while Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri wrote the lyrics. RajKapoor gave a new dimension to the cinematic style of Mehboob khan. The dream scene in the film Awara is considered as a memorable scene of Indian Cinema. This melodrama of opposing the feudal system by a common man  was embraced not only by Indian audience but was accepted warmly in USSR, Africa and Arab nations. This film introduces the audience to the reality of human life and charges them emotionally so well

The emotional centre of the film is the heroine. She represents the people’s dream of a wholesome life. She is the ray of hope that saves the hero from drowning in the marsh of dejection and disappointment. Prithvi Raj Kapur, Raj Kapur and Nargis played major roles in this film. Shashi Kapur played the childhood part of Raj Kapur. The film appears new even amidst the latest films of the 21st century. Journalist and occasional documentary maker John Dayal described the style of Abbas’s film making as one featuring Nehruvian aesthetics. In his article published in Deccan Herald, April 3, 1987, a few months before the death of Abbas he wrote:

This Nehruvian aesthetics has been apparent in the several major interventions that Abbas has made in the history of Indian cinema, and has evolved consistently even when Abbas has become party to mainstream cinema as script-writer for men such as Raj Kapoor. Each intervention has become a landmark; a seminal contribution. And almost every intervention has given Indian cinema a major actor or image. Awara created the now legendary Raj Kapoor hobo image. Dharti Ke Lal sloganeered unity despite famine, Saat Hindustani gave Amitabh Bachchan and then Mithun Chakraborthy, Do Boond Pani a new development verite. Munna a new concept in cinema with the child, even Bobby some sort of a new romanticism, and above all, Shahar Aur Sapna (The City and the Dream) which, despite the technical limitations of its time and the honest naivete of its maker, remains one of the most worthwhile pieces of realism and social comment in Indian cinema Long before the Indian new wave, and long before NFDC.(http://bargad.org/2012/06/07/khwaja-ahmed-abbas/)

Khwaja Ahmed Abbas considers Shahar Aur Sapna (1963) as his  best film. Though it won a National Award, Abbas had a tough time in getting the Censor Board to clear it. The film depicts the struggle of a young man from a village who comes to Bombay in search of employment. The biggest problem before him is to find a place to live in. In Bombay one may get a job, even a beloved, but to find a place of residence is a very difficult thing. The hero and his wife take refuge in a pipe of a gutter. In that shabby and clumsy place his wife gives birth to a boy. But even there, they are not allowed to live in peace. The land mafias keep on torturing them and they keep on shifting from one slum to the other. Towards the end of the film they enter a gutter which leads them to a place where all the necessities of a small household are available. The wife asks, “What is this city?” And the hero replies, “It is not a city, but a dream.”

The main cast of the film included Dilipraj, Surekha, David, Nana Palikar, Anwar Hussain, Rashid Khan and Manmohan Krishna. Ali Sardar Jafri wrote the lyrics and J.P. Kaushik was the music director. He provided the music which made the hustle and bustle of the cosmopolitan life alive.

Abbas was not happy the way mainstream Indian Cinema, especially, the Hindi Cinema grew after independence. He felt that the Cinema after independence lost the commitment and patriotic fervor it had before independence. In an interview recorded on 1-2-1970 (Available with centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge) Abbas has voiced his analysis of the transformation of the Indian Hindi Cinema after independence:

I am afraid; there has not been a very marked or a very healthy development of aesthetic or sociological standards in film production in India since independence. There are many reasons for this, some of which are implicit in the medium of the cinema and the other, and more important reasons, are implicit in the mood and the sentiment of the people of the country. (19 transcript)

 

Abbas tries to trace the cause of this decline in standards and finds that the partition of the country and its aftermath together with the inability of the state to respond as per the expectations of the people made people disillusioned and they tried to seek some sort of an escape in cinema. The industry went a step ahead to satisfy this urge of the people and landed itself into a world of fantasy and romance:

And suddenly, from the heights of their idealism, they came down to the bedrock of reality, which was not very pleasant. And therefore there was a tendency to be disillusioned …and therefore there was another tendency to escape from this unpleasant reality into some kind of escapist entertainment which would make one forget the harsh realities which surrounded us on all sides. And therefore there was an upsurge of escapist entertainment, especially in the field of cinema. ( 19 transcript)

Abbas, however, did not fall in this trap as he was passionately engaged in building up of a progressive society through his works, literature, journalism and cinema. His films were tools of social transformation aiming at creation of a democratic, socialistic and secular society.

                            Aasmaan Mahal (1965) is a film which represents this approach. Based on the story written by Inder Raj Anand, the film juxtaposes the value systems represented by NawabSb and his son. The feudal rule over but the mind-set of Nawab continues to cherish the age old feudal values. The ancestral palace of Nawab is worn out and he doesn’t have even the resources to get it repaired and painted. Yet he is not willing to sell it. This palace is symbolic of his past glory and is also the cause of conflict between father and son. A girl called Salma comes into the life of the son and mellows him down. Abbas seems to suggest that there is no need to attack the already shaking walls of feudalism. It will die its own death and therefore it should be allowed to collapse under its own weight. The scene in which the Nawab is sitting on his throne, smoking. The driver of his coach comes and salutes. He gives away a gold coin. The son watches the generosity of his father with disgust and tries to take back the gold coin from the driver. The driver resists and doesn’t let him unfold the first. But the non-exerts a lot, finally to reveal that it was not a gold coin but just a two paise coin. This exposure is humiliating for the Nawab but more so for the driver who feels that it is not the Nawaj who has been insulted but, he himself. The cast included Prirhviraj Kapoor, Dilip Raj, Sarepha, Nana Patekar, David, Irshaad, Anwar Hussain etc. The music director J.P. Kaushik composed very melodious play back music suitable to the script.

Goa was under the Portuguese rule much after the independence of India. People from all over the country went to free Goa to make it a part of independent India. Saat Hindustani (1969) is a film in which K.A. Abbas told the story of seven Indians of different religious, regions and languages who came together for this nationalist cause. An interesting fact is that Amitabh Bachchan, the super star of the century, was given a break by Abbas in this film leading to his entry in the film industry of India. To assert a feeling of national Unity the roles were reversed. For example the role of a Bengali was given to an actor Madhu from Kerala, that of a Hindu was played by the actor Anwar and Amitabh Bachchan played the role of Muslim. The central role of Maria was played by Shahnaz. Other cast included UtpalDutt, Jalal Agha, A.K. Hangal and Dina Pathak. Noted progressive poet Kaifi Ajmi wrote the lyrics while J.P. Kaushik composed the music.The film carried the message of national integration and breaking of all the walls of region, religion, gender and language.

MeraNaam Joker (1970) was a very ambitious film but failed terribly on the box office. Abbas took up a very novel issue of infatuation among adolescents and developed it in the form of the longest ever film of Indian cinema. Though it was a flop in the beginning but it gained popularity later not just in India but abroad also, especially in the then Soviet Union. When the film was first released, its running time was four hours forty three minutes. Just two weeks later it was reduced to four hours and now it is available in an abridged edition of the running time of one hundred and seventy minutes. This was viewed as a kind of semi-autobiographical film. It took Raj Kapoor six years to complete the film. This film proved to be the last film in which Raj Kapoor was hero. There was a whole team of stars in this film including Dharmendra, Rajendra Kumar, Manoj Kumar, Dara Singh, Padmini, Simi Grewal, Russian actress Ravinkina, AchalaSachdev, Rishi Kapoor, Om Prakash, comedians RajendraNath Aga, Birbal, mukery etc. The film was puts the philosophy of life through the joker played by Raj Kapoor. Abbas published a novel in English in which the entire script of the film can be seen in details. This film was the last musical feat of Shanker Jaikishan. Raadhu Karmakar did a tremendous job in his photography of the film. The film also reflects the existential philosophy of the protagonist and the script writer.

Khwaja Ahmed Abbas  had firm faith in the ability of cinema to contribute immensely to the creative development of society. He believed that cinema should play a pro-active role in propagating the progressive steps of the state. Blind criticism of every step of government is also not desirable. The film Do Boond Paani presents the story of the sacrifice of Ganga Singh who lays down his life to save a bridge. Meanwhile his old father also dies, sister is raped and the wife is made to wait for him endlessly. Ganga Singh sacrifices his entire family to bring hope and joy in the lives of thousands of people of Rajasthan. The cast of the film included Jalal Aga, Simi Grewal, MadhuChanda, PrakashThapa, Kiran Kumar, Rashid Khan, Pinchu Kapoor etc. The lyrics were written by Kaifi Ajmi and Balkavi Bairagi and the music was composed by Jaidev. The song “ Peetalki Mori Gagari” based on a hill folk song became very popular.

Bobby (1973) was written by K.A. Abbas to show that one must accept the changing times. The film appealed to the youth of the country and the response on box office was overwhelming. The story was written initially with a tragic end but when the film was made it was changed to a happy-ending story. The hero Rishi Kapoor and heroine Dimple became youth icons. In bobby Abbas presented a love story. The father of the girl is a fisherman, but a rich one. He was able to understand the growing craze for wealth and had come much ahead of the ‘Mera Joota hai Japani’ days of idealism. Raj Kapoor introduced some of life events in the film. His first meeting with Nargis is recreated in the form of the meeting of Rishi Kapoor and Dimple in this film. The cast in the film other than the hero and heroine was also very impressive and did play their roles very effectively in the direction of Raj Kapoor. ArunaIrani had a marvellous presence as a middle-aged socialite while Pran and Premnath performed well as fathers of the boy and the girl. The songs of the film “Mein Shayar to Nahin”, “Beshak Mandir Mazjid Todo”, “Jhoot Bole Kawwaa Kaate”, “Hum Tum Ek Kamare Mein Band Hon” and “Aksar Koi Ladki Is Haal Mein” become very popular. Narendra Singh Chanchal got the best play back singer awarded for the song “Beshak, Mandir Mazjid Todo”.

Naxalite (1979) is a film which portrays honestly the causes which prompt the youth to take to violence. Abbas did not care much for the money a film would earn, rather, he chose themes which were socially and politically important. Naxalite (1979) was the last feature film of K.A. Abbas. He was conscious of the social responsibilities and chose this topic because Naxalism was a very powerful political movement of the severities which had attracted youth and motivated them to take up arms to over throw the system. The fidelity with which these issues were addressed in the film, Exploitation of the masses by the system is very honestly portrayed in this film. SmitaPatil’s acting was the special feature of this film though other members of the cast Mithun Chakraverty, Imtiaz Khan, Nana Patekar, Dilip Raj, Teenu Anand, Pinchu Kapoor and Jalal Aga also did very well. The lyrics were written by Ali Sardar Jafri and Prem Dhavan composed the music for the film. It was difficult to get this highly political film through the censor board.   The film also shows the leftward journey of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas. He started writing when Gandhi was a formidable impression on him. Later Nehru’s romanticism charmed him and he wrote like an ardent Nehruite. But as the time passed, he, like other people of India, realized that the dreams and aspirations of the multitudes could not be realized in the democratic state built up after independence. The disillusionment of the people finds expression in his later writings and films like Naxalites.

In an interview with Indian Literary Review republished in An Evening In Lucknow edited by Suresh Kohli, Abbas expresses his concern that he felt while making the film The Naxalites:

I’m making The Naxalites– a very dangerous film. I feel scared of being shot at from both sides, though I think it is neither a glorification nor a denigration of the naxalites.I only hope that the film is not misunderstood as my story “Sardarji” was.(Kohli.Appendix)

       Abbas had firm faith in the ideals of democracy and would not hesitate in contesting the state if it tried to curb the democratic rights of people. When the Censor Board did not give U certificate to his film “A Tale of Four Cities”, he moved the Supreme Court of India to demand justice.

Abbas had made a documentary film called “A Tale of Four Cities” which attempted to portray the contrast between the life of the rich and the poor in the four principal cities of the- country. The film included certain shots of the red light area in Bombay. Although Abbas had applied to the Board of Film Censors for a `U’ Certificate for unrestricted exhibition of the film, he was granted a certificate only for exhibition restricted to adults. On an appeal made to it by him, the Central Government issued a direction on July 3, 1969 that a `U’ Certificate may be granted provided certain specified cuts were made in the film. Abbas thereafter filed a petition seeking a declaration that the provisions of Part 11 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, together with the rules prescribed by the Central Government on February 6, 1960 in the exercise of its powers under s. 5-B of the Act were un- constitutional and void; he further prayed that the direction dated July 3, 1969 should be quashed. Abbas claimed that his fundamental right of free speech and expression was denied by the order of the Central Government and that he was entitled to a ‘U’ Certificate for the film as of right.

At the hearing of the petition the Central Government indicated it had, decided to grant a ‘U’ Certificate to the film without the cuts previously ordered. Abbas then applied for amendment of the petition so as to enable him to challenge pre-censorship as offensive to freedom of speech and expression and alternatively the provisions of the Act and the Rules, orders and directions under the Act as vague, arbitrary and indefinite. The Court allowed the amendment holding the petitioner was right in contending that a person who invests capital in promoting or producing a film must have clear guidance in advance in the matter of censorship of films even if the law of pre-censorship be not violative of the fundamental right. It was contended inter alia on behalf of Abbas that pre-censorship itself violated the right to freedom of speech and expression; and that even if it were a legitimate restraint on the freedom, it must be exercised on very definite principles which leave no room for arbitrary action.

Thus, the role of Abbas in Indian Cinema is not just confined to writing, directing and producing films but also expands to the very fundamental questions of the film makers’ right to depict the reality in the interest of the people and how this right is to be protected. He had to face the Censor not just in the case of “A Tale of Four Cities” but also in the film Shehar Aur Sapna, “Bombay Raat Ki Bahon Mein” and “Anhonee”. Abbas challenged the very system of Censorship and the court admitted that though Censorship was required, the method of its implementation was not proper. Abbas writes in Mad Mad Mad World of Indian Films:

At last the verdict was given. The court declared that the censorship was valid and required by law, but its implementation was faulty and so it needed proper and clean guidelines. The court extensively and favourably quoted from an article by one Khwaja Ahmad Abbas in support of censorship! (92)

It is interesting to see that the court in its judgement quotes from the article of a man who was contending the very system of Censorship. It is an evidence of the rationality of the mind of Abbas who did not reject the system altogether but insisted on making it more logical and meaningful.

Abbas was conscious of what was going on in the world cinema and discussed its impact on the Indian counterpart. In many of his writings and some of the interviews that were either published or broadcast, he spoke of the desirable as well as undesirable influences of the West on the Indian Cinema. He was not very happy with the plagiarism practised in Indian Cinema. He talked about this tendency as one which would demean the status of Indian Cinema in the eyes of the world cinema. In an interview recorded on 1-2-1970, Abbas complained against the servile copying of the west in Indian Cinema:

It is not the plagiarism of the plot, but unfortunately the …shameless aping of western modes of dress, of behaviour, the way of their songs and their dances, which are so servilely and slavishly copied in our films, with the result that the foreigners, who are seeing some of the Indian films, they say. ‘Are we seeing the reality of India or are we seeing a carbon copy of what goes on in the west?’(Transcript21)

However, Abbas was happy at the way the Western technique had been adopted by Indian film industry. He described it as a very healthy impact on Indian Cinema. It was the time when Neo-Realistic Cinema was gaining ground in Europe. The Indian counterparts also followed suit and gave memorable films like “Do Bigha Zameen”, “Boot Polish” and Abbas sahab’s “Munna”. In his interview referred to earlier, he mentioned Italian Neo- Realistic films which were shown all over the country and which influenced Indian Cinema. Most of the films made by Abbas were also experimental in true sense of the term.He discussed the much debated issue of nudity as well and expressed his satisfaction that the Indian Cinema has not gone to the extent to which the western cinema has gone in the exposure of human bodies. However, he felt unhappy that the use of skin coloured dresses and skin tight attire practised in Indian Cinema was more clumsy a way to do the same:

There is one side of western film- making which has not had directly a very big impact on the Indian Cinema, thanks to our very rigid censorship. That is in the field of making sex o be the dominant theme of the films or to depict it with the naked truth of sex in the films. You know, that in Sweden, even in America, even in conservative Britain, plays and films are being produced which not only show the nude female form, but even the male form and sometimes they go to the extent of depicting the sex-act. Well, this kind of tendency, I am glad to say, has not been followed, and has not had an impact. And yet, indirectly, there has been a certain impact, a tendency, not to show nude figures because the nude figures would be banned by Indian censors, but to show nudity by innuendo, by dressing our heroines and our dancers in such tight –fitting clothes, even of skin coloured clothes, and of not showing nudity but something, I would say, which is worse than nudity. (Transcript 23)

No doubt the views expressed by Abbas sahab in 1970 no more hold good as the things have gone much different and the show of flesh in Indian Cinema has not been curbed by the Censor Board the way it was perhaps done at the time when Abbas gave this interview. However his concern for following a healthy code of conduct in film production is an evidence of his commitment to the creation of a progressive society through art and literature. He proved this not only through the films that he made but also through his writings about cinema. In his novel Boy Meets Girl he depicted the problems the strugglers in the film industry face. Realising this he chose new and unfamiliar faces for his films and gave them opportunity to show their talent. The list of such actors includes the megastar of the Hindi Cinema Amitabh Bachchan and great actress Shabana Azmi.(Shabana Azmi’s letter to Syeda Hameed, dated September,20,2013).

Works Cited

Abbas, K.A. Mad, Mad, Mad World of Indian Films. Delhi: Hind Pocket Books.1977.Print

— Abbas, K.A. I Am Not An Island. Delhi: Vikas Pub.House.1977.Print

—An Evening in Lucknow. ed. Suresh Kohli. New Delhi :Harpercollins. 2011. Print

Bombay My Bombay: The Love Story of the City.Delhi: Ajanta Publications.1987.Print

I Am Not An Island. Ed. Suresh Kohli .Gurgaon:ImprintOne.2010.Print

Michelson,Annette. “Film and the Radical Aspiration”. in Film Theory and Criticism.Ed.Gerald Mast and Marshall Cohen. New York:OUP.1979.Print

Sathyu,M.S. “Recall” in I AM Not An Island ed.Suresh Kohli.New Delhi: Imprint One.2010. Print

(https://wiki.indiancine.ma/wiki/K%20A%20Abbas.12-11-2013)

http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC33folder/KAAbbas.html‎ 12-11-2013).

http://karachi.s-asian.cam.ac.uk/archive/audio/pdf/123a.pdf

http://bargad.org/2012/06/07/khwaja-ahmed-abbas/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 24, 2014

Short Stories of K.A. Abbas: Valorising the Common Man

H.S.Chandalia*

The stories of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas focus the much talked about “Common Man”. He is a writer who consciously depicts the tales of those ordinary people who accomplished heroic deeds simply by virtue of their undaunted spirit and the sheer will to survive. Abbas belongs to the tradition of Dr. Mulk Raj Anand who created a hero like Bakha, a scavenger, in his classic novel the Untouchable. Anand was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his movement against untouchability. He was equally touched by the ideas of Marxist philosophy epitomised in the Great October Revolution of Russia in 1917.It was this ideological influence which motivated K.A. Abbas also to look for the real life stories of poverty and hunger, exploitation and protest, alienation and hope, patriarchy and the rise of the women’s voice. In fact, the fiction of Abbas, like his films and journalistic writings, brings the common man and his concerns centre stage.

Khwaja Ahmad Abbas is known as a film maker and a journalist all over the world. Not many people know that he wrote some seventy three books in the genres of fiction and non-fiction prose in Urdu, English and Hindi. His fiction includes fifteen novels and seven short story collections. These works reflect his deep seated optimism and commitment to social transformation. He stood firmly for the values of democracy, secularism and socialism and proved himself to be an ambassador of the working and toiling masses of the world. Even the title of the second novel of the trilogy he wanted to write, The World Is My Village and his autobiography I Am Not An Island  convey a lot about his ideology of Universal brotherhood, fraternity, justice  and equality which are very much in tune with the watch words of the French Revolution. No wonder his writings got acclaim not just in India but all over the world.

The short stories of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas have been published in a number of collections beginning with Blood and stones and other stories (1947), Rice and other stories(1947), Cages of freedom and other stories (1952), One Thousand Nights on a bed of Stones and Other Stories (1957), The Black sun and Other stories (1963), Men and women: Specially selected long and short stories(1977), The gun and other stories(1985) and An Evening in Lucknow(2011). Of these the last collection An Evening in Lucknow has been published posthumously, with an editorial note by Suresh Kohli who as an editor has also compiled some very significant interviews of Abbas with reputed magazines of the country. His last story “Mother and Child” based on Bhopal Gas Tragedy was published after his death in The Illustrated Weekly of India in June 1987.Mr. S.A. Rehman who worked with Abbas for more than twenty eight years as his secretary said that the title was initially different but was modified by the publishers.

The most famous of the stories of Abbas is “Sparrows” published initially in Urdu as Ababeel. “Sparrows”, written when Abbas was 26, was included in a West German anthology of the world’s best storiesThe story narrates the tale of a peasant boy Rahim Khan who has to suffer on account of the traditional and outdated notions of false pride in religion and family. He is not allowed to opt for the profession of his choice because “Job in a circus was too lowly for a respectable peasant” and to marry Radha, the daughter of the village Banya, a Kafir, was just out of question. This frustration hardens him into a cruel man who is beastly in his behaviour with his wife, his children and even the oxen. He gets transformed only when he observes the Sparrows in his house who are so caring and affectionate towards their young ones. Aradhika Sharma wrote a review of An Evening In Lucknow in the Tribune of Dec.4, 2011.In the review she commented on the story “Sparrows”:

“The Sparrows, about which Mulk Raj Anand wrote, in January 1947, to Abbas, “the strength of your short stories, my dear, Abbas, lies in the fact that you have grasped the weaknesses of your characters amid their strengths”, is a moving tale of a bad-tempered, anti-social man who finally finds love in some baby sparrows. The story is O Henry-isque in nature, reminding us of The Last Leaf.

This “bad-tempered man” is made so by the unjust social norms which divide the society into water tight compartments. Abbas tells us, through this story, the inhuman face of religion and false pride. The death of Rahim Khan is not natural. He is killed by communal frenzy and a sense of false pride in one’s religion and profession. It is ironic that the protagonist of the story Rahim Khan who is himself a victim of a decadent social order, is understood as a self-centered man, a symbol of hatred and a menace to the society.

This story has been interpreted in many diverse ways. Some critics have treated it as a didactic story narrating how even birds can be a source of motivation for man and how the human world needs to draw a lesson from the animal world, which of course, is a world of Nature:

“The Sparrows”’ is a wonderful story where nature teaches man to behave himself. What human beings could not demonstrate nature’s tiny creation a happy sparrow-couple could effortlessly achieve this story is remarkable not just for its narration but also for its characterization of the infra human, yet ultra humane sparrows. This is a very moving story of sorrow and disappointment of a supposedly hard-hearted man. His transformation from utter cruelty to one of endearing love and compassion forms the life line of the narrative.

Rice and Other Stories (1947) published in the year of transfer of power dubbed as the freedom, depicts the prime concern of the country at that time i.e. the question of poverty and hunger. Rice is the main meal of about one third of the population of this country. Abbas never minces his words to draw a realistic picture of the plight of the people. The world wars and the economic depression had brought in the Ration Control System and the people had to stand in que for hours waiting for their turn in front of Fair Price Shop. Abbas describes the plight of the people in a very convincing style:

                    Twisting like a serpent, creeping at a snail’s pace, buzzing like a swarm of bees, two

      Long ques- one of men and the other of women- were advancing towards the           

      Government Grain Shop. The women’s que was even longer than the men’s-quite a  

       Furlong in length with its tail end in a narrow alley round the street corner.(RAOS13)

 

Talking about the importance of the story ‘Rice’, Ravi Nandan Sinha makes a very apt comment:

‘Rice’, the first story in the first anthology is significant in the sense that it strongly points to the direction most of Abbas’s stories would take. It relates to the period just before independence. Durga delivers a child while waiting in a que for a small measure of rationed rice…The story reminds us of Mulk Raj Anand’s story “Birth”. Durga epitomizes the destitute millions of India. Penury takes away from her even the natural dignity of motherhood. (135)

In the next collection of stories called Cages of Freedom and Other Stories (1952) also the same question of poverty and starvation finds expression. The story ‘Flag’ narrates the story of a poor labourer Ramoo rendered jobless for quite some time. He doesn’t have anything to eat or to feed his daughter and wife. It is the day of freedom. He comes to know that some generous patriot is distributing Puris and Laddoos. He goes there and gets his share. He then asks for the share of his daughter and wife. But he is rebuked and insulted. The distributors ask him why his wife and daughter themselves come and take their share. Ramoo is too shy and humble to say that they have only one cloth to cover their bodies and when one goes out, the other two have to stay home. It might appear an exaggeration to some, but the fact is that this kind of stark poverty has been a reality and is a reality in some parts of the country even today.

 

This concern for the common man and his suffering runs through all the collections of short stories published by Abbas. The characters change with the locale but the issues continue to haunt the imagination of the author. In a story called “Thicker Than Water” published in his anthology The Gun and Other Stories (1985) Abbas depicts the plight of urban poor who are unable to find any employment. In their misery they resort to selling of blood- a problem which appears quite contemporary even in twenty first century. Of course, the menace of selling human organs has also added to the gravity of the situation. From the first collection of the stories to the last Abbas shows a consistent growth in his concern towards the poor downtrodden people. He depicts his characters with utmost sincerity and compassion. He is conscious of the socio-political causes of poverty and does not regard their poverty as a ‘fit punishment for their vices.’ The poor are portrayed with respect and conviction

 

The question of dignity of women in the society is discussed very passionately these days. The instances of violence against women at work place, in public transport and at home have created a furor in public space lately. More often than not the victims of gender violence are common women, especially those who are forced to work out of their economic necessities. The stories of Abbas depict this pathetic state adequately. The protagonist women in his stories include village girls, struggling actresses, nurses, flower girls, dancers and extras in film industry. However, these characters do not accept humiliation lying down but assert their identity and right in strong words. The best example of such assertion is the story ‘The Dumb Cow’. The protagonist in this story is a young girl named Bholi. Her step father thinks her to be a burden and wants to get rid of her by marrying her to a greedy old and lame person. Bholi tries to resist but is not given any space to express her views. She later realizes that the lame old man is too greedy and her marriage is more of a commercial transaction. She refuses to marry him. The   exchange of words between the father and daughter indicate the author’s sympathies with the daughter:  

           “ Pitaji,take back your money.I am not going to marry this man.”

           “ Bholi are you crazy?” Ram Lal shouted, “You want to disgrace your family? Have some

             regard for our izzat daughter.”

             “ For the sake of your izzat I was willing to marry this lame old man. But I will not have

   such a man, greedy and contemptible coward as my husband. I won’t. I won’t. I won’t.”  And she reiterated her determination as if she was in the grip of hysteria. (The Walls of Glass 74)

 

‘Flowers for her Feet’ is yet another story in which sexual exploitation of a girl is depicted. Chandra, the dancing girl is harassed and exploited by all, especially the economic elite as the rich people think that women are commodities which can be bought or sold for money:

The matter was clear. Chandra was a drop of honey over which poisonous flies were hovering greedily. Her body was a machine to make money and everyone was trying to own it. (83)

There are more than half a dozen women characters in the stories of Abbas. All of them do not belong to one category. There are characters like Chandra in ‘Flowers for her Feet’, Bina in ‘Twelve Hours’, Zafrani in ‘Saffron Blossoms’ and the unnamed wife of Rehman Khan in the ‘Sparrows’ who represent traditional Indian women resigned to their fate. They accept the condition of oppression and subjugation as something inevitable. Durga in the story ‘Rice’ and Sylvia in the story with the same title form another category. They represent the enlightened women working with men folk and conscious of their role in the society. They are not merely domestic women confined to the chores of daily life but are equal participants in the socio-economic and political activities going on around them in the society. They represent the women rising and freeing themselves from the traditional bounds of slavery and subjugation. Mehmooda of the novel The World Is My Village and Ajitha of The Naxalites can also be included in this category. There is yet another category of women in the stories of Abbas. This includes worldly wise women like Radha in the story ‘Cold Wave’ published in the collection Thirteenth Victim and Other Stories (1986).The hero of the story Nirmal is a young graduate who falls in love with this girl Radha who is a prostitute. She also expresses her ardent love for him. Nirmal’s father doesn’t permit his son to marry Radha and threatens to disown him. When Radha comes to know that Nirmal will be disinherited of all the wealth of his parents, she rejects his love and addresses him in a very cold way as if he was a complete stranger. In a story titled ‘Ajanta’ published in the collection The Gun and Other Stories Abbas describes some women, both Hindu and Muslim, who rejoice in the cold blooded murder of victims of communal violence.

Abbas was conscious of the struggles of people across the world. He had travelled round the world and had met world leaders like Khrushchev, Roosevelt, Nehru and Indira Gandhi. As a journalist he kept an eye on the happenings around the world. This gave him an added advantage as a fiction writer as well. His canvas is vast and covers the issues of the entire humanity. The story ‘The Black Sun’ portrays the racial discrimination suffered by the Negroes in the United States and even at the UNO. The unnamed black lady who assists the black leader to enter UNO building describes how the black people were treated as second class citizens in the United States but when it came to fighting in the Korean War, they were sent to Korea to fight with the white American soldiers and die fighting an enemy whom they did not even know:

 

               And then there was the Korean War and the white ones decided that though we blacks

   were not good enough to worship with them in their churches, or to send our children to  their schools, or even to travel with them in the same railway compartment, we were good enough to be sent with them to this war to die along with white soldiers.(78)

Abbas is essentially a film director. Even in his short stories he is able to create such scenes which would make a grand climax in a film. The ability to visualize the irony in a grim event of death enables him to imagine the death of Young Henry who is shot dead in his school by a bullet fired by the white demonstrators who were opposing the admission of black students to the school where children of white Americans studied. Young Henry clasped the Bible close to his heart. That was all with which he could defend himself. The bullet hit at the very page where were written the Ten Commandments including the one-“Thou Shalt Not Kill.” The whole incident is described so dramatically that it appears as if the incident was taking place right in front of the reader. Abbas was against all discrimination be it on the basis of race, colour, creed, gender or religion. He never misses a chance to attack such artificial divisions in his writings. In his autobiography I Am Not An Island he talks about these ‘Walls of Glass’:

I dared to suggest it was not a question of the colour at all. Otherwise why should white complexioned Nazis be persecuting equally white complexioned Jews? Why should the ‘Yellow’ Japanese be overrunning the territory of Yellow Chinese? Briefly, I stated the historical interrelation between imperialism, militarism, capitalism and Fascism. (158)

In the Indian context it is the caste-based prejudice against the untouchables. Though the Dalit movement had not become sufficiently visible during the time Abbas was writing but still there are stories in which Abbas depicts Dalits getting united and asserting their rights. The close reading of the writings of Abbas reveals that the spirit of defiance expressed through organized collective strength becomes more pronounced in the later writings of the author. Abbas is an admirer of Gandhi in the initial phase, becomes an ardent supporter of Nehru and also an admirer of Indira Gandhi but towards the later part of his career he developed admiration for the revolutionary movements specially that of Naxalism which he depicted in the novel The Naxalites. In the story ‘The Gun’ published in the collection The Gun and Other Stories (1985), depicts the uprising of the untouchables. Ruldoo, a young Harijan boy draws a bucket full of water from the Pucca well in his village. The village priest sees him do this. As a result a collective fine of one hundred and fifty rupees is imposed on the Harijans of the village. If not paid, they were threatened of dire consequences. But these villagers who had always served the upper caste people without ever raising a question are not scared now:

Now the Harijan Khet Mazdoors were also very defiant. They replied, “Today only Ruldoo came – tomorrow all of us will come to the well with our buckets and pots. We will see who dares to stop us. (80)

Aradhika Sharma, in her review of the collection An Evening in Lucknow talks of the relevance of the stories of Abbas in 21st Century. She remarks, “K. A. Abbas’s stories, written years ago, are as relevant to this day and age as they were half a decade ago. He has written on the themes of poverty, sadness, rural issues, people beset with hunger and oppression. His are stories of the ordinary people, the aam adaami log who are always around us but (thanks to the globalised glitz we prefer to soak in) we are not really interested in. Neither do we like to read stories about them nor watch them in TV serials or even look at or acknowledge them when we pass them by. (The Tribune, Dec.4, 2011)

Suresh Kohli, who edited the autobiography of K.A.Abbas and also the last collection of the stories, also makes some very relevant remarks about his stories:

Abbas raised a silent furrow in his vast attempts at creative communication. He was an unabashed admirer of Ernest Miller Hemingway’s narrative of combining fact with fiction to tell some simple, direct, humanistic stories without being moralistic or judgmental. There is nothing epical or ephemeral about the narratives that are generally full of pathos, dealing with everyday mundane experiences, and are characterized by understatement. And even though some of them have seemingly been culled out of journalistic reports, they are apolitical, but reflective of the times.

He further comments about the narratives chosen by Abbas, his characters and the way he treated his themes. It is interesting to note that the stories written by Abbas do not have a single outstanding historical figure as a hero. His narratives are drawn from every day life and so are the characters. In fact, none of the stories have a hero in the traditional sense of the term. Nor are there any typical villains in the stories. As a leading progressive writer of the country, Abbas knew very well that the socio-political and economic conditions and forces were responsible for the condition of the society. So, if one were to look for the villains in his stories, one would find them in the form of socio-political and economic conditions at a given time. Kohli writes:

              

Abbas…had a greater awareness of the changing scenario and growing reality around him. His stories had compassion devoid of any romanticism that characterized the work of his contemporaries. Each character in his stories, consciously or unconsciously, had a reason for his action. The stories are both in rural and urban settings and provide an insight into his thinking both as a writer and a journalist with a social awareness. In his preface to one of his early short story collections, he observed: “A few stories may provoke high-brow critics living in isolated ivory towers to utter the dread word ‘Propaganda’. But these stories are basically not about plans, projects, or policies of the government. They are about men and women, our contemporaries, the people of a new India, and how their subjective ‘inner life’ (their moments of tenderness and passion, frustration and exultation) are inexorably being changed by the dynamics of life, in which the positive values of socialism (even where hesitantly and half-heartedly adopted by our government) are playing their own part…there are no heroines or villains in these stories which are primarily concerned with the loves and hates of the people, their urges to work, to fight for their rights, even to commit violence in fits of blind passion, of ordinary human beings – men and women!”

Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, while making his films also chose young men and women from the ordinary life as actors. In Dharti Ke Lal, a film that he made for the Progressive writers Association of India, it was principally decided that the cast will include the members of the Association only. Literature, journalism and films were the media to approach the masses and depict their lives with a mission to bring about a progressive transformation in their lives. This was perhaps the motto behind all his works. The short stories are no exception. Carol J. Slingo while paying K.A. Abbas  a tribute at the time of his death rightly said-

“Khwaja Ahmed Abbas died on June 1, 1987 after 41 years as the most prominent voice of the left in Indian commercial films. While other political filmmakers addressed their work to educated viewers, he spent his life trying to reach the mass, more or less uneducated, audience of millions.

Works Cited

Abbas,K.A.Blood and stones and other stories. Bombay: Hind Kitabs. 1947.Print

— Rice and other stories. Bombay: Kutub. 1947. Print

Cages of freedom and other stories. Bombay: Hind Kitabs Ltd. 1952.Print

The Black sun and Other stories.Delhi: Jaico Publishing House.1963.Print

I Am not an Island: An Experiment in Autobiography.Ed.SureshKohli.New Delhi:2010

The Walls of Glass.New Delhi: Himalaya Books.1977.Print

The Gun and Other Stories.New Delhi: Arnold Heinemann.1985.Print

           —An Evening in Lucknow.Ed.Suresk Kohli.New Delhi:Harper Collins.2011.Print

      Sharma,Aradhika. “Extraordinary Tales”.The Tribune.Dec.4,2011

      Sinha,Ravinandan. “The Two Windows” in Contemporary Indian Fiction in    English.Ed.Avdhesh K. Singh.New Delhi: Creative Books. 1993.Print

        www.ejumpcut.org/archive/online essays/JC33folder/KAAbbas.html.12-11-2013.

*Professor, Department of English, Central University of Haryana, Mahendragarh.

 

 

June 24, 2014

Short Stories of K.A. Abbas: Valorising the Common Man

H.S.Chandalia*

The stories of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas focus the much talked about “Common Man”. He is a writer who consciously depicts the tales of those ordinary people who accomplished heroic deeds simply by virtue of their undaunted spirit and the sheer will to survive. Abbas belongs to the tradition of Dr. Mulk Raj Anand who created a hero like Bakha, a scavenger, in his classic novel the Untouchable. Anand was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his movement against untouchability. He was equally touched by the ideas of Marxist philosophy epitomised in the Great October Revolution of Russia in 1917.It was this ideological influence which motivated K.A. Abbas also to look for the real life stories of poverty and hunger, exploitation and protest, alienation and hope, patriarchy and the rise of the women’s voice. In fact, the fiction of Abbas, like his films and journalistic writings, brings the common man and his concerns centre stage.

Khwaja Ahmad Abbas is known as a film maker and a journalist all over the world. Not many people know that he wrote some seventy three books in the genres of fiction and non-fiction prose in Urdu, English and Hindi. His fiction includes fifteen novels and seven short story collections. These works reflect his deep seated optimism and commitment to social transformation. He stood firmly for the values of democracy, secularism and socialism and proved himself to be an ambassador of the working and toiling masses of the world. Even the title of the second novel of the trilogy he wanted to write, The World Is My Village and his autobiography I Am Not An Island  convey a lot about his ideology of Universal brotherhood, fraternity, justice  and equality which are very much in tune with the watch words of the French Revolution. No wonder his writings got acclaim not just in India but all over the world.

The short stories of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas have been published in a number of collections beginning with Blood and stones and other stories (1947), Rice and other stories(1947), Cages of freedom and other stories (1952), One Thousand Nights on a bed of Stones and Other Stories (1957), The Black sun and Other stories (1963), Men and women: Specially selected long and short stories(1977), The gun and other stories(1985) and An Evening in Lucknow(2011). Of these the last collection An Evening in Lucknow has been published posthumously, with an editorial note by Suresh Kohli who as an editor has also compiled some very significant interviews of Abbas with reputed magazines of the country. His last story “Mother and Child” based on Bhopal Gas Tragedy was published after his death in The Illustrated Weekly of India in June 1987.Mr. S.A. Rehman who worked with Abbas for more than twenty eight years as his secretary said that the title was initially different but was modified by the publishers.

The most famous of the stories of Abbas is “Sparrows” published initially in Urdu as Ababeel. “Sparrows”, written when Abbas was 26, was included in a West German anthology of the world’s best storiesThe story narrates the tale of a peasant boy Rahim Khan who has to suffer on account of the traditional and outdated notions of false pride in religion and family. He is not allowed to opt for the profession of his choice because “Job in a circus was too lowly for a respectable peasant” and to marry Radha, the daughter of the village Banya, a Kafir, was just out of question. This frustration hardens him into a cruel man who is beastly in his behaviour with his wife, his children and even the oxen. He gets transformed only when he observes the Sparrows in his house who are so caring and affectionate towards their young ones. Aradhika Sharma wrote a review of An Evening In Lucknow in the Tribune of Dec.4, 2011.In the review she commented on the story “Sparrows”:

“The Sparrows, about which Mulk Raj Anand wrote, in January 1947, to Abbas, “the strength of your short stories, my dear, Abbas, lies in the fact that you have grasped the weaknesses of your characters amid their strengths”, is a moving tale of a bad-tempered, anti-social man who finally finds love in some baby sparrows. The story is O Henry-isque in nature, reminding us of The Last Leaf.

This “bad-tempered man” is made so by the unjust social norms which divide the society into water tight compartments. Abbas tells us, through this story, the inhuman face of religion and false pride. The death of Rahim Khan is not natural. He is killed by communal frenzy and a sense of false pride in one’s religion and profession. It is ironic that the protagonist of the story Rahim Khan who is himself a victim of a decadent social order, is understood as a self-centered man, a symbol of hatred and a menace to the society.

This story has been interpreted in many diverse ways. Some critics have treated it as a didactic story narrating how even birds can be a source of motivation for man and how the human world needs to draw a lesson from the animal world, which of course, is a world of Nature:

“The Sparrows”’ is a wonderful story where nature teaches man to behave himself. What human beings could not demonstrate nature’s tiny creation a happy sparrow-couple could effortlessly achieve this story is remarkable not just for its narration but also for its characterization of the infra human, yet ultra humane sparrows. This is a very moving story of sorrow and disappointment of a supposedly hard-hearted man. His transformation from utter cruelty to one of endearing love and compassion forms the life line of the narrative.

Rice and Other Stories (1947) published in the year of transfer of power dubbed as the freedom, depicts the prime concern of the country at that time i.e. the question of poverty and hunger. Rice is the main meal of about one third of the population of this country. Abbas never minces his words to draw a realistic picture of the plight of the people. The world wars and the economic depression had brought in the Ration Control System and the people had to stand in que for hours waiting for their turn in front of Fair Price Shop. Abbas describes the plight of the people in a very convincing style:

                    Twisting like a serpent, creeping at a snail’s pace, buzzing like a swarm of bees, two

      Long ques- one of men and the other of women- were advancing towards the           

      Government Grain Shop. The women’s que was even longer than the men’s-quite a  

       Furlong in length with its tail end in a narrow alley round the street corner.(RAOS13)

 

Talking about the importance of the story ‘Rice’, Ravi Nandan Sinha makes a very apt comment:

‘Rice’, the first story in the first anthology is significant in the sense that it strongly points to the direction most of Abbas’s stories would take. It relates to the period just before independence. Durga delivers a child while waiting in a que for a small measure of rationed rice…The story reminds us of Mulk Raj Anand’s story “Birth”. Durga epitomizes the destitute millions of India. Penury takes away from her even the natural dignity of motherhood. (135)

In the next collection of stories called Cages of Freedom and Other Stories (1952) also the same question of poverty and starvation finds expression. The story ‘Flag’ narrates the story of a poor labourer Ramoo rendered jobless for quite some time. He doesn’t have anything to eat or to feed his daughter and wife. It is the day of freedom. He comes to know that some generous patriot is distributing Puris and Laddoos. He goes there and gets his share. He then asks for the share of his daughter and wife. But he is rebuked and insulted. The distributors ask him why his wife and daughter themselves come and take their share. Ramoo is too shy and humble to say that they have only one cloth to cover their bodies and when one goes out, the other two have to stay home. It might appear an exaggeration to some, but the fact is that this kind of stark poverty has been a reality and is a reality in some parts of the country even today.

 

This concern for the common man and his suffering runs through all the collections of short stories published by Abbas. The characters change with the locale but the issues continue to haunt the imagination of the author. In a story called “Thicker Than Water” published in his anthology The Gun and Other Stories (1985) Abbas depicts the plight of urban poor who are unable to find any employment. In their misery they resort to selling of blood- a problem which appears quite contemporary even in twenty first century. Of course, the menace of selling human organs has also added to the gravity of the situation. From the first collection of the stories to the last Abbas shows a consistent growth in his concern towards the poor downtrodden people. He depicts his characters with utmost sincerity and compassion. He is conscious of the socio-political causes of poverty and does not regard their poverty as a ‘fit punishment for their vices.’ The poor are portrayed with respect and conviction

 

The question of dignity of women in the society is discussed very passionately these days. The instances of violence against women at work place, in public transport and at home have created a furor in public space lately. More often than not the victims of gender violence are common women, especially those who are forced to work out of their economic necessities. The stories of Abbas depict this pathetic state adequately. The protagonist women in his stories include village girls, struggling actresses, nurses, flower girls, dancers and extras in film industry. However, these characters do not accept humiliation lying down but assert their identity and right in strong words. The best example of such assertion is the story ‘The Dumb Cow’. The protagonist in this story is a young girl named Bholi. Her step father thinks her to be a burden and wants to get rid of her by marrying her to a greedy old and lame person. Bholi tries to resist but is not given any space to express her views. She later realizes that the lame old man is too greedy and her marriage is more of a commercial transaction. She refuses to marry him. The   exchange of words between the father and daughter indicate the author’s sympathies with the daughter:  

           “ Pitaji,take back your money.I am not going to marry this man.”

           “ Bholi are you crazy?” Ram Lal shouted, “You want to disgrace your family? Have some

             regard for our izzat daughter.”

             “ For the sake of your izzat I was willing to marry this lame old man. But I will not have

   such a man, greedy and contemptible coward as my husband. I won’t. I won’t. I won’t.”  And she reiterated her determination as if she was in the grip of hysteria. (The Walls of Glass 74)

 

‘Flowers for her Feet’ is yet another story in which sexual exploitation of a girl is depicted. Chandra, the dancing girl is harassed and exploited by all, especially the economic elite as the rich people think that women are commodities which can be bought or sold for money:

The matter was clear. Chandra was a drop of honey over which poisonous flies were hovering greedily. Her body was a machine to make money and everyone was trying to own it. (83)

There are more than half a dozen women characters in the stories of Abbas. All of them do not belong to one category. There are characters like Chandra in ‘Flowers for her Feet’, Bina in ‘Twelve Hours’, Zafrani in ‘Saffron Blossoms’ and the unnamed wife of Rehman Khan in the ‘Sparrows’ who represent traditional Indian women resigned to their fate. They accept the condition of oppression and subjugation as something inevitable. Durga in the story ‘Rice’ and Sylvia in the story with the same title form another category. They represent the enlightened women working with men folk and conscious of their role in the society. They are not merely domestic women confined to the chores of daily life but are equal participants in the socio-economic and political activities going on around them in the society. They represent the women rising and freeing themselves from the traditional bounds of slavery and subjugation. Mehmooda of the novel The World Is My Village and Ajitha of The Naxalites can also be included in this category. There is yet another category of women in the stories of Abbas. This includes worldly wise women like Radha in the story ‘Cold Wave’ published in the collection Thirteenth Victim and Other Stories (1986).The hero of the story Nirmal is a young graduate who falls in love with this girl Radha who is a prostitute. She also expresses her ardent love for him. Nirmal’s father doesn’t permit his son to marry Radha and threatens to disown him. When Radha comes to know that Nirmal will be disinherited of all the wealth of his parents, she rejects his love and addresses him in a very cold way as if he was a complete stranger. In a story titled ‘Ajanta’ published in the collection The Gun and Other Stories Abbas describes some women, both Hindu and Muslim, who rejoice in the cold blooded murder of victims of communal violence.

Abbas was conscious of the struggles of people across the world. He had travelled round the world and had met world leaders like Khrushchev, Roosevelt, Nehru and Indira Gandhi. As a journalist he kept an eye on the happenings around the world. This gave him an added advantage as a fiction writer as well. His canvas is vast and covers the issues of the entire humanity. The story ‘The Black Sun’ portrays the racial discrimination suffered by the Negroes in the United States and even at the UNO. The unnamed black lady who assists the black leader to enter UNO building describes how the black people were treated as second class citizens in the United States but when it came to fighting in the Korean War, they were sent to Korea to fight with the white American soldiers and die fighting an enemy whom they did not even know:

 

               And then there was the Korean War and the white ones decided that though we blacks

   were not good enough to worship with them in their churches, or to send our children to  their schools, or even to travel with them in the same railway compartment, we were good enough to be sent with them to this war to die along with white soldiers.(78)

Abbas is essentially a film director. Even in his short stories he is able to create such scenes which would make a grand climax in a film. The ability to visualize the irony in a grim event of death enables him to imagine the death of Young Henry who is shot dead in his school by a bullet fired by the white demonstrators who were opposing the admission of black students to the school where children of white Americans studied. Young Henry clasped the Bible close to his heart. That was all with which he could defend himself. The bullet hit at the very page where were written the Ten Commandments including the one-“Thou Shalt Not Kill.” The whole incident is described so dramatically that it appears as if the incident was taking place right in front of the reader. Abbas was against all discrimination be it on the basis of race, colour, creed, gender or religion. He never misses a chance to attack such artificial divisions in his writings. In his autobiography I Am Not An Island he talks about these ‘Walls of Glass’:

I dared to suggest it was not a question of the colour at all. Otherwise why should white complexioned Nazis be persecuting equally white complexioned Jews? Why should the ‘Yellow’ Japanese be overrunning the territory of Yellow Chinese? Briefly, I stated the historical interrelation between imperialism, militarism, capitalism and Fascism. (158)

In the Indian context it is the caste-based prejudice against the untouchables. Though the Dalit movement had not become sufficiently visible during the time Abbas was writing but still there are stories in which Abbas depicts Dalits getting united and asserting their rights. The close reading of the writings of Abbas reveals that the spirit of defiance expressed through organized collective strength becomes more pronounced in the later writings of the author. Abbas is an admirer of Gandhi in the initial phase, becomes an ardent supporter of Nehru and also an admirer of Indira Gandhi but towards the later part of his career he developed admiration for the revolutionary movements specially that of Naxalism which he depicted in the novel The Naxalites. In the story ‘The Gun’ published in the collection The Gun and Other Stories (1985), depicts the uprising of the untouchables. Ruldoo, a young Harijan boy draws a bucket full of water from the Pucca well in his village. The village priest sees him do this. As a result a collective fine of one hundred and fifty rupees is imposed on the Harijans of the village. If not paid, they were threatened of dire consequences. But these villagers who had always served the upper caste people without ever raising a question are not scared now:

Now the Harijan Khet Mazdoors were also very defiant. They replied, “Today only Ruldoo came – tomorrow all of us will come to the well with our buckets and pots. We will see who dares to stop us. (80)

Aradhika Sharma, in her review of the collection An Evening in Lucknow talks of the relevance of the stories of Abbas in 21st Century. She remarks, “K. A. Abbas’s stories, written years ago, are as relevant to this day and age as they were half a decade ago. He has written on the themes of poverty, sadness, rural issues, people beset with hunger and oppression. His are stories of the ordinary people, the aam adaami log who are always around us but (thanks to the globalised glitz we prefer to soak in) we are not really interested in. Neither do we like to read stories about them nor watch them in TV serials or even look at or acknowledge them when we pass them by. (The Tribune, Dec.4, 2011)

Suresh Kohli, who edited the autobiography of K.A.Abbas and also the last collection of the stories, also makes some very relevant remarks about his stories:

Abbas raised a silent furrow in his vast attempts at creative communication. He was an unabashed admirer of Ernest Miller Hemingway’s narrative of combining fact with fiction to tell some simple, direct, humanistic stories without being moralistic or judgmental. There is nothing epical or ephemeral about the narratives that are generally full of pathos, dealing with everyday mundane experiences, and are characterized by understatement. And even though some of them have seemingly been culled out of journalistic reports, they are apolitical, but reflective of the times.

He further comments about the narratives chosen by Abbas, his characters and the way he treated his themes. It is interesting to note that the stories written by Abbas do not have a single outstanding historical figure as a hero. His narratives are drawn from every day life and so are the characters. In fact, none of the stories have a hero in the traditional sense of the term. Nor are there any typical villains in the stories. As a leading progressive writer of the country, Abbas knew very well that the socio-political and economic conditions and forces were responsible for the condition of the society. So, if one were to look for the villains in his stories, one would find them in the form of socio-political and economic conditions at a given time. Kohli writes:

              

Abbas…had a greater awareness of the changing scenario and growing reality around him. His stories had compassion devoid of any romanticism that characterized the work of his contemporaries. Each character in his stories, consciously or unconsciously, had a reason for his action. The stories are both in rural and urban settings and provide an insight into his thinking both as a writer and a journalist with a social awareness. In his preface to one of his early short story collections, he observed: “A few stories may provoke high-brow critics living in isolated ivory towers to utter the dread word ‘Propaganda’. But these stories are basically not about plans, projects, or policies of the government. They are about men and women, our contemporaries, the people of a new India, and how their subjective ‘inner life’ (their moments of tenderness and passion, frustration and exultation) are inexorably being changed by the dynamics of life, in which the positive values of socialism (even where hesitantly and half-heartedly adopted by our government) are playing their own part…there are no heroines or villains in these stories which are primarily concerned with the loves and hates of the people, their urges to work, to fight for their rights, even to commit violence in fits of blind passion, of ordinary human beings – men and women!”

Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, while making his films also chose young men and women from the ordinary life as actors. In Dharti Ke Lal, a film that he made for the Progressive writers Association of India, it was principally decided that the cast will include the members of the Association only. Literature, journalism and films were the media to approach the masses and depict their lives with a mission to bring about a progressive transformation in their lives. This was perhaps the motto behind all his works. The short stories are no exception. Carol J. Slingo while paying K.A. Abbas  a tribute at the time of his death rightly said-

“Khwaja Ahmed Abbas died on June 1, 1987 after 41 years as the most prominent voice of the left in Indian commercial films. While other political filmmakers addressed their work to educated viewers, he spent his life trying to reach the mass, more or less uneducated, audience of millions.

Works Cited

Abbas,K.A.Blood and stones and other stories. Bombay: Hind Kitabs. 1947.Print

— Rice and other stories. Bombay: Kutub. 1947. Print

Cages of freedom and other stories. Bombay: Hind Kitabs Ltd. 1952.Print

The Black sun and Other stories.Delhi: Jaico Publishing House.1963.Print

I Am not an Island: An Experiment in Autobiography.Ed.SureshKohli.New Delhi:2010

The Walls of Glass.New Delhi: Himalaya Books.1977.Print

The Gun and Other Stories.New Delhi: Arnold Heinemann.1985.Print

           —An Evening in Lucknow.Ed.Suresk Kohli.New Delhi:Harper Collins.2011.Print

      Sharma,Aradhika. “Extraordinary Tales”.The Tribune.Dec.4,2011

      Sinha,Ravinandan. “The Two Windows” in Contemporary Indian Fiction in    English.Ed.Avdhesh K. Singh.New Delhi: Creative Books. 1993.Print

        www.ejumpcut.org/archive/online essays/JC33folder/KAAbbas.html.12-11-2013.

*Professor, Department of English, Central University of Haryana, Mahendragarh.