Set in 1940s Bengal, this novel tells a story of iniquity and the revolution that hunger requires.
âKhwabnamaâ by Akhtaruzzaman Elias; translated by Arunava Sinha; Penguin Hamish Hamilton, Rs. 699; 552 pages
Khtaruzzaman Elias’ 1996 novel Khwabnama, newly translated into English, is set in the turbulent years of independence, as the seeds of Pakistan are just beginning to ripen. In a Bengali village haunted by ghosts, fishermen and farmers can count on nothing and cling to superstition. Even the earth does not always stay in one place. Rivers reshape it every year, so that a pond can gradually become a field, and a tongue of land appears out of nowhere. Tamiz, a fisherman, hopes to prosper from sharecropping. But the layers of this tightly layered society are more difficult to move than the earth. He holds a place below the hereditary sharecropper, and landowners calculate in such a way that any plowman, regardless of his lineage, brings back only a small part of his harvest.
The work of Elias belongs to the literature of hunger and hard times. In his world, there is no room for feeling. The mythology of the land around the lake – was it sacred to a goddess or to a Muslim rebel shot down by the British – is not just a matter of local lore, but determines who can fish in the lake or draw for it. water for irrigation. Even the death of a child is a chance for a grandfather to celebrate nobility and display his wealth.
Whether the plowman will keep more of his earnings in the new Pakistan, and whether Muslim landowners will be fairer than Hindus are questions debated throughout the novel, and the characters are no closer to the answers at the end than they are. they weren’t in the beginning. Revolutionaries promising to wipe out the zamindars argue with those seeking a more polite upheaval that will keep the scum in its place. Class oppositions are inevitable and violence is inevitable.
Wandering half-asleep in the tumult is the magical figure of Tamiz’s father, a perpetually hungry dreamer. He is a seer to those who seek answers and an idiot to those who are fed up with feeding him. He channels the power of the fakir Chirag Ali, who sang songs that âcameâ to him. His wife, Chirag Ali’s granddaughter, Kulsum, has her own visions. These three bring a hesitant poetry to Elias’ sparse prose. But only a handful of characters take shape in this tale, which is a confusion of names and events. The reader going through all of this can grab hold of a thin, shiny thread at the end, promising that the visions of the fakir endure, even when his lineage is dead.
The Tamiz, more down to earth, is not without magic. He escapes from prison, marries the woman he has wanted for a long time and when he touches the ground she gives in abundantly. Just as he’s about to reclaim his father’s lost acres, he takes a brave leap to join the Plowman Uprising instead.
Click here for IndiaToday.in’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.