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BOOK REVIEW: JINNAH – Often Came To Our House– Kiran Doshi

Copyright@shravancharitymission

Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about

    Let me first begin by introducing the author Kiran Doshi. Kiran Doshi studied history, politics and law in Bombay before he joined the Indian Foreign Service in the year 1962, where, he had a 35-year-long career that frequently saw him tackling, India’s relations with Pakistan, always an important, exciting, but eventually a frustrating task.

    The book falls in the genre of historical fiction, published by Tranquebar Westlandbooks in 2015. It is available in both print and e-book format, and is a thick spine—some 490 pages. It is divided into 35 rhapsodic chapters and spans between the eventful years of the making of India. That is from 1904 to 1948 which includes the struggle for freedom, Partition of India and the formation of Pakistan out of India.

    Kiran has two more books in his oeuvre titled, ‘Birds of Passage’ which I believe is an engrossing and hilarious novel set in the diplomatic space of India-Pakistan-USA diplomacy, and the other book is titled, ‘Diplomatic Tales’ which is a collection of short stories in comic verse. Kiran lives in Delhi with his wife Razia.

    I’m not aware of the spark that prompted the author to write this book. But since the author has dedicated the book, to his mother-in-law Umrao Baig, (1915-1981), it does suggest, a character in the book could be resembling her. But this is only my hunch. Umrao Baig was expelled from her convent school for wearing khadi and singing Bande Mataram. She went on to study medicine at Grant Medical College and set up a hospital named after, Lokmanya Tilak in a part of Bombay, then inhabited, by mill workers.

    The book although titled Jinnah is a work of historical fiction cautions the author—all the incidents and characters in it (except those known to history) are fictitious—even if touched, here and there, by the brush of family lore.

    Coming to the brief plot. The young and dashing Sultan Kowaishi has just returned from London to Bombay after acquiring a barrister’s degree. Among the first persons he meets in Bombay is Mohammed Ali Jinnah, already a quintessential advocate, and is quickly drawn to him. It is around this time Jinnah decides to join the Indian National Congress, soon to become its brightest star in the fight for freedom. But the stir for freedom holds no interest for Sultan, but yes, it attracts his wife Rehana, and, inexorably weaves its way, into their lives. Another strong character happens to be Barri Phuphi. The main story is about Rehana opening a school, Sultan succeeding as a lawyer, them separating, and years later Sultan going in search of his children and finally his grandchild.

    The book has a large canvass of characters and events. It makes, its presence, felt in, more than one ways. It starts with the showcasing of, the lifestyle of, upper class Muslims, in Bombay, largely with, familial, connect, in Gujarat and Hyderabad around the beginning of the twentieth century.

    Kiran has focused on the core topic of freedom struggle leading to independence quite well. He brings alive the court cases along with decades of India’s struggle for freedom that is interrupted by the British in various ways, especially, when they change the laws for partition of Bengal, revocation of partition of Bengal. Tilak’s exile, Morley Minto Reforms, formation of Muslim League, the Rowlatt Act, the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, Simon Commission and its opposition, the two World Words, provincial elections and Constituent Assembly and the Khilafat movement—linked to the Ottoman Empire and of course the partition of India.

    The book revolves around Rehana, Sultan and Jinnah mostly in Bombay, London, Delhi, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has many other characters such as Dhondav—Rehana’s thread brother and the tall politicians of those times. But Rehana happens to be the longest and the toughest string that connects the book from the beginning to the end.

    The book eventually serves India with independence but not before breaking and destroying the complete family of Sultan Kowaishi who on a mere doubt of infidelity, disowns his wife and children without realising how devious, can an Englishman of, the British Raj, could be. Shak destroys Sultan completely.  Jiska ilaj hakeem Luqman ke pas bhi nahi tha.

    The story thereon moves like a tragedy and finally ends like a family tragedy. The hatred between Hindus and Muslims has been captured quite comprehensively. The book picks up somewhere between page 23 and page 45. There are too many a characters in the story and it takes a while before one can actually imbibe and familiarise oneself with the characters.

    There are certain pages in the book that I quite liked, such as, description of a voyage from Bombay to London which is now a rarity. The relation between Jinnah and Rehana is well written. The presentation of Gokhale, Tilak and Gandhi from time to time and some other leaders is interesting. The conversation about Rasool and Koran is quite informative. Overall, it’s a very happening book. But towards the last hundred pages it becomes quite depressing. Perhaps, had the author squeezed the book around 400 pages the action points of the novel could have been more intense.

The author pays homage to Shakespeare by using his quotes quite generously and aptly. His lines make for an engaging conversation-long repartee between Rehana and Jinnah.

The tone of the writer is quite flowing and inviting with the prowess to alter the reader’s emotion without provoking him. The author has used easy English with a mix of Urdu, Hindi and the colloquials.  

    The novel has a host of characters, some are well-known in history such as Gandhi, Tilak, Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose and many are fictional characters such as, Dhondav, Griffiths, Pandey, Tehmina, Firoz, Hina and others whose lives change with the turn of pages. The rigour of writing is evident in how the writer ties up every thread and no character is left hanging. A resounding line that Kiran picks is attributed to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, “Hindus and Muslims are the two eyes of India, they can never be separated. But sadly, the novel ends with the independence and partition of India,

    Through Jinnah and the Congress, the author shows how random laws define the fate of societies, through Dhondav he shows how bans on the freedom of press or media influence public opinion, through the main character Rehana and her travails at school, he shows how language and text books can become a conflict point.

For older readers, this novel would be a delight, but for the younger generation, twice removed from Independence and partition, the novel would serve as a space to reflect over the ironies of our times. For the sweeping story Jinnah… I would give the book four stars. A must read.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Our posts are meant for our readers that includes both children and adults and it has a huge variety in terms of content. We also accept donations for our mission. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

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Our publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 7 prestigious libraries of the US, including, Harvard University and Library of Congress. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in Libraries and archives of Canada and Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai)  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be its undying characteristic. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014)

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

RHYTHM … in poems

(Published in January 2019. The book contains 50 poems. The poems describe our day to day life. The book is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

MIRAGE

(Published in February 2020. The book is a collection of eight short stories. It is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Notion Press)

(ALL THE ABOVE TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

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LITERARY CORNER: “Jallianwala Bagh: An Empire of Fear and the Making of the Amritsar Massacre,” by Kim A Wagner.

Copyright@shravancharitymission

Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

    Time doesn’t dilute the scars of hateful crimes. I’m pointing at the “Jallianwala Bagh” massacre, a crime perpetrated by Brigadier General Reginald Dyer. People who died in that slaughter, I’m sure, must be turning in their graves on each anniversary of the crime that was unleashed on April 13, 1919 by this devil. With that logic the victims by now must have turned at least a hundred times in their proverbial grave. But the apology from the British is yet to come. This monster, Brigadier Dyer later died on 23 July 1927. Winston Churchill called him a rotten apple simply to disavow his own responsibility.

    But then the rotten apple grew in his own backyard colony called India. General Dyer is also called, “the Butcher of Amritsar,” because of his order to fire repeatedly on a crowd of peaceful protesters. This resulted in the murder of at least 500-600 people and injuries to over a thousand more. Subsequently, Dyer was removed from duty and widely condemned both in Britain and in India. But he became a celebrated hero among some with connections to the British Raj. Some historians argue the episode was a decisive event towards the end of the British rule in India.

    Many books have been written on this particular massacre. Latest being “Jallianwala Bagh: An Empire of Fear and the Making of the Amritsar Massacre,” by historian Kim A Wagner. Wagner teaches, the history of colonial India and the British Empire at Queen Mary, University of London. He has written extensively on the subject of ‘Thuggee,’ the Indian Uprising of 1857, and resistance and colonial violence more generally in 19th and 20th century global history. The book has been published by Penguin, and the price is below Rs 500 in Amazon. Even though it has been a century since Brigadier General Reginald Dyer ordered Indian Army troops to open fire upon an unarmed crowd at Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919, the memory of it is still painful for Indians. British historian Kim Wagner has taken a fresh look at the incident in this book. There are some advance praises about the book, a couple of them are as follows:

  1. “In the cautionary tale provided in Jallianwala Bagh, it is enduring racist fear that lies at the heart of precipitate violence. Analytically sharp but gripping to read, the book is a page turner.”—says Barbara D. Metcalf, Co-Author of “A Concise History of India.”
  1. In the compelling yet exacting study Kim Wagner combines the intimacy of the storyteller and the distance of the historian to evoke the “micro story” of the massacre while understanding it as the “final stage of the much longer process”, stretching back to Sepoy Uprising. Mining a variety of sources—diaries, memoirs and court testimonies—he uncovers fresh perspectives and examines the relation between colonial panic and state brutality with sophistication, sincerity and style rare in published accounts of this much-trodden ground.”–says Santanu Das, Author of, “India, Empire and First War Culture.”

    The book gives a good overview of the massacre from all corners and all stakeholders. Was Jallianwala Bagh massacre a one-off incident, as portrayed back then and even today by many? The book tries to answer that. The author feels rather than being an unprecedented event, the Amritsar massacre revealed the racialized logic of a colonial violence, and we find the exact sentiments expressed by British officers involved in the suppression of the Indian Uprising of 1857, for instance.

    An apology that describes General Dyer as a rotten apple, which is, essentially what Winston Churchill said in 1920, is not an apology at all but rather an attempt to disavow any form of responsibility in terms of the Raj and the British Empire in general.

    There is often a debate about the troops who open fired. Some say they were Gorkhas and Pathan troops. The author with his research tries to clear the air when he says. There probably were a few Sikh troops also present but we have to remember that the British at the same time did not think of the local population in communal terms. Dyer refers to the protesters simply as ‘rebels.’ The composition of the force he took with him to ‘Jallianwala Bagh’ was largely accidental.

    To a question about Indian Army veterans who had served in World War-I, being among the unfortunate crowd that got killed and injured the eyewitnesses describe how veterans called out for people to lie down to avoid being shot, so there were clearly demobilised soldiers in the crowd.

    British Empire apologists often dismiss the Indian National Congress’s findings about the tragedy and settle for government estimates to save their skin. The Indian National Congress actually estimated that 500 had been killed but that 1,000 might not be an exaggerated estimate—based on the door-to-door inquiry made by local agencies, some 540 names were found, and the author feels that somewhere between 500 to 600 were killed and, perhaps, three times that many wounded.

    As per the book it was not a pre-meditated plan. Dyer believed he was entering a war zone and was fully prepared to shoot at anyone who defied his ban on public meetings. He did not know what the layout of the city or Jallianwala Bagh was. Once he arrived at the Bagh, he did not care much about who was actually present but simply open fired without using his brains.

   There is no evidence about the 120 bodies that were recovered from the well. Eye-witnesses describe one or two people falling in it, and Motilal Nehru and Madan Mohan Malviya thought they saw one or two bodies floating in the well, later that summer—which was nothing more than a clay-pot and some old clothes floating in the well. There was a merging of the canal feeding with the holy tank, which runs under Jallianwala Bagh, since we know that some people climbed into that to flee the bullets and that several bodies were later recovered.

    Lastly, Churchill denounced Dyer in 1920 but it was not because he found indiscriminate violence in the Empire unacceptable, but rather because Dyer’s actions made it so difficult to defend British rule in India. That is also why he was eager to depict Dyer and the massacre as ‘un-British.’

    The massacre has been portrayed in several movies, starting with Attenborough’s Gandhi. But author Kim Wagner thinks none of them make more impact than re-enact the set of visual tropes first deployed by Attenborough. There is almost a checklist of recurrent motifs, including Dyer ordering his troops to fire, and people throwing themselves into the well or getting crushed against a locked gate, crying kids sitting next to their dead parents. To break new ground in this respect would require a break from these filmic conventions.

    Jallianwalla Bagh is often the least talked about episode in the British circles but yes to an extent or rather to quite an extent during the trial it helped in understanding the British colonial policy. The Hunter Commission was set up partly to assuage moderate Indian nationalists and Montagu, the Secretary of State for India, never expected it to reveal the things it did. The fact that this was such a large inquiry, which elicited so much evidence, not least Dyer’s own testimony, means that this was probably the best-recorded colonial atrocity within the British Empire up till that point.

    Well if you’re interested in history and the sad chapters of Indian history this book is for you. Well written and great in detailing and largely unbiased barring certain chapters where you get some eerie feeling it sails through in the Indian Ocean without turbulence. A historians prime job is to lay down history in proper perspective where the author I think has not failed. I would give the book seven out of ten.

Posted by Kamlesh Tripathi

*

https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

*

Share it if you like it

*

Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Our posts are meant for our readers that includes both children and adults and it has a huge variety in terms of content. We also accept donations for our mission. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805

*

Our publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 7 prestigious libraries of the US, including, Harvard University and Library of Congress. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in Libraries and archives of Canada and Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai)  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be its undying characteristic. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014)

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

RHYTHM … in poems

(Published in January 2019. The book contains 50 poems. The poems describe our day to day life. The book is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

(ALL THE ABOVE TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

*****