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

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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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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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