What to consider when deciding a pick for reading? For some people, it may be the cover art and the back cover that appeals, for the others it might be the smell of the fresh pages as one flips through, that are a source of attraction; and there are also some who make sure they read reviews to to be inspired to read. I select for all the above reasons.
For me, Shaukat Siddiqui was since childhood my “baba” – a father figure to my father. I was introduced to the renowned Urdu writer, however, much later when my father pointed out to me that if I ever wanted to survive in this society I needed to know how it operates. And it can be best understood through the literature, and for me , through the writings of baba, who observed the society very closely. The wonderful door to Urdu Literature that was opened to me via his “Khuda ki Basti” took me on an adventure that gave me a chance to know his Jangloos as well as introduced me to names like Manto, Ibne Insha, Ashfaq Ahmed Yousafi, etc.
The book starts off by unveiling the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan which stirred up the emotions of the Muslims and the realization that that occurred to them that if independence has to be won, it may only be possible through a direct confrontation with the Imperialistic Power. The mass migration resulted in almost 100 million people crossing the border from Peshawar to Afghanistan, or what came to be known as the “Dar-ul-Islam”. However, the grass on the other side was not green; it was in a fact plagued with illiteracy, unemployment and economic deprivation. And it was not 2001, it was 1919!
Covering the period spanning from World War I, baba takes us on a journey through a different trajectory of events that possibly influenced the events that were to occur in 1947. The events of 1919 lead to a struggle in India had nothing to do with race, religion, caste or ethnicity; and all they had to do with was with the fact that who was more resourceful than the other. The realization was the only good thing that the Khilafat Movement taught Muslims of India, and this then took the form of a Socialistic struggle in South Asia. This Socialist Struggle became the real movement that gained momentum in not only India, but across the world.
However, less is written on the issue, and even lesser is discussed on any platform. Naturally every such bit that does not stand in our favor is silently erased from the history. However, it has its ramifications; and these are precisely the theme of the book. It is a memoir of our past sins and slips, and how we keep on repeating them instead of learning some due lessons.
However, the book is in no way an academic discourse, despite being historically correct. From the very start, the book was intended to be a novel, and these columns and writings are only the historical back drop that it presents. Every now and then, the historical account takes over the novel, however one can also clearly see the imaginative faculty is employed to the best to render the scenic depiction of the various facets of the struggle. Right from the beginning, one finds itself in the midst of a river in all its fury and then, one jumps in the middle of a cross fire in a Soviet town, and then swiftly one switches to a historical discourse.
An analysis or criticism to the book would simply be nothing more than mere injustice to both the author and the content itself. The work, from the very way it is written, can be easily identified as a work in progress, something the writer had hidden away from the world for a long time. And as I flipped through the pages, I understood why the knowledge was so important to be passed on! What bothers me only is the brief period of history covered, which I wanted to be lengthier.
But there is no hint of doubt that though he has left for ever, his work will continue to speak for his bravery with which he narrated the history that no one dared to put down in words!