Rozhin, a novel by Sahitya Academy Award-winning author Rahman Abbas, has a large canvas, with three parallel narrative threads running through it. The core of this novel is a family novel and a love story, a love story of a poor dreamy-eyed rustic boy, Asrar, and a melancholy town girl from a wealthy family, Hina. The second thread talks about the question of the identities of Indian Muslims. The third is the history of Mumbai, which delves into the history, myths, legends, sociology and politics of this great city.
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Let’s start with the story of Hina and Asrar who meet inside a religious sanctuary and fall in love with each other. Hina was perpetually sad because her father betrayed her mother. She knows that her father is a good human being, but her failure to love her wife is something that gnaws at her from within and she can’t do anything about it. Asrar’s arrival in her life acts as a balm to her wounded soul as he uncovers the magic of romantic love. And Asrar on the other hand is amazed by his feelings for Hina. He has already explored her sexuality by having an intimate relationship with his teacher Jameela Miss and then sleeping with Shanti, the prostitute. But the spark he feels while he’s around Hina is completely different: he doesn’t feel the need to be physically intimate with her to enjoy her and his company.
Through these characters, Abbas explains to the reader how a relationship between a man and a woman can have different shades ranging from pure love to genuine lust. Jameela Miss, Hina and Shanti are symbols of three types of relationships. Jameela craves physical intimacy, Shanti seeks care and love and for Hina Asrar it is not only a romantic interest but also a kind of medicine for her sick heart.
The climax of Asrar and Hina’s story is revealed in the first line of the novel when the writer tells you it was the last day of their life. But this doesn’t work as a spoiler, instead it piques your interest and you’re curious about who they are and what causes their tragic demise.
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Rohzin by Rahman Abbas, translated by Sabika Abbas Naqvi; Penguin Random House India, 256 pages, ₹599
While telling their story, Abbas delves into the question of identity, especially in the context of Indian Muslims. Here he tries to dispel the myth that all Muslims are culturally and socially equal. And, throughout the novel, Abbas points out that, in reality, Muslims are as diverse as their Hindu counterparts and, despite having a singular religious identity, they are not only divided along caste lines, but that their languages , food and culture are also incredibly diverse.
Hence, the protagonist, Asrar, has a typical Marathi surname, Deshmukh. Many other characters carry Gujarati, Marathi and Konkani surnames such as Patel, Parker and Ghare etc. In other words, in a very subtle way, the author shows that most Indian Muslims are also children of the earth. He also suggests that these surnames carry some privileges with them. However, once the first names, which are essentially Muslim, were revealed, those privileges disappeared.
The third and final thread of the story is the history of Mumbai (and Bombay), and it introduces us to the different facets (some pleasant and some disturbing) of this city full of stories – the city that attracts many men and women, and then, over time, he throws most of them into the dustbin of history. The city whose belly rots with poverty, exploitation, crime and millions of lost dreams. But at the same time, the city itself has the ability to turn a poor man into a prince overnight.
While reading this novel, you sometimes want to read Suketu Mehta’s Maximum city: Bombay Lost and Founda memorable nonfiction book on Mumbai especially because RozhinThe company’s representation of the city is real and authentic. Furthermore, with the descriptions of different locations, buildings and shrines, the author has managed to evoke a sense of place. The use of magical realism combined with mythological elements ranging from a story about the patron goddess of the city Mumba Devi, to the mention of Djinn, gives a surreal atmosphere to the story. However, Rozhin’s general narrative is rooted in reality and the prose is perfumed with modern sensibility.
As a first-time translator, Sabika Abbas Naqvi did a decent job. You have tried to be as faithful as possible to the original text, which is good, but, in some places, it becomes something of a hindrance in making the prose more creative and fluent.
That said, it’s also important to recognize that translating into English from a lyrical language such as Urdu is a real challenge, even for experienced translators – it’s nearly impossible to find the English equivalent of the metaphors, smileys, and proverbs generally used in Urdu.
Read also: An excerpt from the English translation of Rozhin
Abdullah Khan is a Mumbai-based writer, screenwriter, literary critic and banker. His debut novel, Patna Bluesit has been translated into nine languages.