Review of Rohzin: The Three Sons of Rahman Abbas’ Novel Mumbai
Rohzine, a novel by Sahitya Academy Award-winning author Rahman Abbas, has an expansive canvas, with three parallel narrative threads running through it. The heart of this novel is a bildungsroman and a love story, a love story between a poor rustic boy with dreamy eyes, Asrar, and a melancholy townswoman from a wealthy family, Hina. The second thread deals with the question of the identity of Indian Muslims. The third is the story of Mumbai, delving deep 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 at a religious shrine and fall in love with each other. Hina is perpetually sad because her father betrayed her mother. She knows her father is a good human being but his inability to love his wife is something that eats her up inside and she can’t do anything about it. Asrar’s arrival in her life acts as a balm to her wounded soul as she discovers the magic of romantic love. And, Asrar on the other side is amazed by his feelings for Hina. He has already explored his sexuality by having an intimate relationship with his teacher Jameela Miss and then sleeping with Shanti, the prostitute. But, the spark he feels from being around Hina is entirely different – he doesn’t feel the need to be physically intimate with her to enjoy her 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 pure 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 is not only a romantic interest but also a kind of medicine for her ailing heart.
The climax of Asrar and Hina’s story is revealed in the very first line of the novel as the writer tells you it was the last day of their lives. But that doesn’t work as a spoiler – instead, it piques your interest and makes you curious to know who they are and what causes their tragic end.
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, particularly in the context of Indian Muslims. Here there is an attempt to dispel the myth that all Muslims are culturally and socially identical. And, throughout the novel, Abbas emphasizes the fact that in reality Muslims are as diverse as their Hindu counterparts, and despite their singular religious identity, they are not only divided according to caste, but that their languages, their food and their culture are also of a bewildering diversity.
Thus, the protagonist, Asrar, has a typical Marathi surname, Deshmukh. Many other characters have Gujarati, Marathi and Konkani surnames like Patel, Parker and Ghare etc. In other words, in a very subtle way, the author shows that the majority of Indian Muslims are also sons of the soil. It also implies that these surnames carry certain privileges. However, once the first names, which are predominantly Muslim, are revealed, these privileges disappear.
The third and final story thread is the story of Mumbai (and Bombay), and it introduces us to the different sides (some pleasant and some disturbing) of this storied city – the city that attracts many men and women, and then over time throws most of them into the dustbin of history. The city whose stomach festers with poverty, exploitation, crime and millions of lost dreams. But at the same time, the same city has the ability to turn a pauper into a prince overnight.
Reading this novel, one sometimes has the impression of reading that of Suketu Mehta Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Founda memorable non-fiction book about Mumbai, mostly because RohzineThe representation of the city is real and authentic. Moreover, with the descriptions of different localities, buildings and shrines, the author succeeded in evoking a sense of belonging. The use of magical realism coupled with mythological elements that range from a story about the patron goddess of the city Mumba Devi, to the mention of Djinns gives a surreal feel to the story. Yet Rozhin’s overarching narrative is grounded in reality, and the prose is flavored with modern sensibilities.
As a first-time translator, Sabika Abbas Naqvi has done a decent job. She tried to be as faithful as possible to the original text, which is a good thing, but in some places it becomes a kind of obstacle to making the prose more inventive and flowing.
That said, it’s important to also recognize that translating into English from a lyrical language like Urdu is quite a challenge, even for seasoned translators – it’s virtually impossible to find the English equivalent of metaphors, smileys and proverbs commonly used in Urdu.
Read also : An excerpt from the English translation of Rohzine
Abdullah Khan is a Mumbai-based novelist, screenwriter, literary critic and banker. His first novel, Patna Blueshas been translated into nine languages.