Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Reading: ALEEK MANUSH by Syed Mustafa Siraj (Bengali novel)

I have heard of this novel long since, but only recently had the chance to read it through. Gripping from the very first line, original and serious, it is a great read. I have enjoyed every page of the novel.

Based in Murshidabad, a backward and Muslim-dominated district of the then undivided Bengal – it offers  a vivid and real portrait of the Muslim cummunity of the time, divided by different religious cults and their leaders, and their multitude of suckers against the backdrop of independence struggle that was then brewing across Bengal. But I read into it a heart-wrenching love story between two pristine souls who by a streak of fate were never united.

Safi, the protagonist, was a rebel, and though born of an orthodox family – his father was a “pir”( a saint) -  left the family in school-going age, lived in different places, came in contact with different  learned men, and studied different religious texts,  literature and western philosophy to finally morph into an atheist.  He was greatly influenced by the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau and strongly believed that the state is a torture machine, the officers in the administration are complicit, and the police and the military are the state-owned hooligans.

Safi got to be a mythical hero in his own right. In course of his life, Safi murdered some notorious men and lived like a sage, attracting a huge following from both Hindu and Muslim communities. Finally, when he was going to kill his hypocrite father, someone called in the police and got him booked. He was subsequently tried and hanged. Massive crowds attended his cremation.

I’m not sure why the author calls him an “ALEEK”(unreal) man. He’s very much a flesh and blood creature, and even adorable despite his anarchist strait. His tumultuous life, so palpable without his dream womanRuku,  resonates long after I was done with the book.

 Translators, please take note: it’s a great literary novel that deserves your attention.

If you like ALEEK MANUSH, you may also like SHADOWLAND.


Anonymous said...

An exceptional masterpiece. Written in an unusual format...sometimes narrative, sometimes in direct speech, sometimes as a third person. Need extreme attention during reading because the style of writing is not for casual readers who are habituated to read thin paperbacks. But, for a professional 'book-worm' and those who has true respect for Bengali literature it is a must read. A great, great literary piece.

Abhijit Siraj said...

Aleek Manush has been translated in eleven Indian languages by National Book Trust. Sahitya Academy has published an English version (as "Mythical Man") of the novel which was translated by noted writer and critic Sudeshna Chakrabarty.

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