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M. Asaduddin

By Rahi Masoom Raza Translated into English by Meenakshi Shivram
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. xiv 132, Rs. 225.00


It was on a scorching day at Ahmedabad that I read Rahi Masoom Raza’s Topi Shukla in English translation. A friend who is a Gandhian scholar had driven some of us down to the Gandhi Ashram on the banks of Sabarmati river in the afternoon and was kind enough to take us around various spots hallowed by the memory of Mahatma Gandhi and his close associates. We had also joined in the prayer in the evening in which the main congregation was made of the “bhangi” children, as informed by the octogenarian Gandhian who led the prayer. These children stay in the hostel in the ashram, and, to our great shame, still shunned by the upper caste. The serenity that enveloped us, as it does when you seem to connect to a great soul was, however, rudely shattered when I sat down to a meal at night with a colleague, a member of a Prabashi Bengali family who has made Ahmedabad her home for several decades. When she introduced me to another guest at the table by saying, “he’s a fellow Bengali”, the person gave me a measured look and then blurted out, “But you’re a Muslim, aren’t you?” My friend later explained, “It seems it is only your religion or caste that matter to people here. You can’t get away by saying you are a Bengali when you have a Muslim name.” I know it is stupid to generalize in human situations from individual incidents, but it made me wonder when, if ever, would it be possible to live in India (or indeed, some other parts of the world) merely as a good human being, unencumbered by the accident of one’s birth into a particular religion or caste, on the basis of solidarities formed on the principle of decency and some fundamental human values.   The above question is germane to Rahi Masoom Raza’s Topi Shukla, published originally in Hindi in 1968. It is a shorter novel than his Adha Gaon (1968), commonly regarded as his fictional masterpiece, but on the same theme of Hindu-Muslim relationship. If Adha Gaon studied this relationship against the background of India’s Independence and growing Hindu-Muslim separatism, Topi Shukla examines the tenor of this relationship in post-Independence India. The novel is set in the early sixties of the twentieth century and its main actions take place, significantly, at Aligarh ...

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