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Of an Age Gone By

Navtej Sarna

Edited by Suresh Kohli
Harper Perennial, New Delhi, India, 2011, pp. 226, Rs.299.00


Reading the short stories of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas in the India of today-the emerging, global economy of enviable GDP growth, free market enterprise, bustling shopping malls-is a sobering exercise. They remind one of another India, the black and white India of the early Nehruvian years when the idealism of nation-building was more in evidence though often found bleeding on the jagged edges of poverty and deprivation, resistant feudalism, inequalities and the divides of caste and religion. It was a time when socialism was not a derided philosophy and when normal households regularly read journals called Current and Blitz. That was a time when you got bought only one type of Bata leather shoes for school and home alike and one type of 'fleet' shoes no matter what game you played. If you were lucky, the family had one Fiat car which would last the owner's lifetime, a precious Kelvinator fridge and a wonder called a pressure cooker. There were five-year plans, Films Division documentaries, large dams, ration shops and long waits for the big black telephone. Not to say that this other india, at least in its essence, has vanished; it exists, and is somewhat patronizingly referred to by stylish TV anchors as 'Bharat'. But it certainly does not have centre stage in our consciousness or in our writing today. And one wonders where Abbas, who wrote for the last page of Blitz for a straight forty years, would have published today and whether his stories would have been dismissed as being 'so aam aadmi.' Suresh Kohli has therefore done a stellar service in resurrecting a selection of the stories of K.A. Abbas for the modern reader before the writer is completely forgotten. As Kohli says in his introduction, Abbas's 'handful of insightful novels, considerable repertoire of seemingly simple yet intense short stories, his record-breaking, crusading journalism, a number of films inspired by the neo-realist school, all seemed to have been confined to the dark abyss of history'. Much of the credit for his idealistic and passionate screenplays has gone to others like V. Shantaram (Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani) and Raj Kapoor (stories for Awara, Shree 420, Bobby). Of his films, only Saat Hindustani is remembered today, and that too because it was in that film that Amitabh Bachchan made his screen debut. In this volume, which clearly comes across as a labour of love, Kohli has added ...

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