Hindu ? Or Muslim ? Or a human-being before that ?

One of the biggest tragedies of human history – the partition of this great nation on the midnight of 14.08.1947 did not leave any winners except those vested interests which had their own axes to grind. Such vested interests included a sizable chunk of anti-social elements and criminals for whom this great tragedy was nothing short of a bonanza. But for all the humanists, all the sensitive beings and all the innocents, it was a nightmare whose wounds could never be healed and whose adverse effects continued for many generations to come after that generation which directly suffered from it.

Great Hindi litterateur Acharya Chatursen wrote a highly sensitive novel on the theme of Hindu-Muslim harmony, keeping a child at the centre of the story who was born without the formal marriage of his Muslim parents but fostered by a Hindu family. This small novel is a timeless classic. Several generations of Hindi readers have read it and several generations will read it in future also. It’s Dharmaputra.925704397sDharmaputra (deemed son) starts with the visit of an erstwhile king Nawaab Mushtaq Ahmed Saalaar Jung Bahadur to the clinic of Dr. Amrit Rai who is the son of his close friend Late Bansgopal Rai. Nawaab Mushtaq Ahmed had only sponsored the education of his friend’s son and Dr. Amrit Rai has always been very much willing to meet this benevolent gentleman who’s also the close friend of his father.

This is the period of British rule in India. Nawaab has approached Dr. Amrit Rai to seek his help to shoot an acute personal trouble. His granddaughter Husnbanu has got pregnant without marriage. Her parents are dead and Nawaab has fixed her matrimonial alliance with Nawaab Wazir Ali Khan. Abortion was illegal in those days (in fact, it was not legalized till as late as in 1972) and to get rid of this problem, Husnbanu’s grandfather has approached Dr. Amrit Rai with a proposal. The proposal is to consider Husnbanu’s child as his own child and foster him like that only with the world never coming to know the truth.

Dr. Amrit Rai is hesitant to accept the proposal which is lucrative also because the child’s great-grandfather would be giving a huge wealth to him. Nawaab appeals to his friendship with the doctor’s deceased father plus the doctor himself feels to be indebted to Nawaab. He consults his wife also and both of them finally accept the proposal after meeting Husnbanu. Dr. Amrit Rai and his wife are not having any issues by that time and they get involved in this drama staged for the outside world. Husnbanu’s child is declared as their own child, their very first and the eldest child. After that they beget three children of their own in later years – two sons and a daughter. The siblings grow up together with different personalities without knowing that the eldest one of them is actually the Dharmputra of their parents and a Muslim by birth. On the other hand, Husnbanu gets married according to her grandpa’s wish, parting with her son, giving him to the Hindu family of Dr. Amrit Rai.

Years pass. The nationalist movement mainly under the stewardship of Indian National Congress has gained momentum in the country. Nawaab Mushtaq Ahmed is dead long back and Husnbanu has also become a widow. Dr. Amrit Rai and his wife have entered the world of the elderly people whereas their children have entered the state of youth. The eldest son is Dilip who is actually the son of Husnbanu and a Muslim by birth. Quite contrary to the blood flowing in his veins, he has turned into a staunch Hindu nationalist. The second son in this family is Sushil who follows communist ideology. The youngest son is Shishir who is a congressman. The boys have become graduates whereas their younger sister Karuna is studying medicine in the Lady Harding College of Delhi where the main story is set. She is a humanist, filled with love and kindness for the whole mankind and even the non-human creatures.

Despite following different ideologies, the children share a lot of love among them and that’s the matter of great pleasure for their parents. The twist in this story arrives when Dilip’s matrimonial alliance is discussed with a girl – Maya. Dilip refuses for that without seeing Maya which is also not in line with his parents’ wish. However when he happens to meet Maya in person, he immediately loses his heart to her and just like the proverbial love at first sight, Maya also gets hit by the cupid’s arrow. Now the story moves through many twists including the dilemma of Dilip’s fostering parents as to whether to get this boy married to a Hindu girl. The Quit India Movement takes place in August 1942 and Dilip’s younger brother Shishir gets arrested alongwith several other followers of Gandhiji. Dilip hates Congress and terms Gandhiji as ‘Hindu Mulla’ but the call of brother’s love instigates him to follow his path only and he also gets arrested.

As the hour of political independence comes nearer and nearer, the streets of this great country start witnessing bloodshed, rapes, destruction of property and what not due to the tension between the Hindu and the Muslim communities. Partition of the country is now on the cards but Jinnah’s so-called direct action has already sent the nation into disarray with all kinds of heinous crimes being committed by the goons against the innocents becoming the order of the day. Communal riots ravage the entire nation. Dilip and Shishir have already got released from jail but India is no longer the India they used to see a few years back. Now the British are not the common enemy for the Hindus and the Muslims. Now they have become sworn enemies of each other.

And then Husnbanu, the biological mother of Dilip happens to come across the family of Dr. Amrit Rai after a long span of 28 years. She has left the home of her deceased husband and now living in the mansion of her grandpa only alongwith two old faithful servants of the family. And the day comes when Dilip leads the mob of rioters to her residence in order to set the house on fire and kill the Muslim residents of that. For the first time, the mother sees her grown-up son who has come to kill her only because of her religious faith. What happens thereafter is the conclusion of the story.indexAcharya Chatursen has been a great humanist. He has deeply understood both the Hinduism and the Islam and grasped the essence of the communal happenings in the country in that period. Dharmaputra is nothing but the expression of his own thoughts and sentiments in this regard. Whatever happens in the story and whatever is asserted by the different characters of it, is nothing but the vision and feelings of the author only. A hint of his anti-Ambedkar ideology is also there in the novel.

The entire novel is filled with tender feelings and humanism. How relationships can emerge and how human-beings of opposite sexes can feel attracted to one another (with or without expression of the respective feelings) has been portrayed quite emphatically. The author has not been hesitant in penning that Dr. Amrit Rai himself gets attracted to Husnbanu after meeting her despite himself being already married and herself being pregnant plus going to be married. Love among siblings is also a highlight of this novel.

Through the character of Maya and the reaction of herself as well as her parents to first Dilip’s refusal for the matrimonial alliance and thereafter an alternative proposal from the side of Dilip’s parents, the author has subtly underscored the issue of a girl’s self-respect in the matrimonial developments. He has also referred to the outdated thinking of the Indian society in that period when someone going abroad was considered as outcast in his community.

The climax in which Rangmahal (Husnbanu’s residence) is set on fire by the rioters led by Dilip is damn sensational and the skilled author has made the readers feel as if they were witnessing that spine-chilling sequence with own eyes.

The principal characters have been developed quite effectively. However the characters of Husnbanu’s husband and his wives (whom he had married prior to marrying Husnbanu) are caricaturistic. These and certain other characters are superfluous also.

This novel is available in its full version as well as somewhat abridged version and fortunately, I have read both of them. The abridged version is much better because it does away with certain unwanted characters as well as some superfluous episodes and focusses on the theme only. This version can be termed as a novella instead of a novel.

The seasoned author has drawn the scenario as prevailing in India in the pre-independence period and also during the partition times quite effectively on the pages of the novel, allowing the readers to have a glimpse into that bygone era.

Quite different from Acharyaji’s other works, Dharmaputra has not been written in Sanskritized and refined Hindi. Instead lingua franca has been used throughout the book. Urdu words have been used aplenty and on the whole, the language appears to be something which can satisfy both the layman and the purist.

B.R. Films made a movie on this novel in 1961 which was directed by Yash Chopra with Shashi Kapoor being cast in the lead role of Dilip. However the filmmaker could not do justice to the book. The script of the movie is different from the novel in several ways and highlights the lack of guts in the Indian filmmakers to assert certain things due to fear of backlash from some section of the society. That’s why the movie is a letdown and it’s better to read the novel which is far superior to that.

While recommending this great novel to all the literature-lovers, I put one question before all – Is it necessary to belong to some religion ? Why is there a column in various forms asking for the applicant’s religious faith ? Can’t a person be allowed to rise above being a Hindu or a Muslim or likewise and live like just a human-being, a true human-being who does not discriminate between persons on the basis of their religious faith or social strata or class or race or culture or likewise ?

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
This entry was posted in Book Review and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Hindu ? Or Muslim ? Or a human-being before that ?

  1. shwetadave09 says:

    What a strong storyline, is the book written in English too? I would not be keen on watching the movie but reading it to absorb the emotions.

    • jmathur says:

      Heartfelt thanks to you Shweta Ji. Considering the fact that it’s a famous book of an eminent Hindi litterateur, English version also must be available. We’ll have to check.

  2. Your review raises as many questions as did the novel. Very pertinent question at the end – why not abolish those columns where they ask about your religion. Even if it is there why not make it optional.

    • jmathur says:

      This question has always disturbed me Durga Prasad Ji. At least, as you have rightly said, the govt. departments should made filling of the religion column optional.

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