On Reading ‘Literary Selfies: Self Identity in Indian Muslim English Fiction’

It''s is an interesting Volume that explores different aspects of ‘Self Identity’ in Indian Muslim English Fiction Literature, published since 1940s

Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jul 5 2018 12:22AM | Updated Date: Jul 5 2018 12:22AM
On Reading ‘Literary Selfies: Self Identity in Indian Muslim English Fiction’

In the literary field, especially Urdu language, the Muslim Writers’ of the Sub-Continent have contributed a great deal of work in different genres—poetry, prose, fiction, novels, literary criticism, etc. Numerous works have been written on highlighting this contribution, since many decades. Among this galaxy of literary figures, there are very few writers’ who have contributed in English language as well; viz. Ahmed Ali (Twilight of Delhi), Attia Hossain (Sunlight on a Broken Column), Mumtaz Shah Nawaz (The Heart Divided), Qurratulain Hyder (River of Fire; A Woman’s Life; and Fireflies in the Mist), Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (Sultana’s Dream), Shama Futehally (Frontiers: Collected Stories), etc. However, there is no such work which highlights or explores this genre of literature, collectively and comprehensively.

In this backdrop, ‘Literary Selfies’—an Edited Volume by Prof. Abdur Raheem Kidwai (Aligarh Muslim University [AMU]) and Sherin Shervani (ELT Consultant)—explores different aspects of ‘Self Identity in Indian Muslim English Fiction’ by examining the works of above mentioned writers, and addresses the ‘question of self-representation by Indian Muslims in English fiction’, published since 1940s. Consisting of 13 chapters, this Volume also includes a ‘Foreword’ (pp. 14-20) by Prof. M. Asaduddin (Jamia Milia Islamia), and ends with an “Interview with Mr. Zafar H. Anjum” (Ch. 13, pp. 243-52). Written predominantly by the faculty members and researchers of Department of English, AMU, it examines and explores the literary works of the above mentioned Muslim writers to see how they have “represented their community in the literary space in different historical epochs” (p. 14; italics mine).

The Volume seeks to deal, among others, with the analysis and examination of the concerns like: the Muslim novelists’ construct of self-identity in Indian context; Muslims’ self- construal/ self-representation; cross-cultural-adaptation; resistance and/ or response to cultural hegemony; self-critique, etc. (pp. 7-8): and to these “prepositions”, the contributors “have responded, in their own ways and in varying degrees” (p. 8), by “using conceptual/ critical framework that seemed fruitful to them and suited their intellectual breadth, ideological preferences and academic sophistication” (p. 14).

Among these 12 Essays, the works of Hyder (Chapters 4, 6, 8, & 12), Ali (Ch. 2, 5 & 11), and Attia Hossian (Ch. 7 & 10) are the predominant voices focussed, analysed, and examined—though through diverse perspectives and points of view—in 9 chapters. The remaining chapters focus on the works of Shah Nawaz (Ch.1); Shama Futehally (Ch.3); and Rokeya Shakawat Hossain and Paul Scott (Ch. 9).

For instance, Sadaf Hussain (Ch.4) finds Hyder’s ‘A Woman’s Life’ as a “story of gender injustice faced by Muslim women because of the power politics involved in the men-women relationship in the society” (p. 97); Md. Sajidul Islam (Ch.6) attempts to present Hyder’s ‘Fireflies in the Mist’ as a “post-colonial epic that details the fervours of nationalist ideologies” (p. 143); A. R. Kidwai (Ch. 8) finds in Hyder’s extract “the inextricable link between the Indian Muslim thought patterns and the Aligarh Muslim University” (p. 166); and Kishwar Zafir (Ch.12) examines Hyder’s ‘River of Fire’ as a “story of life, love and longing” (p. 232), which is “a unique text” offering “the reader a vision of not only a multicultural country, but also beyond it” (p. 241).

Similarly, for Maryam Fatima (Ch.2), Ahmed Ali’s ‘Twilight of Delhi’ (1940) “constructs a retrospective historical arc connecting the events between 1911 and 1919 with 1857 in order to highlight historical continuity and rupture” (p. 45); for Rubina Iqbal (Ch.5), Ali’s novel attempts “to break” the silence of “misrepresentation of Muslim cultural and political history”, and thus rewrites “history from victim’s perspective” (p. 123); and for Sherin Shervani (Ch. 12), Twilight is “symbolic of the dying Muslim culture” which depicts “the intricate realities of the transitional lives of the people of Delhi” (p. 216).

Moreover, Taj Muhammad (Ch. 7) and Shehnoor Shan (Ch. 10) analyse and examine Attia Hossain’s ‘Sunlight on a Broken Column’ in which the protagonist (Laila) faces a great conflict in “balancing her two identities: Western and Eastern” (p. 145); and not only as “a partially autobiographical sketch” of the author, “but a true document of its times” (p. 214), respectively.

Faiza Abbasi (Ch.1) analyses Mumtaz Shah Nawaz’s ‘The Heart Divided’ as a “tale told with liberal streaks of the socio-political milieu of the time it is set in” (p. 21); Nazia Hasan (Ch.) carries out a comparison of the men-women roles, through the prism of “domesticity”, in the short storied of Shama Futehally, ‘Frontiers: Collected Stories’ (2006) revealing that “there is an urgent need to rethink domesticity”, which is prevalent even in the present society (p. 93); and Sujan Mondal (Ch. 9) focuses on, comparatively, the works of Rokeya Shakawat Hossain’s Sultana’s Dream and Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet: while Hossain’s work provides a glimpse of challenging “the established patriarchy” (p. 187), Scott’s work “fuses history with fiction” and thus provides a glimpse of “the colonial perception of the Muslims” (p. 175-6).

These 12 chapters are followed by an “Interview with Mr. Zafar H. Anjum” (Ch. 13): Zafar is an Indian-born Singapore-based journalist, author, poet, and is associated with Kitaab Publishing House, Singapore as well. In this interview he shares his views not only as an alumnus of AMU and as a “Diaspora writer and thinker”, but as a person who loves new ideas, fervours for literature and shows attachment with India (p. 245).

The only shortcomings of the Volume are as: that the works of Hyder, Ali, and Attia Hossian are discussed in many chapters, while other writers are given less space; and that there are no chapters on studying/ analysing these works comparatively, which would have added more beauty to the analysis and examination.

These shortcomings apart, Literary Selfies, as a whole, is a great contribution paving ways for exploring this rich legacy of Indian Muslim English writings, with special reference to Fiction and addressing the ‘question of self-representation’ by Indian Muslims. In sum, Literary Selfies is an interesting work and a great contribution which opens many vistas for further exploration and research in the Indian Muslim English writings of various genres. It will prove helpful not only to the students and scholars of Comparative Literature, and Cultural Studies, but will be equally profitable for those interesting in knowing the history, society, culture, and religious conditions of the epochs it covers.

The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC Pulwama, Kashmir. 

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