“Patna Blues” is Abdullah Khan’s first novel. The background of the story is in Patna, a few small cities of North Bihar and the nearby rural areas. The main character, Arif, is preparing for the Civil Service Examination, which seems natural in Bihar’s background, because the passion among youth for government jobs, especially of civil service is being seen for a long time. Arif belongs to a lower middle-class Muslim family. His father is an employee in the Bihar Military Police. Arif wants to pass the civil service examination like a common Bihari youth. He is preparing this examination with an optional subject of Public Administration.
While preparing for the Civil Service examination, Arif meets a Hindu married woman, Sumitra. They meet several times for one or another reason. Their relationship turns into a love affair later. The author represents love as a natural act in youth. The author further tells that love doesn’t see caste and religion. Even love eliminates the human’s ability to think good and bad. Love may cross all boundaries, but being a sensible and responsible person, Arif doesn’t do like others. The author puts light on these aspects through Arif’s actions and activities. In the nineties and in the post period of the year 2000, the effects of religious and political incidents in the country have been incorporated in this novel, as well as the social status of that era has also been revealed. Whether it is a matter of implementing the Mandal Commission’s recommendation or the fall of the Babri Masjid, there is an incident of violence. The effect of all is lying deep on Bihar. The author narrates a gloomy state of affairs across the country arising out of reservation given to the backward class. Because of this, there was the youth’s movement occurs all over the country. The violence took place in a few places too. Patna was also not untouched by this fire. For taking the political mileage, a few people do traffic jam on roads of Patna. Arif and Sumitra stuck in such traffic jam while they were going to PMCH, a premier government hospital of Patna, for the urgent treatment of Sumitra’s father, but they somehow manage to get out of there. How a low middle-class family lives in a small house in Patna, how they welcome guest on regular basis, how they struggle to get harmony with guests, how a younger member of family controls their anger, resulting from regular adjustment etc. have beautifully depicted by the author. This is a story of every family of lower middle or middle class who reside away from Patna. As they still depend on Patna for the higher education and better healthcare, therefore, in case of emergency, they compel to live with their relatives due to low income. The novel also depicts the tension arising out of some incidents between Hindu-Sikh and Hindu-Muslims. The author has made a living depiction of how innocent people are killed in such incidents caused by tension in two communities. In such circumstances, the authors have well-painted how the common man’s sense of insecurity arises. The ongoing war between faith and unbelief in the story has been thoroughly analyzed. In the crowd, the faith is being killed and the person is seen as behaving like an animal. To make the story interesting and vibrant, the author takes the help of grandmother’s stories, idioms, folklore, myths, etc. These narratives play an important role in the life of a common man, particularly in rural areas. In rural life use of black magic, fear of witch, the terror of Panduba (a ghost who lives in water) Jinn, etc. are still alive. Without them, their life stories are incomplete.
Because of the deep affection of Arif’s brother Zakir in acting, he goes to Mumbai to try his luck, but he cannot get his destination even after several years of struggle. Then, he compelled to go to Delhi for his livelihood. After some time, police catch him in an impression of a terrorist. To find him, Arif and his father go to Delhi, but they do not get a clue of him. Thereafter, they come back to Patna. Years pass, but Zakir does not return home. After the loss of Zakir, Arif’s family becomes almost mad. Somehow, they manage to control their feeling. The author has painted in a poignant way to the sad and disturbing mood of this family. However, Zakir comes back home after leaving the clutches of the police. With this positive fact, the author is successful in delivering the message that human beings should never give up hope.
It seems that whatever the author has depicted, that he has received in life. Since the author’s background is of the lower middle-class family, so, he has kept the lower-middle class family in the centre of the story. The place mentioned in the novel, names, etc. are either matched with real names or have been depicted precisely, which make the story alive. The readers of Patna or Motihari or nearby may find the novel’s story factual because they are familiar with many places mentioned in the novel.
In nutshell, the story revolves around Arif, the civil service examination and Sumitra. The warp of the story has been woven from a love affair, passion towards passing Civil Service examination, social and political conflicts, etc., these look natural in the context of Bihar. The story flows like a river’s water from the beginning to the end. There is no boredom anywhere. Through the legendary story of the grandmother, the author has strengthened his story. It can be said that the author has succeeded in making his novel logical and interesting.
By Satish Singh