Eid Mubarak. May Allah shower blessings upon you and your family. Ameen.
Today marks the end of Ramadan, but it also marks one week since Israeli forces illegally entered the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. Since then, the Western-backed colonial state of Israel has placed Masjid al-Aqsa (the third holiest site in Islamic tradition) under siege, launched missiles into the Gaza strip, and continued the sadistic process of ethnic cleansing it began in 1948.
At this point in the 73-year-old conflict, there is no longer room for sitting on the fence. You’re either on the side of a fascist state armed with one of the world’s most powerful militaries or that of a native population that has been subject to the same brutal treatment enacted upon the Jewish people of Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, the world’s governments have chosen to remain largely silent on the genocide currently taking place in one of the world’s holiest lands.
As Muslims across the world wake up today to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, Palestinians will be waking up to mourn the loss of their daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, cousins, aunties, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends, and colleagues. So far, at the time of writing, a total of 17 children have been killed by the Israeli “Defence” Force. None of these children asked to be born into this conflict. None of these children were combatants. The only crime they committed, at least according to the Zionist apartheid State of Israel, was their mere existence.
For many of us, today will not be the happy Eid of years past but rather a solemn one. While we greet friends and relatives with smiles and break bread with our brothers and sisters, our hearts will be torn as we remember those that do not have this privilege. In many ways, this Ramadan has been a test for all of us but none quite like that for the people of Palestine.
However, it is important to remember that no matter how grim things may seem right now, whether in Palestine, Kashmir, Xinjiang, Myanmar or elsewhere, there is always hope. Indeed to lose all hope is to lose your belief in Allah. As for those who have lost their lives, let us remember that they are not really lost at all.
With one last burst of courage, Captain Robertson swiftly slipped into the room, pistol raised, to find a figure by the window dressed in black as thick as the midnight sky. He was ready to open fire, but something made him hesitate. Unsure of whether it was his keen intuition or if he’d just been out of practice, the Captain decided to go with his gut instinct and held off from pulling the trigger. After the confusing day he just had, he wasn’t sure if he could trust his head anymore. And oh boy, was he glad he did, for the figure dressed in black was none other than the Eighth Duke of Argyll with his bright orange hair being the only splash of colour to his otherwise rather dull attire. “Bloody hell! Put the gun down!” hissed the Duke. Captain Robertson realised he still had his pistol levelled with the Duke’s chest and quickly returned it to its holster, “My apologies, Mr Secretary. I’m rather on edge today.” “Indeed. I’ve read the reports. It seems that our friend, Mr Dame, hasn’t been entirely honest with us, doesn’t it?” Captain Robertson didn’t answer but didn’t object either. It was somewhat true. He’d been running around with Mr Daim for nearly a month now, and everything he knew about him was dwarfed by what he didn’t. “We believe it’s time you were filled in on what’s been going on, Captain,” continued the Duke, “and by we, I mean the Prime Minister, the Viceroy and I, but first, why don’t you recount the events of the past few weeks. And please, don’t leave out any details, no matter how absurd they may seem.”
While the Captain conversed with the Secretary of State for India, Mr Daim was downstairs in his hotel room preparing the vial containing Spring-Heeled Jack’s residual aura. He started by removing the vial from the coat that Captain Robertson had lent him. Unlike his companion, Mr Daim could see the aura swirling about inside, a light pinkish-red vapour like the petals of a rose found in the gardens of Damascus. He gave it a quick but gentle flick of the finger. Satisfied with the way the pinkish-red vapour dissipated then coalesced, Mr Daim moved onto the second stage of this well-practised procedure. Grabbing his battered old briefcase from the opposite side of the room, he unbuckled the clip and rummaged around inside. There, nestled between Hafez and Ghalib, was an old compass, so old it could be no younger than five centuries, so old it was engraved with symbols whose meaning was remembered only by those who engraved it. Mr Daim carefully removed the crystalline glass cover protecting the glinting metal needle beneath, the only part of the device that hadn’t succumb to rust. It was really time Mr Daim got his hands on a new one, but this particular compass had been given to him by a dear friend. Or was it a lover? Truth be told, it was so long ago he couldn’t remember the exact status of the relationship, but he could still feel the remnants of the affinity he had for this long lost person and so opted to hold on to it. At least until it stopped functioning or fate forced him to part with it. The final part of the well-practised procedure was the one that required the most concentration. Mr Daim placed the compass in the centre of the oak desk beneath the mirror opposite his bed. He looked into the eyes of his reflection, then down to the sprangled inky hairs of his unkempt beard and decided that he’d commit himself to a grooming session before bed, but first, he had to focus his mind and free it from the distractions of the material existence. Firmly gripping the glass vial, Mr Daim began chanting in a language unknown to the Children of Adam. Continuing the incantations, he tightened his grip shattering the vial into a thousand tiny pieces. The pinkish-red vapour tried to escape but was trapped by the prison that was Mr Daim’s clenched fist. Any small fragments that tried to escape through his fingers were forced back in by the rhythm and tempo of his incessant chant. The vapour suddenly expanded, engulfing the entirety of Mr Daim’s fist, the pinkish-red now a deep burning purple, but this didn’t interrupt the sweet melody of his tongue. With the vapour reaching a fever pitch, Mr Daim hurled it into the compass, firmly sealing it shut with the crystalline cover. With nowhere left to go, the aura began aggressively swirling around inside the compass like the wheels of the steam engines back in India before being sucked directly into the compass needle itself. It was only once all the vapour was consumed, the needle a glistening violet, that Mr Daim ceased his incessant chanting. He tapped the crystalline glass cover twice, and the needle began spinning rapidly before grinding to a complete halt; however, this time, it wasn’t facing the magnetic north but rather in the direction of his quarry: Spring-Heeled Jack. Convinced everything was in working order, Mr Daim removed a bar of shaving soap and razor from his battered old briefcase and went about his long-overdue grooming session.
Meanwhile, upstairs, Captain Robertson’s jumbled thoughts were finally ordered into something a little more coherent. The mental fogginess that had been plaguing him since he left Lahore for London had faded away, leaving him with a crystal-clear picture of everything that had happened since he met the mysterious Mr Daim. Anything he couldn’t rationalise was packed away in a box labelled “lunacy” and shelved in the recesses of his mind. He was just glad to finally have someone to talk to. Someone who’d actually listen to him and give him straightforward answers. A welcome break from the ambiguity of Mr Daim. As it turns out, the Eighth Duke of Argyll and his associates, the Prime Minister and the Viceroy, had been keeping tabs on Mr Daim for over a year now. Rumours of an individual possessing extraordinary abilities had been circulating around Lahore for weeks in the monsoon of eighteen sixty-nine. Of course, these sorts of rumours were commonplace in India. Still, they had to be investigated nonetheless should the individual in question utilise the superstition surrounding them to rile up the discontents. After the events of the Mutiny, Lord Mayo, the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, wasn’t taking any chances. He immediately put Mr Daim under temporary surveillance, as was routine protocol, until it could be determined the size of the threat he posed to the British Raj. Expecting Mr Daim to be deemed a none-threat, it came as quite a surprise when reports started piling in about a disturbance in one of the city’s outlying villages…
The monsoon had arrived late this year but arrived it did, and to the people of Mallianwala, it was most welcome. Harpreet was worried. Local merchants had been speaking of famines to the south. Famines meant food would become unaffordable and unaffordable food meant Harpreet and her family would go hungry. But luckily, by the grace of Waheguru, the famines to the south were halted by the cascading rains that blessed the boundless Indo-Gangetic plains of Northern India. No, Harpreet was worried for an entirely different reason. Aamir, the older brother of Harpreet’s best friend Zainab, was seriously ill. The whole of Mallianwala could hear his panicked wailing at unseemly hours of the night. The first time it happened, Harpreet had mistaken the pain-stricken cries for the local Muezzin. Now it had been a week since, and the poor boy was still unwell. According to Zainab, he had even become uncontrollably violent, forcing her father to make the difficult decision to confine Aamir to his room. Harpreet had never talked with Aamir at great length. Like most of Mallianwala’s Muslim population, Aamir and his father worked for Harpreet’s father. The daughter of a Sikh landowner conversing with the son of a Muslim peasant would be the scandal of the decade, but that didn’t stop Harpreet from catching a glimpse of the muscular boy with black wavy hair whenever she could. In the real world, a Muslim would never marry a Sikh. However, the real world didn’t apply to Harpreet’s fantasies. And so, when Zainab told Harpreet about her brother’s condition, it was Harpreet herself who pleaded on Zainab’s behalf, asking her father to see what he could do for the boy. As always, Harpreet’s father gave in to the demands of his princess. That very evening, Harpreet’s father called a village meeting. Women weren’t allowed to attend these meetings but seeing as it was being held in her family’s yard, Harpreet eavesdropped from her bedroom. The local Mullah had concluded that Aamir was possessed by Jinn, evidenced by the scars that ran down his cheek after being scratched for reciting his holy book. The men decided that the best course of action would be for Aamir’s father to travel to the city in search of an exorcist. Harpreet’s father generously agreed to accompany him and cover the costs of the journey. They set out the following morning and returned by nightfall. It wasn’t every day that something this eventful occurred, and nearly the entire village had gathered to witness the exorcism. Harpreet could even spot a few unfamiliar faces in the crowd. Intrigued spectators from some of the neighbouring villages, perhaps. Children watched from the rooftops while men and women crowded around the wall demarking the boundary between the private domain of Zainab’s family and the public domain of Mallianwala. Fortunately, with the help of Zainab, Harpreet was able to sneak in and get the best view in the house: a small window located in the far corner of Aamir’s room. Harpreet watched Aamir lying face down on his charpai as his father, her father, and the Mullah entered the room along with a fourth man she didn’t recognise. Harpreet deduced that he was the Exorcist her father went to fetch. Aamir let out a long inhuman groan that almost sounded like the whimper of a wounded wolf. Aamir’s mother, who was standing by the door, tried rushing into the room to tend to her only son but was subsequently shooed away by her husband. The Mullah began reciting something in Arabic under his breath which started to rouse the sleeping Aamir. The four men surrounded the charpai, ready for anything that might happen. Suddenly, Aamir’s back arched upwards, and his head slowly turned towards the newcomer. Harpreet gasped. Aamir’s eyes were no longer the beautiful bright hazel she was used to but instead a deep crimson red like the blood of a slaughtered animal. His pupils were absent, making it impossible to tell what it was he was looking at. For all she knew, he could be staring directly at her. Or rather, it was staring directly at her. This was no longer the muscular boy with the black wavy hair but something else entirely – a demon. The Demon began to slowly uncurl itself and rise up, like a puppet being lifted by its head, its limbs hanging limp in the candle-lit room until it was levitating two inches above the charpai staring down at the four men. Sweat trickled down the side of Harpreet’s face. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Fear forced her eyelids open and froze her to the spot. The Demon started talking in a language Harpreet had never heard Aamir speak before. A language nobody had spoken before. Except for the Exorcist, for he not only understood what the Demon was saying but was speaking back to it in the same strange language. Harpreet had visited the city often, but she’d never heard a language with a melody quite like this. Everyone was startled yet entirely engrossed in the conversation they couldn’t understand. Even the Mullah’s attention was stolen away from his recitation as he remained fixated on the creature that stood before him. The Exorcist and the Demon that was not quite Aamir went back and forth like this for several minutes. All was silent save for the whispers travelling through the gathering crowd, the gentle whistling of the wind passing through the trees, a clap of thunder in the far distance and the pitter-patter of the monsoon rain slapping against the ground. The Exorcist let out a sigh of disappointment, the kind of sigh one let out when their hand is forced. With a nod, each father grabbed one of the Demon’s arms, dragging him off the charpai and onto his knees before the Exorcist. The Demon let out a blood-curdling laugh that reverberated loudly into the midnight sky, blowing out the candles, bathing everything in the moon’s glow. The Exorcist folded up his sleeve, concentration etched into the wrinkles of his face as he forced his hand down the Demon’s throat as it began to violently choke. To Harpreet’s amazement, the Exorcist was almost elbow-deep, something that should have been impossible unless he was able to shrink his own arm on demand. She was either dreaming, or her eyes were deceiving her. The thing began trying to shake free, struggling against Harpreet’s father’s tight inescapable grip, but it proved futile. The Exorcist began to pull his arm back out, dragging the Demon along with it. Now that it was removed from Aamir’s body, the Demon looked like a dark cloud, and it let out a deafening shriek as it attempted to resist the Exorcist’s grip. Meanwhile, Aamir fell unconscious at the foot of the charpai, his father by his side. The Exorcist walked towards the window, the same one Harpreet and Zainab were crouched behind, the shrieking cloud in hand. As he got closer, Harpreet could finally make out what looked like a face with the sharp teeth and pointed ears of a cat. Once the Exorcist reached the window, he launched the dark cloud up towards the sky, Harpreet and Zainab ducking to avoid the ungodly monstrosity. As the shrieking faded away into the distance, so too did the fear and tension of the past week. The ordeal was finally over.
“And you’re sure this is all true?” Asked Captain Robertson. “It was witnessed by one of our own. The same officer that was assigned to keep an eye on our friend, in fact. An Englishman, so I’m certain we can trust his rational judgement. If it was an Indian, I’d be sceptical too,” verified the Duke. “I see… so what of Spring-Heeled Jack?” “That’s what we’re trying to find out. Gladstone says whatever he is, it must have something to do with Mr Dame, hence why he ordered the Viceroy to bring him here.” “So where do I fit in in all this?” “You’re the most important part, Captain. We need you to gain as much information as you can about our friend, Mr Dame, and see if there is indeed a link between him and Spring-Heeled Jack. In essence, your orders are to spy on him. I didn’t tell you this before because I wanted to see, for myself, if the reports were true. Today’s events proved that.” It was all made clear now. Captain Robertson wasn’t just being brought home to be put on guard duty but was instead being made part of something far greater. But did he really have it in him to be a spy? And could he really betray his friend’s trust? “Is that clear, Captain?” “Yes, Mr Secretary.”
Book #18 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.
If you’d been following this blog for a while, you’d know that I’m big on comic books. If you’d been paying attention, then you’d also know that one of my favourite characters is Kamala Khan, a.k.a Ms Marvel, created by G. Willow Wilson. This is what led me to my most recent read: Alif the Unseen.
The novel is set in a fictional city, aptly named “the City”, somewhere along the Persian Gulf. A heavily stratified society ruled by an elite Arab aristocracy with large immigrant populations from all over the world (think Dubai or Riyadh). It is amongst the cultural amalgamation of Baqara District where imported labour from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and the lesser Arab states live side by side that we find our protagonist: Alif.
Alif is a computer hacker; his services available to the highest bidder, whether they be the Islamists, the Communists, or the Feminists. As long as they’re against the regime, it doesn’t matter to him. Together, Alif and his computer hacking friends do everything they can to get back at the censors. A quasi-digital revolution, you could say. Unfortunately, this kind of life doesn’t come without its risks, and the infamous Hand (man? computer program? both?) is always on the prowl for anyone that dares defy the state authorities.
Everything was going to plan for Alif until the day his illicit girlfriend, Intisar, decides to break up with him after being betrothed to a member of the royal family. Crushed, Alif chooses to do what he does best, creating a computer program designed to recognise an individual by decoding their behavioural writing patterns. All so he can block Intisar from ever reaching him again (a bit excessive if you ask me). Of course, this kind of program could have disastrous consequences for Alif and the revolutionaries should it end up in the hands of the state. Which it does.
Now on the run from state authorities with his neighbour Dina, Alif comes across a mysterious book called the Alf Yeom (the Djinn’s equivalent of The One Thousand and One Nights). This opens up a new world to Alif as he straddles the line between the world of man and Djinn in his race to put a stop to the Hand. A fugitive on the run, Alif is about to be at the centre of events that will shock the City to its very core.
Willow G. Wilson creates a vibrant world filled with everything you could ask for in an action-adventure novel: Romance, Revolution, Magic, Technology, and, my personal favourite, Djinn. Not only that but Wilson also talks extensively about Islamic theology and highlights issues that are prevalent in the Muslim community with nuance and complexity in a way that doesn’t detract from the story.
Take, for example, the character referred to as “the convert”, an American woman that reverted to Islam and works at Al-Basheera University located in the Old Quarter. An American revert herself, Wilson details a few of the struggles that new members of the Muslim community face from their coreligionists through the convert’s interactions with Alif, Dina and the rest of the uniquely interesting characters that make up her novel. My favourite character being Vikram the Vampire, Alif’s Djinn protector, with his quick wit and constant banter about the fragility of beni adam.
I highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a story that blends the seen with the unseen. Whenever I think of modern Islamic literature and fiction, this is what will come to mind. Many philosophical quandaries are proposed throughout this work, from the Qur’an and its relationship with quantum computing to the all-important question of whether it’s haram to consume virtual pork in a video game. I will most definitely be adding this to my personal canon. Highly entertaining.
The first thing to hit Captain Robertson was the pungently repugnant smell. The second was the abhorrent sight of what he believed used to be someone’s face. The third was the burning sensation of bile creeping up his oesophagus. The fourth was the sound of the Lorne sausages he had for breakfast splatting against the pavement. The fifth was the bitter aftertaste left in his mouth as he pulled out his handkerchief to plug his nose and wipe his brow. Whilst serving in China, Captain Robertson had spent time in an infirmary as men of red with holes in their chests were carried out in stretchers of white in wailing fright. To this day, he had yet to distinguish the red of their coats from the red of their blood. But even the carnage in the aftermath of battle wasn’t enough to prepare him for the brutal fate that befell the poor sod lying before him in that hazy alleyway somewhere in the soot-smothered East End. Mr Daim crouched down beside the body and muttered a few words. Words that he had repeated many times in his long life. Words that Captain Robertson could understand but in a language the Scotsman couldn’t recognise. “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.” And so, as the angel Azrael guided the soul on its journey to the afterlife, our duo were left to ponder what had happened to its now vacant vessel. According to the officers, who had set up the cordon, the body was estimated to have walked the Earth for a grand total of eighteen years before it was left lying limp in a back alley amongst all manner of gutter trash one would expect to find littering the streets of London. It wasn’t uncommon to see unnamed labourers lying dead in unmarked alleyways. What was uncommon, however, was the nature in which this particular labourer met his fate. Not a victim of the endless march of industrial progress but instead something far more sinister, far more gruesome. “Ghul.” “What was that?” asked Captain Robertson, the handkerchief muffling his voice. “Ghul. The being that killed this young man was a ghul,” answered Mr Daim as he carefully examined the deep gashes that mutilated the body’s face. “A Ghoul?” “Jinn that try to intrude on the heavens but are struck by comets for their transgression. They are condemned to walk the Earth for eternity driven mad with insanity.” “Genie? Like in the Arabian Nights?” “Those are children tales, my friend. But believe me, the Jinn are more real than you know, and whatever did this was one of them.” “So you mean to tell me that Spring-Heeled Jack, the criminal who’s been giving us the runaround this past week, is actually a genie gone mad?” “Yes, Jack is a ghul. If he was scum and villainy of the regular sort, you wouldn’t have been tasked with bringing me here all the way from Lahore.” Captain Robertson wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. Genies and ghouls were the work of fiction. Mr Daim was treating them as fact. On their journeys, he had come to accept that the mysterious Mr Daim was a keeper of great wisdom. However, this bordered on lunacy. “Are you sure you’re not just messing with me?” “Well, I could be wrong. It may have been a mardykhor that murdered this poor child but last I heard, they were hunted to extinction by the Sasanians. Not to mention this climate is far too cold.”
The pair were finishing up with their perusal when they heard the sounds of commotion coming from the cordon. Captain Robertson went to see what was happening while Mr Daim remained to tend to the body. After covering what was left of the young man in a white shawl, Mr Daim left the hazy alleyway to find Commissioner Henderson giving his officers a bollocking. “With all due respect, sir, they had permits signed by the Indian Secretary himself.” “I don’t care who signed those documents, sergeant. This is the city of London, not the backwater slums of Delhi. No one is permitted to interfere in police business without my say so. IS THAT CLEAR, SERGEANT?!” Commissioner Henderson admonished the officer who replied with a sheepish yes, sir though you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming the Commissioner preferred to be addressed as sire. He now had his sights set on Mr Daim, “well, if it isn’t the Indian faqir himself. I don’t recall giving you permission to operate in this area. In fact, if I remember clearly, Mr D, I said quite the contrary. I should have you arrested.” “You will do no such thing. Mr Daim is under my protection and authorised to work here by order of Her Majesty the Queen. You lay a finger on him, and you’ll have to deal with me,” Captain Robertson chimed in to defend his charge. “Are you seriously going to take sides with this Mohammedan? Disappointing. I expected more from a fellow member of the British Armed Forces,” scoffed Commissioner Henderson. “Unlike you, I actually saw combat, so I wouldn’t test me if I were in your shoes.” Captain Robertson was in his face now. “Is that a threat, Captain? Are you threatening an officer of the law? I should have you both arrested. Officers! Arrest them!” The officers reluctantly obliged, stepping towards Captain Robertson with their batons in hand. The veteran was already bouncing on his toes, ready for a fight, when Mr Daim suddenly appeared beside the Commissioner, firmly gripping his wrist. Locking eyes with his adversary, he sternly dictated the following: “By the power of the Jinn, as ordained by the almighty, I hereby order thou Child of Adam to let us depart freely from this place without molestation.” Captain Henderson stopped his struggling, staring straight ahead as though he was hypnotised and gave his men the order to stand down in a dreary, monotonous tone. No inflexion. No intonation. Confused though they were, the officers were thankful they needn’t have to apprehend a member of the British Armed Forces. After all, they were civilian police, not military police. “Hurry. We must leave. This only works for a few moments,” Mr Daim briskly led the way, the dumbfounded Captain Robertson trailing behind. “What in the hell was that?” “You shouldn’t refer to the place of punishment for evildoers when asking for an explanation.” “Oh, right. Sorry about that,” Captain Robertson apologised and waited for elaboration. Realising none was coming, he continued, “so are you going to explain what just happened?” “As I said before, you will not be able to fully grasp the extent of my talents.” “I guess I should take that as a no then.” “You should.”
The Tea House
That evening, the pair found themselves in one of London’s many premier tea houses, the kind diplomats would use to host foreign dignitaries. Tea had only arrived on the British Isles two centuries prior and had since taken Britannia by storm. Everyone from pauper to prince relished the piping hot beverage that travelled all the way from China, and soon it came to represent the quintessence of British culture. Ever-present at their greatest victories as well as most embarrassing defeats. Some even went as far as to say that to defeat an Englishman, all one must do is dump his tea in the sea. To Mr Daim, tea was just another drink in a long list of drinks consumed by mankind from the mead of the ancients to the sherbet of the shahanshahs. “Would you like something to eat, Mr Daim?” asked Captain Robertson as he scanned through the menu. He hadn’t eaten anything since those Lorne sausages he had for breakfast. Of course, they were now splattered all over a hazy alleyway somewhere in the soot-smothered East End. “No, thank you,” replied Mr Daim whilst jotting down some squiggles into a brown leather notebook. At least that’s what it looked like to Captain Robertson. To Mr Daim, it was Persian. “So where do we go from here?” “You may order what you please. I do not find myself currently in need of sustenance.” “You know that’s not what I meant.” Mr Daim let out a long-drawn-out sigh, the kind an irritated father would when tired of their infant’s endless stream of inquiries and shut his notebook closed before giving Captain Robertson his full attention. He knew the veteran needed answers. The man had just witnessed something that defied the boundaries of his limited knowledge. Like the Mayans when they were confronted with fire-breathing Spaniards riding atop strange four-legged beasts. This wasn’t the first time Mr Daim found himself with a gobsmacked companion. It always happened the same way. In the heat of the moment, Mr Daim would brashly call upon one of his abilities, usually to get them out of a situation brought about by said companion, leaving them confounded and in need of answers. There was no sure-fire way to give them answers without shattering their very perceptions of the material world. Up until now, Mr Daim had been putting off the inevitable. So he decided this time he’d just try answering the Captain’s questions as straightforwardly as possible without confusing him any further. “What is it you wish to know?” Realising he could finally get some answers out of the mysterious Mr Daim, Captain Robertson put down the menu, crossing his arms, “so according to you, genies are real?” “Yes.” “And Spring-Heeled Jack is one such genie?” “Yes.” “So, where is his lamp?” Mr Daim burst out laughing, breaking the quiet, relaxed atmosphere of the teahouse and drawing the attention of their fellow diners. One such diner in a black bowler cap, complete with a golden monocle and bristly mutton chops representing the pinnacle of English sensibilities, loudly coughed and shook his newspaper to indicate his disapproval. Captain Robertson was beginning to feel like a fool. “Oh wow. That’s a new one indeed,” Mr Daim wheezed with laughter before collecting himself together, “not all Jinn live in lamps, my friend. That went out of fashion centuries ago.” “I see that now. So how are we going to stop him? We barely got anything from the crime scene before that bastard Henderson showed up.” “Relax. You needn’t worry, for I have everything I need right here,” Mr Daim pulled out a glass vial from his coat pocket, the same coat Captain Robertson had lent him. “It’s empty.” “To your eyes, maybe. But I assure you this contains some of Jack’s residual aura, which I can use to track him down.” “Let me guess, another talent whose extent I won’t be able to fully grasp?” “Yes.” “I take it you’re some kind of genie hunter then?” “Yes, you could say that.” “And you’ve done this sort of thing before? “Many a time.” “What is Spring-Heeled Jack doing in London?” “My guess is as good as yours.” “How many other genies are there? “Millions.” “Then explain why I’ve never met one before?” “The chances are, you probably have. Perhaps you just weren’t open to the possibility that they could be Jinn.” “Are all genies evil?” “Are all humans evil?” “You just answered my question with another question.” “And the answer to both is the same.” Captain Robertson remained in quiet contemplation after that. Satisfied he’d managed to sate his companion’s curiosity without confusing him any further, Mr Daim went back to writing in his notebook. Unfortunately, Captain Robertson was just even more confused than before, with a multitude of questions bouncing around in his head. Are genies really real? Can Mr Daim really track down Spring-Heeled Jack using his residual aura?Why did genie lamps go out of fashion? How did Mr Daim even get his hands on Spring-Heeled Jack’s aura? Have I really met a genie before? What did Mr Daim do to Henderson? WHO IN THE HELL IS MR DAIM? The realisation began to dawn on Captain Robertson that he didn’t really know a thing about the man sitting across from him. But that didn’t matter. His orders were to provide Mr Daim with protection, not wrap his head around the madness the world seemed to have devolved itself into. The more he could focus on his job, on what was right in front of him, the less his head would ache. Speaking of which, it was really time he had something to eat. Captain Robertson called over the waiter and ordered the day’s special. The men spent the rest of the evening in silence before hailing a growler to take them back to the hotel they were staying at. After seeing Mr Daim safely back to his room, Captain Robertson retired for the night. Ascending the staircase, trying to force the day’s events out of his head, the veteran was met with an uneasy feeling. Something was off. His door was ajar. Adrenaline kicking in, Captain Robertson carefully unclipped the holster strapped to his chest and slowly pulled out his revolver. Staying extra vigilant, he steadily ascended the final steps. A loud creak reverberated from beneath his feet. Curse these rickety floorboards! Pressing flat against the wall, he slowly crept down the hallway, finger twitching by the trigger. Upon reaching the door, he took a deep breath like a diver about to collide with water and, little by little, slowly pushed the door open on its squeaky hinges. With one last burst of courage, Captain Robertson swiftly slipped into the room, pistol raised, to find a figure by the window dressed in black as thick as the midnight sky.
After their long journey westward, Mr Daim and Captain Robertson finally arrived in London, the capital of the ever-expanding, ever-glorious, ever-mighty British Empire. To Mr Daim, like many visitors hailing from the colonies, London seemed a lacklustre cesspit of poverty and desperation. Not the centre of culture, science and wealth, one would expect to be befitting of the globe-trotting Britannia whose trident commanded the waves in pursuit of her god-given right to rule the world: Dieu Et Mon Droit. Wherever Britannia’s trident pointed, her subjects would go. It just so happened that in the case of Mr Daim and Captain Robertson, her trident pointed home. To Mr Daim, the man who’d travelled as far as the imperial courts of Peking, London was the lump of coal amongst diamonds when it came to seats of power. Babylon had the Hanging Gardens, Baghdad the House of Wisdom, Constantinople the Hagia Sophia, but what did London have? A murky river polluted by the scourge of an industrial revolution, cobbled streets with festering horse faeces interposed between its furrows and a neglected palace disliked by its supposed inhabitants – one of whom tried to pawn it off on his own parliament. Speaking of which, perhaps the macabre Clock Tower protruding into a sky choking on smog was the only redeemable feature of this depressing landscape. After all, it was here that the fate of hundreds of millions of the Earth’s residents was decided. As the duo made their way across Westminster Bridge in a horse-drawn carriage, the macabre Clock Tower looming over them, it was Mr Daim this time that had trouble adjusting to a foreign climate. He had spent so long in the burn-inducing weather of north-west India that the frostbite-inducing weather of south-east England gave him a chilling shock from skin to bone. To remedy this, Captain Robertson had loaned the use of his winter coat to his charge despite the fact that summer was only right around the corner and ignoring the fact that this must have broken some form of protocol written in some kind of handbook somewhere at some point. Over the course of their journey, he had developed a burgeoning respect for his travelling companion, and his endless stream of ghazals, with the belief that the mysterious Mr Daim was a keeper of untold wisdom. The man carried himself with an aura of easiness that one could only achieve if they were to sever their connection from the pursuit of fame and glory, something Mr Robertson felt incapable of, and it is for this very reason that he began to hold Mr Daim in such high regard. The pair were due to meet with the incumbent Commissioner Henderson, of the Metropolitan Police, for a top-secret meeting at the India Office that would shed some more light on the letter Mr Daim received from the juxtaposing sepoy back in Lahore. And so off they went, through the dense crowds, past the gothic drab of Westminster Abbey housing the rotting corpses of long-dead kings and queens, past the young boy perched atop an empty crate selling copies of The Daily Telegraph he couldn’t read, and northward towards the offices of Her Majesty’s government. There, sandwiched between the overflowing treasury and the oft-vacant number ten, lay the gears that kept Britain’s imperial machine running: the Home Office, Foreign Office, Colonial Office, and all-important India Office. It was from these very rooms that Britannia commanded her vast empire. Mr Daim was about to enter the belly of the beast.
At the gates to the India Office, Mr Daim and Captain Robertson were greeted by the Secretary of State for India, the Eighth Duke of Argyll, who led them through the building, across the marble Durbar Court overlooked by interlocking crescents and crosses, up the Muses’ Staircase flanked by the fossils of millennia-old sea lilies frozen in stone, and briskly ushered them into his office, where the Commissioner was waiting. “Pleasure to meet you,” Commissioner Henderson welcomed the men with the shake of his hand. Mr Daim could tell from his vice-like grip that the man that stood before him had spent some time in the military. “I take it you are the fabled Mr Dame who has come to save us?” “Daim.” This wasn’t the first time Mr Daim had to correct someone on the pronunciation of his name. He was certain it wasn’t going to be the last, so long as he remained on the British Isles. “We’ll just call you Mr D for the sake of convenience,” tension emanating from the tendons that pulled Commissioner Henderson’s mouth into a tight grin. “Let’s not dilly-dally, gentlemen. Please, Mr Dame, take a seat,” the Duke motioned for Mr Daim to take the remaining chair beside the Commissioner, while he sunk slowly into the leather armchair located on the opposite side of the large mahogany writing desk littered with theses, pertaining to subjects as wide as ornithology to economics. It seemed to Mr Daim that the Eighth Duke of Argyll shared a greater affinity for science than he did politics. Captain Robertson remained standing by the door with the stalwart grace one would expect from a member of the British Armed Forces. “Unfortunately, Her Majesty Queen Victoria is indisposed at the moment and will not be able to greet you personally.” Mr Daim wasn’t surprised by that revelation. He had become used to the eccentric procedures of royalty and didn’t expect to be granted an actual audience with Her Majesty Queen Victoria. At least Mr Daim wasn’t being given the same runaround afforded to him by the Emperor of Mali. “I must confess that I am pressed for time, and so I’ll try my utmost best to be brief, succinct and to the point.” In Mr Daim’s experience, politicians were rarely brief, succinct and to the point, but he awaited amazement nonetheless. “Recently, there have been… unusual sightings of… some kind of… well to be perfectly candid, I’m not quite sure how to explain it other than as some kind of supernatural phenomenon. Some sort of flying creature, to be precise.” “It doesn’t fly, Mr Secretary. It jumps. And if I may be so bold as to inquire why you saw it fit to seek the aid of a foreigner in what is clearly an internal matter concerning MY department?” the Commissioner was clearly agitated by Mr Daim’s presence as if it signified the undermining of his authority in some way. “Well, the answer to that question is quite simple, Commissioner,” the hard C hiding a dozen tales of contempt, “the Met has proved itself to be quite out of its depth and now…” The Duke paused to fiddle with one of the desk drawers before pulling out and slapping the front page of a newspaper onto the ever-increasing bundle of disjointed papers that littered the varnished mahogany. “And now, the tabloids are getting wind of your failure to put an end to this threat. Hence, why Mr Dame, who is specialised in matters like these, has been brought here to see this menace dealt with. Does that satisfy your question, Commissioner?” The Duke accepted the ensuing silence as a sign of his victory. An ever so sly smile flitted across his face as he turned his attention away from his wounded quarry and towards the patiently waiting Mr Daim. “Apologies for my colleague’s rudeness. I trust you know what needs to be done?” Mr Daim nodded in agreement. “Great, well, I’ll let you get to work. Captain Robertson will remain by your side to assist you in this endeavour as your personal bodyguard. Should you need any extra support, Commissioner Henderson has been approved to allocate you any resources that could be of assistance. Although I’m not quite sure how effective his help will be. Any questions? No? Very well, I must really be off now to attend to an important matter. Thank you for your time, gentlemen,” the Duke bid his farewell to Mr Daim and Captain Robertson without extending the same courtesy to his now silent rival. The Duke was just about to walk through the door when he remembered he had one last request for Mr Daim. “I trust you understand how sensitive this matter is and would greatly appreciate it if you’d did everything within your power to keep things quiet.” “Of course, Mr Secretary. Rest assured that this menace will cease to plague the streets of London.” “Good man.” And with that, the Eighth Duke of Argyll was off to attend to an important matter. As soon as the Duke left the room, Commissioner Henderson turned blood-red hostile. “Look here, Mr Dame,” Mr Daim turned to look here, “or however you pronounce it, frankly I don’t care, but what I do care about is the safety of this city and if you so dare interfere with police business at any point during your stay, rest assured I will bring the full might of the law down upon your helpless soul.” The tip of his finger was thrust between Mr Daim’s ribs now. “So you can go out there with your little trinkets and incantations, or whatever it is you Indian faqirs do, while I’ll lead my men in capturing that… that… thing and bringing peace to the city of London. Just make sure you stay out of our way.” Was that spit Mr Daim felt splash against his cheek? “Good day, gentlemen.” Commissioner Henderson stormed out the door, down the Muses’ staircase flanked by the fossils of millennia-old sea lilies frozen in stone, across the marble Durbar Court overlooked by interlocking crescents and crosses, and briskly through the gates of the all-important India Office. It wasn’t until both men had left that Captain Robertson finally caught a proper glimpse of the newspaper. SPRING-HEELED JACK STRIKES AGAIN.
It is with the utmost urgency that I write this letter. Her Majesty The Queen requires your presence in London to see to a sensitive issue in which your particular expertise and discretion are much-needed. An armed escort has already been dispatched from Calcutta to Lahore and is due to arrive in the coming days. It is imperative that you be ready to leave upon their arrival. Time is of the essence.
Viceroy and Governor-General of India
Mr Daim was sitting on his charpai reading Ghalib when the sepoy, clad in his juxtaposing redcoat and navy blue dastar, handed him the above letter. The sepoy was most certainly a Sikh, a conclusion Mr Daim arrived at after spotting the cast iron kara encircling the wrist of the hand that graciously gave him the above letter. No more than three decades ago, the Sikhs were at war with the British. Back then, a Sikh serving the British was unheard of. Then again, so was the distribution of the above letter to individuals such as the aforementioned Mr Daim. Many of the sepoy’s fellow countrymen wanted nothing to do with the British. Not long ago, sepoys, much like the one in the dastar of navy, rebelled against their British overlords. They were joined by the likes of Maharani Lakshmibai of Jhansi and, for a brief moment, even the esteemed Emperor Bahadur Shah the Second. They lost. Why? Well, because anyone that could defeat the Sikhs, India’s greatest warriors, were able to defeat anyone. And that’s exactly what the British did. So as far as Mr Daim and the juxtaposing sepoy were concerned, India’s fate was sealed, and they had no qualms serving Her Majesty The Queen. “Meharbani,” Mr Daim dismissed the sepoy and went about packing his things. A few days later, two Bengali sepoys accompanied by a certain Captain Robertson arrived at Mr Daim’s charpai to find him reading Rumi. As instructed, the party immediately left for London.
This wasn’t the first time Mr Daim found himself voyaging halfway across the world. The nature of his work had taken him all over the globe, from the imperial courts of Peking to the dense jungle forests of the Amazon. He was sure that he must have ventured to the British Isles before. Unfortunately, the details of his last visit were so long ago that they had escaped his memories. After arriving at the foot of Mr Daim’s charpai, Captain Robertson and his two Bengali sepoys began the second leg of their long journey, this time with their charge in tow. They took a train from Lahore to Multan in the oppressive heat of India’s pre-monsoon skies which proved far too much for the rosy-cheeked Captain Robertson, who had his head hanging out the window for most of the ride. In comparison, the two Bengali sepoys, one Hindu one Muslim, remained unphased, fingers firmly wrapped around their Enfield P59s with the certainty that they needn’t grease their ammunition in pig fat nor beef tallow. The coach remained quiet among the four men. The two sepoys could speak neither Hindi nor Urdu, communicating with their commanding officer in an amalgamation of banglarised* English and anglicised Bengali. That was, of course, only when and if communication was absolutely necessary for Captain Robertson was a man of few words. In contrast, Mr Daim was a man of the world. He could speak many languages, from Xhosa to Danish. In fact, he could speak so many languages he wasn’t even sure which one it was that he spoke first. Unfortunately, Bengali was not one of them. Mr Daim decided then and there that he’d spend a few decades living in the winding streets of Calcutta upon his return so he could add another language to his ever-expanding repertoire.
It wasn’t until they reached Multan and boarded the steamboat to Kotri that the party’s silence was broken when Mr Daim pulled out some Hafez from his battered old briefcase. The Bengali sepoys spotted the poetry and, in their banglarised** English, asked for Mr Daim to read it aloud. He obliged. And so for the duration of their trip down the Indus, past the Tomb of Bibi Jawindi and its glazed tiles of blue and white mutilated by nature’s scorn, past the sand smothered mortared brick of the dead city of Mohenjo-Daro waiting to be found again, the words of Hafez brought a little life into a dying world. The Bengali sepoys, despite not knowing a word of Persian, gourmandised on the sweet ghazals with awe that transcended the borders of language. Even the reserved Captain Robertson revelled in its joy, the ecstasy of Hafez soothing the burden of a foreign climate that refused to bow down to the will of an Englishman. Before they knew it, the party had arrived in Karachi, the ghazals having carried them off the steamboat and onto the Scinde Railway, all the while blinding the men to the passing of day into night and night into day. At the city’s port, the Bengali sepoys bid their farewell to Mr Daim, Captain Robertson and the sweet ghazals of Hafez. They had served their purpose; Captain Robertson had made it to Karachi unharmed by the disgruntled natives. The Bengali sepoys, one Hindu one Muslim, would return to Calcutta, fingers firmly wrapped around their Enfield P59s with the certainty they needn’t grease their ammunition in pig fat nor beef tallow. The responsibility fell to Captain Robertson alone to see Mr Daim reach the British Isles. And so wasting no time at all, they boarded the first passenger ship leaving port.
The ship sailed westward along the Makran coast before turning southward, weaving around Arabia and slipping into the Red Sea. They were not the first to follow this route, and neither would they be the last. Indian and Roman ships had been making this journey for centuries carrying trinkets and treasures to be sold and bartered in addition to gossip and gospel to be shared and broadened. However, one thing was different: the Suez Canal had opened, bridging the gap between what is Red and Mediterranean, shortening the distance between what is Atlantic and Indian, and more importantly, bringing Mr Daim all the more closer to his destination. And so as they passed through Sinai, sailing the thin line that divorced Africa from its beloved Asia in the cool ocean breeze, Captain Robertson was cured of his rosied cheeks. The absence of the harsh Indian sun signified the end of the Captain’s conversational reservations. In this relaxed state, Captain Robertson, the man of few words, became a man of many relating the story of his life to Mr Daim amongst a backdrop of long-forgotten kings encased in tombs waiting to be ransacked by ever-enthusiastic explorers. As it turns out, he wasn’t an Englishman at all but rather a Scotsman born to a fisherman who crossed the boundary of Hadrian’s Wall in search of fame and glory as a rifleman in the British Army. He soon worked his way up to the rank of Captain during the latter half of the Second Opium War and had only been stationed in Fort William for four months when he was tasked with escorting Mr Daim to London. During this time, he learned how to speak his anglicised Bengali and a little anglicised Hindi too. Captain Robertson even went as far as indulging in the local cuisine, something his English colleagues were not too fond of. The one thing he hadn’t become accustomed to was the weather, and he was glad to be out before the height of India’s pre-monsoon season. A little while after the ship left Port Said, Captain Robertson asked the mysterious Mr Daim a question: “So, Mr Daim, I’ve told you about me, but what about you? What’s your particular area of expertise?” “I fear you may not be able to fully grasp the extent of my talents, but you needn’t worry, my friend. All will be revealed in good time.”
To be continued…
*I made this word up, lol. If you know what the Bengali equivalent of “anglicised” is, do let me know.
Book #10 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.
This book was recommended to me by a friend of mine (one who has excellent taste in books), so I eagerly added it to my Amazon order of books for the first quarter of 2021. As my first foray into the genre of magical realism, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I turned the cover and plunged into the narrative. Having finished, I can now say that magical realism is now one of my top genres of novel, which works out great as I have One Hundred Years of Solitude lined up to read later in the year. Anyway, without further ado, let’s jump into my review.
I Stared at the Night of the City by Bakhtiyar Ali is the first Kurdish novel to be translated into English. The story follows a group of like-minded friends, all with powerful imaginations, on a quest to discover the truth behind the murder of two lovers. Their search brings them into direct conflict with the Barons, who hold great power and run the city behind the scenes. Each chapter is told from an unreliable narrator’s perspective, each with their own quirks, morals and ambitions. The onus is on the reader to piece together the narrative, deciding who is and isn’t to be trusted.
The novel centres on the conflict between Ghazalnus and the Baron of Imagination, as they battle for control over the Imaginative Creatures (people gifted with powerful imaginations). The Baron of Imagination seeks to use the Imaginative Creatures to construct a new district in the city, one that embodies imagination, a paradise on earth. Meanwhile, Ghazalnus believes that the imagination shouldn’t be exploited for material gain and despises the Baron’s thirst for power.
Alongside this central narrative, many subplots add to the rich tapestry. The redemption story of a former assassin, Hasan-i Pizo, being one such example. Throughout the novel, the reader is introduced to characters and transported to beautiful gardens that blur the line between imagination and reality. Ultimately, the book is so multi-layered that my brief outline of the plot doesn’t do this masterpiece justice.
‘The entire revolution was such a fantastical event that no one knew exactly what to make of it. When the uprising succeeded, it came to a bitter, ugly end. One day, I killed a woman and looked into her eyes. That gaze changed my entire life. In the eyes of that woman, I saw the end of the fantasy. I saw the swept-away hat the comrade had talked about. My dear friends, my revolutionary comrades threw their fantasy away, and never revisited it. And no one ever asked what the fantasy of that long revolution actually was, or what became of the martyr’s fantasies. A revolution is like a dream. When it ends we all wake up, the dream fades and is forgotten. There is nothing in this world as fickle as a revolution.’
One of the novel’s central themes is revolution, vivified in the narrative via the philosophical quandary posed by Husni’s magical towel. Husni, a local towel merchant, owns a beautiful towel depicting the story of a king (realist) and a poet (idealist). On one side is a map depicting the tale of the king as he conquers an old city. On the other side is the same map, only more beautiful depicting the tale of the poet on his journey through the imagination.
As Husni’s towel changes hands throughout the novel, different characters have a go at interpreting the meaning behind the imagery. Who is more righteous? The poet or the king? Can poets and kings coexist? Can a king be a poet? Can a poet be a king? Must one slay the other? Can one slay the other? Which one slays the other? Is the king evil because he seeks power? Is the poet evil because he wields power but doesn’t wish to use it to better reality? And so on and so forth. Thus initiating an exciting discussion about imagination and reality in regards to the revolution. Not to mention the role of truth in all this.
I highly recommend I Stared at the Night of the City to anyone and everyone. The book had such a profound impact on my own ideas about the power of the imagination that I’d go as far as to include it in my personal canon. Its multiple layers and deep meaning makes it a novel I will most definitely be revisiting in the future.
Book #6 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.
As someone who has done quite a bit of research into the history of Indian Partition, I understand the frustration of trying to find novels set during the tumultuous period. The truth is there are very few novels that touch upon the subject. Perhaps because of how painful it was for those who lived through it. In many ways, Partition is becoming a part of forgotten history. Fortunately, I got my hands on a copy of Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan.
The novel takes place in the fictional village of Mano Majra located on the new border between Pakistan and India. The village is an even split between Muslims and Sikhs with only a single Hindu family. Life is peaceful in Mano Majra and typical of a Punjabi village. Then one fateful night, Lala Ram Lal, the Hindu moneylender, is murdered.
Suspicion is laid at the feet of the local badmash, Juggat Singh, and a mysterious new arrival by the name of Iqbal (Mohammed? Chand? Singh?). Tensions begin to rise in Mano Majra, as news pours in of the atrocities committed by Muslims and Sikhs in the rest of Punjab. The villagers are then forced to make a decision that would change Mano Majra forever.
Khushwant Singh’s tale is an in-depth look into Partition on the local scale and doesn’t get bogged down in its politics. By focusing on its impact on the lives of regular village folk, Singh humanises a turning point in history that has often been devolved into a debate concerning Pakistan’s legitimacy. This isn’t a tale about two religious communities at each other’s throats but rather the coming of the apocalypse for the innocent people of Mano Majra. Their way of life is turned on its head due to the egos of those in power.
Throughout the novel, you get to meet an interesting assortment of characters. All of which seem as though they have lived full lives before you meet them and add to the fabric of the novel. Surprisingly, despite the number of characters, none of them come across as bland or irrelevant. Iqbal’s and Hukum Chand’s internal monologues are particularly gripping.
I highly recommend Train to Pakistan and go as far as to include it in my personal canon. Its social commentary provides insight into rural Punjabi life (in all its glorious vulgarities) and highlights the real human impacts of Partition. It wasn’t just the breaking up of a country but the breaking up of brotherly bonds tracing back generations.
During the Turkish War of Independence (19th May 1919 – 11th October 1922), many Indian Muslim religious leaders feared for the fate of the Ottoman Caliphate. For many, the Ottoman Empire’s collapse was viewed as a European conspiracy designed to end Pan-Islamism and the ‘united’ Muslim community.
This anxiety eventually led to the Khilafat Movement and the establishment of the All-India Khilafat Committee in 1919. The committee included Muslim leaders from both the AIML and INC as well as members of the Ulama. It called for the Caliphate’s restoration and acted as a gateway for the Ulama to enter politics.
The Muslim political elite needed the Ulama to reach the masses. Muhammad Ali Jauhar, one of the Khilafat’s leading figures, is quoted as saying, “we can reach [the] mob only through religion”. Although he later denied it. Likewise, the Ulama needed the political elite to achieve its own goals. They had repeatedly tried to implement their version of Sharia in the workings of government but failed. Abul Muhasin Muhammad Sajjad, one of the most influential scholars at the time, sums up the need to work with the political elite:
“Until the Ulama takes the reins of politics in their own hands and cross their voices with those in authority, it will be difficult for them to establish their religious supremacy. Moreover, the fulfilment of their higher aims [i.e., the protection of Islam] will remain merely an empty dream”.
The Khilafat’s marriage of political and religious influencers allowed the movement to reach a large base of supporters. Making it one of the most memorable movements in the history of modern South Asia. It also marked the formal beginning of South Asia’s tradition of having political parties led by religious scholars. The most notable being the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind which has since birthed multiple off-shoots, including Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.
The following year, Gandhi launched the Non-cooperation Movement to unite all Indians in opposition to British rule. He called for the boycott of British goods in favour of Indian goods and implored Indians to cease all co-operation with the British. The goal was to remove the Rowlatt Act, which had led to the horrible events of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.
To consolidate Muslim support, Gandhi made the restoration of the Caliphate one of the Non-cooperation Movement’s main objectives. As a result, the Khilafat Movement joined forces with Gandhi and was practically swallowed up by the Non-cooperation Movement. Similarly, to consolidate Hindu support, Gandhi invoked the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence) and called for the end of untouchability.
By appealing to both Muslims and Hindus’ religious sentiments, Gandhi was able to rile up the Indian masses in opposition to British rule. So how did Jinnah – “the best ambassador of Hindu–Muslim Unity” – react to all this?
Jinnah was against the formation of the Khilafat Movement from the start. He was a firm believer in secularism and the removal of religious authority from the workings of the state. When Gandhi affirmed the Khilafats by allowing them into the Non-cooperation Movement, he opened a can of worms that would plague South Asia for decades to come.
At the INC’s 1920 Nagpur Session, Jinnah openly spoke out against the Non-cooperation Movement. He denounced Gandhi for causing a schism “not only amongst Hindus and Muslims but between Hindus and Hindus and Muslims and Muslims and even between fathers and sons […] in almost every institution”, leading to “complete disorganisation and chaos”. Jinnah was weary of the potential implications of allowing religious frenzy into the realm of Indian politics.
This may seem confusing at first, given how Jinnah was a member of the All-India MUSLIM League and was the architect behind the famed Lucknow Pact that had ensured the extension of separate electorates for Muslim candidates. If anyone should be accused of bringing religion into politics, it should be Jinnah.
It is here that a distinction must be made between Muslims as a religious community and Muslims as a minority community in need of political representation. For Congress Moderates like Jinnah, there was a clear line between the religious and political needs of Muslims. It fell to the politicians to see to the political needs of the Muslim community. Meanwhile, the Ulama were tasked with seeing to the religious needs of the Muslim community. For example, the protection of land rights would be something that falls under the jurisdiction of the politician, whereas religious sermons would fall under the jurisdiction of the scholar. Inevitably there would be some overlap, but overall the system worked fine. Politicians stuck to the councils, and scholars stuck to the Masjids.
As already covered in previous essays, the AIML was formed to see to the political needs of Muslims. Implementing separate electorates in the Morley-Minto Reforms was a means to secure political representation for the Muslim minority. Supporting the Partition of Bengal was a way to advance the economic and political interests of the Muslim minority. At no point did the Muslim politicians try to implement their version of Sharia into government. Their fight was a nationalist fight for freedom, not a religious one. Recall when Jinnah addressed the AIML at the end of 1916:
“I see this great communal organisation rapidly growing into a powerful factor for the birth of United India. A minority must, above everything else, have a complete sense of security before its broader political sense can be evoked for co-operation and united endeavour in the national tasks. To the [Muslims] of India that security can only come through adequate and effective safeguards as regards their political existence as a community”.
When Gandhi brought the Khilafats under his wing, he set a dangerous precedent. The introduction of the Ulama threatened the existing political advancements in the cause for an independent India. Using religious rhetoric to stir up the masses ran the risk of causing a disconnect between India’s majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities.
To Jinnah, Gandhi’s Satyagraha was politically irresponsible. The masses were a powerful force that couldn’t be tamed. Relying on the Indian masses for agitation ran the risk of doing more harm than good. Instead, Jinnah believed that achieving independence was best done via constitutional methods. Unfortunately, the majority of Indian opinion was not on his side, and he was subsequently shouted down by the delegates. Both the INC and AIML endorsed the Non-cooperation Movement.
This was the nail in the coffin for Jinnah’s relationship with Congress. Following the Nagpur Session, Jinnah resigned from the INC and all other positions, excluding his membership in the AIML. He would spend most of the early 1920s in political isolation as events in India took a turn for the worst.
The first sign of weakening relations between Hindus and Muslims was the Hijarat of 1920. When the Khilafat Movement was at its height, several influential Mawlanas issued a fatwa declaring India a Dar-al-Harb. India was a land ruled by non-believers and was an unsuitable place for Muslims to live. As a result, thousands of Indian Muslims migrated to neighbouring Afghanistan.
Another major event that drove a wedge between India’s two sister communities was the Malabar Rebellion of 1921. The Mappila Muslim community of Malabar, under Khilafat influence, rebelled against their British-backed Jenmi Hindu landlords. Thousands of civilians were killed in the ensuing violence as the enraged Muslim peasantry attacked Hindu temples. Forced conversions and sexual violence were widespread.
On the 4th February 1922, a large group of Non-cooperation protesters marched on Chauri Chaura market shouting anti-government slogans. A standoff between the protestors and police led to the deaths of 3 civilians and 22 police officers. The event came to be known as the Chauri Chaura Incident and led to the Non-cooperation Movement’s disbanding on the 12th February 1922.
The Khilafat Movement came to an end in 1924 after Mustafa Kemal Pasha, Turkey’s Atatürk, abolished the Caliphate. Without a rallying cry to stand behind, the movement lost its impetus and eventually collapsed without achieving its primary goal of restoring the Caliphate. However, the damage was already done, and the Ulama became a permanent fixture in India’s political landscape.
The Khilafat Movement and Non-cooperation Movement alliance did not strengthen but strain relations between Muslims and Hindus. Allowing religious leaders into the realm of politics destroyed the delicate Hindu-Muslim Unity Jinnah worked so hard to establish. Regardless, mass agitation did yield results. The Rowlatt Act was repealed in March 1922 as a direct result of the Non-cooperation Movement.
At the end of the day, both movements would have lasting impacts on the Subcontinent. Without mass agitation, the chances are India would still be a British colony. That being said, had Gandhi taken a more measured approach like Jinnah and abstained from religious rhetoric, Hindu-Muslim Unity could have been preserved. In his haste to free India, Gandhi had sown the roots of communalism, forcing Jinnah to play certain cards he didn’t want to in later years.
Book #2 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.
I originally came across The Wish Maker after a google search:
novels set in pakistan
Something about the name Ali Sethi rung a bell but I couldn’t quite remember where I heard the name from. This inevitably led to another google search:
And as it turns out, Sethi is a Pakistani singer, and I had already listened to few tracks on which he is featured (most notably Coke Studio’s Aaqa). In fact, I had first heard Sethi’s voice years back when I watched The Reluctant Fundamentalist (I recommend both the novel and movie adaptation) which features his singing debut. I just didn’t know it was him. And so with a feeling of familial attachment akin to one you’d have for a very distant cousin, I decided to take a chance and pick up a copy.
The Wish Maker follows the story of a young man named Zaki Shirazi, who has returned home to Pakistan after studying abroad in America for a few years. The novel picks up with him arriving in Lahore for his cousin Samar’s wedding. It then branches off as Zaki, the narrator, recounts tales from his childhood set amidst the backdrop of Pakistan’s political history.
As the story progresses, you begin to learn more and more about the Shirazi family history as told through the lives of its female characters. I found Daadi’s childhood an incredibly heart-wrenching story of loss at the hands of cultural and political forces as well as her own. However, my favourite character has to be Zakia (Zaki’s mother). Her back and forth dynamic with young Zaki is both entertaining and heart-warming.
Sethi puts together a tapestry of the Shirazi family’s history that paints an enlightening picture of what life is like for Pakistan’s middle class. You can tell when reading that Sethi draws a lot of inspiration from his own life with the level of familiarity with which he writes. In many ways, the novel feels like an autobiography, the characters feel real, and the setting feels like home.
Because of this level of familiarity, non-Pakistanis (and maybe even Pakistani diaspora) may have difficulty grasping with the narrative. Sethi doesn’t go off on long-winded explanations to make his story accessible to those outside the country. Instead, Sethi has written a Pakistani novel for Pakistani readers. Most of its references are for a Pakistani audience – I’m sure that even I didn’t pick up on a few. Perhaps because of this reason, the book seems to have received relatively poor reviews on Goodreads; Pakistanis seem to love it while non-Pakistanis seem to be lost and confused.
In conclusion, I recommend this book to anyone familiar with Pakistan. For me personally, the novel brought to life some of Pakistan’s most tumultuous times. The history that I’ve studied in other non-fiction books finally begins to feel real.