Patna Blues – A Book Review

A coming of age tale of a Muslim Youth…

“Aur bhi dukh hai zamane main mohabbat ke siva,

Rahatein aur bhi hai vasl ki rahat ke siva

(There are many other sorrows in this world besides the agony of love/There are many pleasures in the world Besides the Joy of one’s union with the beloved) – Faiz Ahmad Faiz

For a lower middle class Indian Muslim youth, struggling his way out through the myriads of challenges that comes his way, life is definitely not easy, more so, when there are so many other simultaneous events happening around him. Does he then have the luxury of love or any other ‘frivolous pursuits’? The above couplet by the famous Urdu poet hence aptly summarizes ‘Patna Blues’ – the debut book by author Abdullah Khan. Published by Juggernaut, the 292 pager is a complete roller coaster, fraught with incidents that forms the life journey of Arif – our protagonist.

The story begins in 1992 and stretches till early 2000. Arif Khan is the eldest son in the family of 5 children, whose only desire in life is to become an IAS officer one day. Like many other families in the underdeveloped state of Bihar (especially in the 90’s), Arif’s family too wished most earnestly for him to crack the IAS exams. With an honest father who never allowed any ‘uppar ki kamai’ in his life, and earned just enough for the family to sustain, Arif becoming an IAS one day was everyone’s dream. They lived to see it come true.

However, fate had something else written for Arif, while his preparations were going full swing, he fell for a much married Hindu woman whose daughter was only few years younger than him. His restless and lovelorn heart wouldn’t care to understand the morally incorrect and devastating relationship that he was getting into. It is from here that the dilemmas of life, the ‘to be or not to be’ moments begin for him, never to spare him from its clutches again.  

Though every year, Arif gave his IAS exams well, he couldn’t clear them. Repeated failures and subsequent successes of his own peers weakened his spirit over the period of time.

A series of events rocks Arif’s life from hereon. His father meets with an accident and had to take up voluntary retirement, his brother after trying his luck in Bollywood and losing lot of money in the hands of fraudsters, comes back home. With just the meagre amount coming from the tuition he gave in coaching classes, his sisters and their wedding dowries left the family debt ridden.

Repeated rejections made him uncomfortable in social life. With a relationship that had no destination and a failure that stucks to him like a bad omen, Arif’s battle became two-fold – that of the mind and the heart.

There are events that alludes to the discrimination against Muslims that unfortunately happen in our country through incidents like Arif’s brother getting arrested for a riot in Delhi (suspected for his Muslim faith).

The author tries to put across the various shades of his protagonist, his failures and his subsequent successes and by doing this, he makes Arif a character that we all sympathize with and by the end of the book, we have already lived his life!

We all know Arif, we have seen him in our surroundings, amongst our relations. A very relatable character, brought to life with great craftsmanship rendered by Abdullah Khan.

Arif never clears IAS, nor does he clear any other state civil services examinations that he appeared for subsequently. However, life teaches him the true meaning of ‘success’, of ‘right over wrong’, of ‘truth over falsehood’. At the end of it all, he does a get job though, that of an Urdu translator in the Bihar Government.

“There was a time Arif wouldn’t have accepted anything less than an IAS position, but the situation had changed. Even this humble offer seemed like a Godsend. How dreams change with the passage of time…” (page 272)

A gripping tale and a complete page turner, Abdullah’s Patna Blues makes for a wonderful reading experience. The narrative of Arif’s tribulations, his dilemmas and confusions are a part of our lives too.

“iman mujhe roke hai to kheenche hai mujhe kufr

Kaba mere peechhe hai, kalisha mere aage

(faith restrains me; temptations attract me/ The holy kaba is behind me while the idols are in front of me) –  Ghalib {page 285}.

The little intricacies of small town life has been beautifully described to the minutest detail By the author. The waves of laughter and misery that flows through the nooks and corners of small government quarters, the tales of its inhabitants, their day to day life has been effectively captured in this book which makes for a very cherishable read.

Recommend this book strongly to all readers, young and old!

Published by thebookbuzzzz

Digital Book Club

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