Author: Sajjad Zahir, Ahmed Ali, Rashid Jahan, Mahmuduzzafar
Translater: Vibha S Chauhan and Khalid Alvi
Rating: 3/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️
All books have stories and some have a story, and this story is sometimes more interesting than the stories in them. Angarey is one of these books.
I saw this book in the Crossword book shop in the Indian Fiction Section with a jazzy bright pink hard cover. The brief on the back page claimed it to be a revolutionary book of its times. So revolutionary that it was seized and burnt. It took very harsh stances on society and religion which could be considered offensive to the sensibilities of society back then.
Angarey as in 'the embers of a fire' is aptly named, with enough explosives to fume the delicate fabric of this society. By now I have fired your curiosity enough so here is the popular history of this book before we get to my opinion and the book review.
After such high credentials your expectations zoom to the highest point. With the book in your hand you have a feeling that you are holding the power to change the society.
The book as described above does sound utterly revolutionary for India of 1930s when religion was not used to questioning but blind following. In its stark honesty the short stories take a brutal shot at the so called religious symbols of power and purity. It's kind of obvious after reading the book why it was banned.
It articulates the anguish and frustration of youth by the boundaries and enforcements set by religion. It's apt to give a big applause to the four writers who did not fear but questioned the system and traditions. The book is revolutionary in a literary sort of way bound to move you inside and out, leading to some interesting conversations on dilemmas of religion.
Now the book Angarey translated in English and read in 2015 almost 80 years after it was published. The times have indeed changed. The fire in our belly for freedom and one nation has long gone. The religion has not changed. The rich have modernised but the poor have only become more backward.
I wonder if revolution which started in 1930s effected only the educated class. That's the thing with revolutionary literature it stays within the educated and for India that means only middle and upper class. The extremes of poverty and illiteracy has not seen the embers of revolution. They continue to follow religion and traditions blindly. The eight stories and one play question the blind beliefs in clerics and judgement day, or the practices of having multiple wives.
The long kurtas and gowns of the clerics, their shoes and slippers, their dopalli caps and their shaved heads were such that even the most beautiful, celestial houris would gladly pick each strand of hair in their unsullied beards and caress it with their eyelids. All this is certainly the unmistakable evidence of their purity and abstinence.
My faithful follower, all your life you have been so deeply absorbed in serving me that you have managed to keep yourself away from wisdom and imagination, the two most evil forces that engender cynicism and atheism. Rationality and human reasoning are the worst adversaries of conviction and faith.
The English translation stays true to the spirit and metaphors of the book keeping its poetic originality. But it fails to evoke any emotions in its literary superiority. It will definitely be the fodder for intellectuals to debate and discuss the relationship between religion, poverty and society. If that is the purpose then yes this book does it beautifully.
To expect more would be wrong. The book is no longer banned because it's quiet obvious that beside being revolutionary it has no longer a mass appeal and can't upheaval or bring the change it was meant to.
The book worked well against an external enemy but now the war is inside. Any revolution would cause casualties inside. The society has decided to be diverse with modernists existing with conservatives. Religious tyranny has become religious tolerance. The religious intellectual debates have changed into majority and moronity political battles.
Those embers have died long ago. Let's light that fire again. Lets shatter all that we believe in! Let's question ourselves again!