Bihar-based English novelist Abdullah Khan’s Patna Blues was released last year. The novel received much acclaim for portraying a ‘different’ narrative of Bihar through the journey Arif Khan, a young IAS aspirant and how he explores life at various crossroads. We spoke to author Abdullah Khan about his journey with Patna Blues and his plans for the near future. Excerpts:
The Optimist: Patna Blues is a vivid tale of a boy living a Tier II city life. Do you think English novels in India have been too inclined towards the urban genre?
Abdullah Khan: A majority of Indian authors writing in English come either from big cities, or are NRIs. So, their worldview is different from those living in Tier II cities and in villages. It’s quite natural that they’d write about their own experiences. But writers like Amitava Kumar, Tabish Khair, Siddhartha Chowdhury, Sumana Roy and Hansda S Shekhar have written about their small-town experiences.
The Optimist: Although the novel revolves around Arif, the protagonist, there’s an honest tone in the storyline. Is it your autobiography with a metaphorical feel?
Abdullah Khan: No, it isn’t an autobiographical novel. However, the historical events mentioned in it were inspired by real events. And some of the characters are also based on real people I’ve known.
The Optimist: You highlighted the much-debated Muslim stereotypes in India very boldly. What’s your personal opinion on this? Is it a faultline that can be repaired?
Abdullah Khan: I believe there’s an in-built repair mechanism for all kinds of faultlines in the idea of India conceived at the time of freedom by our forefathers. The way the idea of India has survived over the past seven decades despite many adversities and problems shows that it’ll survive the onslaught of anti-democratic and anti-diversity forces, too.
The Optimist: Patna Blues effectively touches the Urdu-speaking Bihari Muslim middle class. How is it different from the mainstream minority population or is it a mirror image?
Abdullah Khan: I don’t think anything like the ‘mainstream minority population’ exists. Muslims are as diverse as any other community across the nation. In Bihar’s villages, most Muslims speak Bhojpuri, Bajjika and other local dialects at home.
The Optimist: Do you plan a sequel to this novel?
Abdullah Khan: Yes, I have plans to write two sequels to Patna Blues. They’ll be called Zakir’s Dilemma and Sumitra’s Choice.
The Optimist: Patna Blues has delicately touched upon the Urdu reality of urban India. Do you think there’s a possibility of Urdu literary resurrection?
Abdullah Khan: In recent years, there’s been a rise in the popularity of the Urdu language. Such organisations as Rekhta are doing a wonderful job in taking this beautiful language to young Indians. Renowned Urdu lyricists Javed Akhtar and Gulzar are bestselling poets. The only concern is that Generation X is reading Urdu poetry mostly in the Roman or Devnagri scripts and not in Nastaliq. In other words, Urdu is thriving, but its script faces a continuous decline.
The Optimist: As a full-time banker and scriptwriter, how do you motivate yourself to write?
Abdullah Khan: Creative writing is my passion, and I’m self-motivated when it comes to writing. Being a full-time banker, my biggest problem is finding time to write.
The Optimist: Do you have any plans of silver screen adaptations of Patna Blues?
Abdullah Khan: Some production houses and directors have shown interest in Patna Blues. But nothing has been finalised yet.