Author Abdullah Khan’s debut novel Patna Blues delves into the life of a civil service aspirant Muslim boy in Bihar.
Arif, a boy born in a segregated poor Muslim neighbourhood in Bihar of the 1990s, works hard to realise his dream of joining Indian Administrative Services until a middle-aged married Hindu woman Sumitra crosses his path and changes the course of his life forever. It indeed sounds like a story of a Bollywood fictional drama but author Abdullah Khan’s novel Patna Blues uncovers a culturally insightful tale with political undertones.
With its central plot — a boy dealing with love, lust and ambitions author tries to explain the painful process of growing up as a Muslim boy with challenges and anxieties owing to the Babri (Ayodhya dispute). In the second half of the book, the writer digs into the lives that breathe in the interiors of India. “Joining civil services is some sort of obsession in Bihar and I had seen many bright young men ruining their lives to get into IAS. I had heard of a young man who committed suicide after failing in UPSC Civil services examination. So, I wanted to have my protagonist passionate about getting into IAS,” says Abdullah who began writing this book back in 1997. “On the same day when Arundhati Roy won Booker Prize for The God of Small Things,” he adds.
Though his book didn’t progress until 2009 when Abdullah’s wife discovered some newspaper cuttings of published articles and the partially written manuscript of his aspiring novel. “My wife motivated me to start writing again. I was able to finish the first draft in 2009 followed by many drafts till it finally published in 2018,” recalls the author.
Set in Bihar of the 1990s, most of the descriptions of Patna Blues are based on the author’s memories or to say that the book is the author’s version of Patna. The book also denotes some of the references and facts from outside investigations that the author made to substantiate the facts. However, according to Abdullah, the book somewhere resonates the challenges that he also faces at times for being a minority.
“Life is always tough in our part of the world and if you come from an economically weaker section of society then it gets worse. And, yes, your Muslim identity becomes an additional burden, that’s what my book resonates too,” laments the author.
Hailing from Motihari — a district in Bihar, Abdullah has something in common with George Orwell, writer of Animal Farm. For both of them, information from their adult memory became the inspiration to pen a book. “When I came to know about this fact, it made me wonder if I could be a writer,” he gushes.
Later he drew inspiration from the book The First Five Pages by New York-based author Noah Lukeman.
Abdullah sent an email to the author, only to understand that it has become one of the most memorable chapters of his life when Noah responded with his creative writing book to Abdullah as a motivation. “He motivated me to continue writing and not to give up.
His words inspired me so much that I promised myself that I would never stop writing,” says the author assuring.
Published in the English language by Juggernaut Books, Patna Blues will soon have its translations available in Hindi, Marathi, Odia, Malayalam and Urdu.