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  Books   06 Apr 2024  Book Review | The importance of being an earnestly-radicalised, young Muslim

Book Review | The importance of being an earnestly-radicalised, young Muslim

Published : Apr 6, 2024, 2:50 pm IST
Updated : Apr 6, 2024, 2:50 pm IST

We see two sides of Mahmud throughout the book

Cover page of Mahmud and Ayaz
 Cover page of Mahmud and Ayaz

When you first meet Mahmud, the anti-hero, he is an angry and unpleasant young man who is studying for the IAS. So unpleasant in fact, that his main reason for doing the IAS exams is to infiltrate the government and do his bit to destroy India. His dream is to be posted in RAW, India’s prime espionage body, as “This would enable him to spy on the spies who spied on Pakistan and China and fuck up their devious plans.” He wants to avenge the people of his community who were persecuted, raped, murdered, jeered at, and told to go to Pakistan and Bangladesh by Hindu fundamentalists after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the 2002 Gujarat riots. The worst part, according to Mahmud is, “The people who were butchered were ordinary folk who had nothing to do with politics.”

There’s also a more cheerful reason why he wants to join the IAS — he’s inspired by Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English August, a book he chuckles over while you, Dear Reader, chuckle over Rao’s book.

Mahmud lives with his parents in Mumbai’s Mohammed Ali road (better known for its Iftaar feasts during Ramzan that attract even Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh Khan). It’s an okay enough existence, and his parents are blissfully unaware of his sexual activities with sex workers. It’s the packed local trains that excite Mahmud the most, and the clandestine meetings with men that occasionally follow that make him realise that he actually is a homosexual and is loving it! Even so, he plays dutiful son, gets married and has babies.

One day, Mahmoud’s life changes drastically. No spoilers here, but he gets to live alone in his parents’ house. His IAS dreams are shattered too, after his third unsuccessful attempt, and he changes course to a PhD in History. When his guide suggests research on Mahmud of Ghazni’s trips to India, Mahmud is delighted. After all, his namesake was quite like him: A Sunni, a religious fanatic, and, best of all, the real love of his life was his Turkish slave Ayaz Abu’l Naim. This was true love, and more enduring than Romeo-Juliet, Laila-Manju, and other heterosexual couples whose love ended in tragedy.

Mahmud finally finds that kind of love for himself in the unlikeliest of places, outside a bank during the horrors of demonetisation. Pandurang, a former pimp, resembles Tiger Shroff and is desperately in need of money and a job. Mahmud hires him as his househelp, and one thing leads to another. When Mahmud suggests he changes his name to Ayaz and his religion too, Pandu doesn’t much care. His life before he met Mahmud was miserable, and besides his original name Pandu rhymes with a very bad Hindi word.

Loose parallels between Mahmud of Mohammed Ali road and Mahmud of Ghazni are in place now. The Ghazni-like adventures begin after a sightseeing trip to the Somnath temple (raided by Mahmud of Ghazni). Mahmud and Ayaz meet a Siddi from the Gir forest who sets them off on a life of plunder and pillage. It starts small, but goes on to much, much, much bigger things.

Mahmud doesn’t just enjoy the thrill — he needs money, because even after completing his PhD, the only job he manages to find is ghost-writing guides for college students. The money is paltry and even worse, there are shocking misprints. As an irate Mahmud points out, “You call the founder of the Mughal empire a barber. You abuse the tribals of Bastar by calling them bastards. And you say this isn’t serious?”

As Mahmud get richer through his criminal activities, he gets drawn into a criminal and terrorist organisation and is packed off to train as a terrorist in Kashmir. Will Mahmud finally realise his dream of destroying India?

We see two sides of Mahmud throughout the book. The bigoted side that believes Hindus and Muslims could never be one, and a nicer side. Take Mahatma Gandhi, for instance: “Mahmud was willing to believe that the old bhajan-singing, dhoti-wearing Mahatma was not communal, but look what they did to him. Poor fellow. He was not a typical Hindu, so they shot him in the heart.” We see a spark of universal humanity during the exodus of poor migrants from cities to their villages during the Covid lockdown. “Even Mahmud was moved by what he saw on TV… He found that he could not hate Hindus when they were wretched and broken. The realisation surprised him.”

This book is a love story, and a hilarious romp that also documents the happenings in India since 2014. Rao is bound to make Hindu fundamentalists froth and foam at the mouth. He pushes the right buttons, and is delightfully irreverent. Definitely a must-read.

Mahmud and Ayaz

By R. Raj Rao

Speaking Tiger

pp. 271, Rs 499


Tags: book review 2024