A writer from the Bihari hinterlands
We at Bookaholicanonymous are extremely privileged and happy to bring to you an interview with Abdullah Khan, author of the book Patna Blues. He is a fresh new voice in the literary world and his book is in the list of every bookworm these days. What touched us most was his humility. And our most prized possession-the book he sent us. Thank you so much. We wish you many many more successes…
About Abdullah Khan: Born in a village near Motihari, Bihar, Abdullah was initially educated in madarsa (Islamic seminary) and Urdu medium school. Abdullah’s writings have appeared in Brooklyn Rail (New York), Wasafiri (London), The Hindu (India), and Friday Times (Pakistan) among others. He is also a screenwriter and his debut film Viraam was released in theatres in December, 2017. Patna Blues is his first novel.
When did you first start writing Patna Blues? How many years did it take to finish the book?
The idea of writing a novel began to shape in mind when I was still in college. In fact, in early 1990s, I discovered that George Orwell was born in Motihari and that inspired me to try my luck as a writer. But, serious writing began in 1997 just after Arundhati Roy's Booker win. I finished the first draft of Patna Blues in 2009. And, then many drafts later I got the publishing offer from Juggernaut Books in 2016.
What new twist and turns did you add when you finally decided to send the book to the publisher?
I made an important change in the climax of the novel which I can't reveal in this interview for the obvious reasons.
What was the response from the publishers when you finally sent your manuscript?
I sent it to two publishers in India and one of them advised me to rework and the second one i.e. Juggernaut said yes.
George Orwell was from Motihari, you have said in various interviews that you were influenced by him in a different way? Tell us how?
George Orwell inspired me to be a writer. When I came to know that Orwell was born in my home district, Motihari, I wondered if I could be a writer too. But, my writing style and thematic treatments are totally different from George Orwell’s novels.
And tell us when did you finally read ‘Animal Farm’? You must have read up on George Orwell…tell us more about him?
I read Animal Farm in mid-1990s.
Eric Blair aka George Orwell was in Motihari only for the first year of his life and then his parents took him to England. After that, he never came back.
Animal Farm is set in England and is an allegorical representation of Stalin’s Russia.
In your book you have written about an IAS aspirant. Why do you think people are so obsessed with the Civil Services in Bihar? Is it changing now?
I don’t know the exact reasons for Biharis’ obsession for the Civil Services. But, I believe that because of lack of opportunities in the private sector, Bihari youths tend to go for the government jobs and being IAS is the best option which gives a great social status.
But, now, the things are changing. Like youths of other states, Bihari youths are looking for opportunities in different sectors also.
Why does Patna play such a central role in your book? Give us an example of what you’ve written about Patna?
My story is mostly set in Patna and I use various locations of the city to convey the mood of a scene or chapter. For example, here is an excerpt from Patna Blues that is not only the description of place in Patna but also gives insight into the thought process of the protagonist, Arif Khan:
(Gandhi Maidan, the huge open space in the middle of Patna where almost every public event in the city took place – from political rallies to religious congregations, from trade shows to book fairs – was often called the lungs of Patna. For years it had been a silent witness to history. From the Quit India movement to anti-Emergency protests, it had seen stalwart Indian politicians launching various movements that had changed the destiny of the country. Standing in a corner of the Maidan, it was astonishing to see the numerous people it provided space to rest, play, protest, conduct business and, above all, survive the rigours of the heartless, lawless city. For many, the day began and ended in Gandhi Maidan.)
What or who have influenced you as a writer?
Many writers. Phanishwer Nath Renu, Rohinton Mistry, Amit Chaudhuri, Prem Chand are some of them.
Tell us about Sumitra? What qualities of hers did Arif find attractive? You have portrayed a very modern view…Sumitra is older to Arif and is a Hindu? You did this deliberately or you see such things in small towns too?
Honestly speaking, the very first thing which attracts Arif to Sumitra is her beauty. Then, her command over the Urdu language and her interest in the Urdu poetry. Many years ago, I happened to meet a 75-year old lady in my neighbourhood who had spent her childhood in a Muslim dominated mohalla in 1940s and she was very fond of Urdu language and Muslim culture. That time, I wondered what if that old lady were a 30 something woman in the 1990s . And, that is how I got Sumitra, the female protagonist of my novel.
Tell us about your future projects?
Here are the details of my future projects:
Aslam, Orwell and a Pornstar (Literary Fiction):
Aslam was born in an abandoned house in Motihari, India, where, exactly 71 years earlier, Eric Blair aka George Orwell was born. This Orwellian connection (no pun intended) inspires Aslam to become a novelist. And his literary ambitions bring him to Los Angeles where he meets world’s prettiest pornstar Jesse Lane and falls madly in love with her. But, then a terrorist attack happens in LA and Aslam’s life is changed forever.
Three Thousand Year Old Promise (Literary Fiction):
Anand’s search for his love of life brings him to a mysterious ascetic in a deep forest who makes astonishing revelations about Anand’s six previous rebirths. Spanning 3000 years, the novel is also a story of India through last three millennia. It is inspired by the great Urdu Classic The River of Fire by Qurratulain Haider.
A New Country (Literary Fiction):
It is a novel about the partition of India in 1947 and the partition of Pakistan in 1971. Waris Hayat Khan, the protagonist, had been a witness to both the bloody events and had lost everything in the process. Now, he wants to die in his native village in India. Will his last wish be fulfilled?
The Alchemy of Identities (Memoir):
It will be a memoir about my childhood days in a Muslim Ghetto village near Motihari and about the identity crisis of Muslims in the dark underbelly of India. It will also chronicle my journey from being a country bumpkin to be a published author.
Zakir’s Dilemma ( Literary Novel- The Second Book in the Patna Blues trilogy):
Zakir, Arif’s brother, is an important character in Patna Blues. Told from Zakir’s point of view, this novel unravels many secrets that have been left unresolved in Patna Blues.
Sumitra’s Choice (Literary Novel- The Third Book in the Patna Blues trilogy)
Sumitra, the female protagonist of Patna Blues, tells us why she got attracted to Arif and then what made her to go back to her husband.
Additionally, I am working on a couple of TV series and web series.
Bookaholicanonymous wishes Abdullah Khan many more bestselling books…we are waiting for your next book.
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