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The plight of Uttar Pradesh

Novelist Omair Ahmad has traversed familiar turf in his hometown Uttar Pradesh with his new book which scripts the tale of Jamaal who is forced to become Jimmy to fit into the world.

books Updated: Dec 25, 2010 12:06 IST
Indo Asian News Service

Novelist Omair Ahmad has traversed familiar turf in his hometown Uttar Pradesh with his new book

which scripts the tale of Jamaal who is forced to become Jimmy to fit into a world that casts aside the marginalised.

Ahmad says the book is about "people, who are not as good, but are people".

"The people in smaller towns have their full lives. You read the papers and you get the impression that only people in big cities are allowed to live fully and become social people. Their politics is divided from Delhi," Ahmad told IANS in an interview.

The book captures the transformation of Jamaal to Jimmy in a Muslim neighborhood of Moazzamabad town, which was named after Aurangzeb's son. When a mosque is destroyed in Jamaal's town, the lives around him transform for ever.

Jimmy becomes one of the numerous faces in a small town who struggles to make a life for himself on the fringes of the centre of power.

"Even before the constituent assembly was convened, the question whether India would be a unitary state or a loose federation was foremost on every mind," said Ahmad, who also works as a political advisor and analyst for international organisations.

"Delhi divides everything. The debate has been how much the states can decide, how much the panchayats can decide and how much Delhi can decide - it is the question of democracy.

He says the "country had to compromise but what has happened is that the compromise has tilted to a unitary state". His book captures this dilemma.

Ahmad, a native of Gorakhpur, says he drew from his experience in Uttar Pradesh for the book.

Jamaal is the son of Rafiq Ansari of Rasoolpur Mohalla. It is a time of amity, the local Hanuman temple and the mosque pray together till the curfew reaches Rasoolpur in Mozzamabad.

As Jaamal grows up watching both his father and his neighbourhood change, he becomes Jimmy in the process.

"As to what the title suggests, there is no terrorist in the book. Jimmy aspires to do something that is more dangerous than a militant. You can kill. What do you do to the person who wants to break the state? You can't kill everybody who thinks the state is bad. You are nowhere in their decision-making process," Ahmad said, summing up his book.

"Jimmy is a person like me and Uttar Pradesh is a giant that hides his life like a sparrow. My vulnerability is my nearest and dearest ones and I want to keep them safe. Jimmy is part of my fears. But unlike me, he did not have opportunities. The parents that I had could have been his. They (Jimmy) are the ones we ignore. They live and die..." the writer said.

The plight of Uttar Pradesh colours Jimmy's story. And it is a state the writer knows well.

"My parents and friends live in Uttar Pradesh. Every time I go home I see something which is a reality. People of the state are a non-entity at a certain level. I observed it once I started writing the book," Ahmad said.

"Uttar Pradesh is such a great story," said Ahmad, whose The Storyteller was also set in the state. Ahmad believes "success which is measured by leaving the place one belongs to is not success".

"My father who worked in ONGC took an early retirement and returned to Gorakhpur," he said. The book was meant "as a 70th birthday gift" for him.

The book is a sharp departure from his earlier novel The Storyteller's Tale - a historical fiction set in 17th century Delhi.

The novelist is currently researching for a non-fiction about his "great-grandfather who served as the Pakistani high commissioner in India in 1952". "He worked for Pakistan in India as an Indian citizen," Ahmad said.

The writer, who is associated with the German Political Foundation, says "his work is politics".

First Published: Dec 25, 2010 12:06 IST