Abdullah Khan’s Debut Novel Patna Blues Is More Than Just a Political Statement

In India, we attach a plethora of stereotypes to one’s identity. Judging the person by his/her name, religion and home-state is a common practice. Some words like Bihari, Momdan, Chinky, Madrasi among others are used loosely and are often meant to be derogatory. Abdullah Khan in his debut novel Patna Blues traces the life of one such identity which is both a Bihari and a Muslim. The book talks about the desire, dreams, and destiny of a young boy Arif Khan based in Patna. Arif khan in his early 20s preparing to be an Indian Administration Officer, falls in love with a married Hindu woman much older than him. With so much to handle in a large family of three younger sisters and a brother, his miseries increase with this sweet distraction. He consistently finds himself at the crossroads- struggling to choose between his dreams and desire.

The book is a page turner with a lot of drama unfolding with each chapter, line by line. It is set up in early 80s spanning over 20 years against the backdrop of political events of the time. The political events are so intricately woven and meticulously placed in the story that for a moment you forget that it was a reality of a time- The times of VCR, PCOs, Mandal commission, fall of Babri Masjid, 1993 Mumbai attacks, Bihar’s Chara Ghotala, and many more.

The book does not sympathize with the struggles the identity brings him rather makes a strong point on what is and what ought to be. It smoothly ventures into the life of his family members and their aspirations. Many a time, it cuts open the wounds to show bare the prejudices of a majority of society towards a few. Arif’s father, a police officer in Patna is not handed over confidential documents just because of his religion despite his clean records. Younger brother, an aspiring actor faces mockery and rejection owing to his accent despite being talented. The family has to deal with the pressure of ill practices and beliefs of society like arranging dowry for his sisters. However, the author does not delve much into the lives of sisters and they are just to add more ‘blues’ to their life and story. Their portrayal is typical- with suppressed dreams and forced acceptance for their destiny- with everything culminating into marriage.

The book is not at all about making a political statement but shows the effort of a Muslim family to live a comfortable and respectful life despite all odds. Intermittently, the story line is showered with Urdu shayari and old Bollywood song lines which make it refreshing. The story written in simple words is entertaining. It also captures the popular places of Patna like Gandhi Maidan, Dak bunglow Square making it vivid and close to reality. This story of love, aspiration, failure, and grief travels places from Patna to the interiors of Bihar, to some of the metro cities and captures the sentiments of society about one’s identity.

Pick the book for a journey back in time, for a journey from expectations to reality, dreams to destiny, and above all from grief to hope. You can buy the book here.

Hindustani Mussalman

The evening session driven by Abdullah Khan, a Mumbai based novelist, screenwriter, literary critic, and banker was one of the most engaging events of the day two of Bangalore Literature Festival. His discovery of George Orwell sharing origin to his birthplace Bihar, drew him to literature. With Abdullah on stage was Andaleeb Wajid, a Bangalore-based writer who has written on diverse topics like food, relationships, and weddings in a Muslim context. The other esteemed guests were Hussain Haidry, an Indian poet, writer and lyricist and Hem Borker, an assistant professor at the Centre for Social Exclusion and Inclusive policy, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. 


The discourse began with the contextualization of the current widespread practice of stereotyping on the basis of various grounds like religion, region, caste etc. The debate was intense around the identity aspect and its corollary with respect to our country. Abdullah brought in references from Nelson Mandela’s vision to proceed the argument which mainly dealt with the explanation of who actually is an Indian Muslim in the contemporary India. 


The power structure of Muslims facing the stereotypical bias from the country as a whole for being a minority was discussed. Andaleeb expressed her struggles over wearing veil (burkha) and exploring her right to choose the way she wishes to dress and make her personal choice. Hema brought in historical instances which paved a new school of thought about a secular country where everyone has equal rights to practice their own choice of religion. 


The debate was carried forward by Hussain’s vision of Indian Muslim not just being a mere set of two words, instead a culmination of numerous identities. He narrated his poem “Hindustani Mussalman” to the audience which received a stellar response. He then put forward a series of questions after narrating his poem which was received with pin drop silence. The narration included controversial parts of the poem about Babri Masjid. He also spoke about being a Muslim and rejoicing the sacred bath in holy river Ganga.


The panelist then referred to the aspect of multi-identity in every Muslim. They cleared their stance that they are as Indian as any other citizen of the country. Abdullah drew the mistaken stereotype of most Indians assuming and associating Muslims to mere one section of the society. He gave his life experiences whereby he had to tell people that he has many layered identities besides being an Indian. He gave the example of Genghis Khan who is assumed to a Muslim because of his surname though he was a follower of Tengrism. 

The panelists shared their life experiences and dwelled on the aspect of secularity in the country, overarching the central idea of Muslims as a community in India facing prejudice. The session ended on a very insightful discussion answering audience questions related to current events like the Babri Masjid verdict.




About the Author: Abhinav Kumar is an MA in English with Communication Studies student from CHRIST ( Deemed To Be University), Bengaluru who believes in “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world”. He is interested in sports journalism and travelogue writing. He currently writes for TheSeer.

Small Town, Big Dreams

Small town, is not just a matter of small town but big dreamers who come out of that with flying colours. Andaleeb Wajid, a Bengaluru based writer who has authored several books on different topics like food, relationship etc. has herself made a confession that she never lived in a town. She couldn’t imagine on being a part of town as she grew up in the city of bengaluru.


The discussion began with Abdullah Khan who has written ‘Patna Blues’. A man has grown up in a small village from northern part of Bihar where there was no electricity and other basic facilities. On his first visit to the capital city ‘Patna’, after seeing the river Ganges, has a question in his mind which he asks his father, as to whether ‘this is an ocean?’. Table fan was a luxury during his times. His feelings towards his own town and usual aspirations of middle class town people led him to pen this book.


Tanuj Solanki, who has lived in Muzaffarnagar, felt that the soul of a country actually lived in various social media like whatsapp and facebook. He agreed that small towns do play a big role as he had lived in Muzaffarnagar for 17 years. He mentioned the communal riots and tensions that big districts or cities have which are unusual in towns even today.


Parimal Bhattacharya, another speaker told the gathering that he hadn’t actually grown up in a town but moved to Darjeeling in his twenties as a teacher. But only after 15 years of returning from that place he wrote the book ‘No Path in Darjeeling Is Straight: Memories of a Hill Town’. He also said that Darjeeling is very different from other towns or villages where different communities live peacefully together.


Gillian Wright, a translator and writer said that there was something that broke us apart from towns to cities, but there was some continuity also in terms of culture, poetry etc. She feels and says big voices come from small places. 


Small towns may be a nostalgia for people who are obsessed with cities and its pollution. 



About the Author: Rohini Mahadevan is political science graduate and works as a content writer. She likes reading books, drawing, painting, and writing short creative pieces. She currently writes for TheSeer.