3.5/5 Stars Goodreads Rating System
“Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.” ~Ancient Proverb
The irony is, that this proverb is used by Jinnah’s character in the book. ‘Muhammad Ali Jinnah‘ to my mind, is undoubtedly, the most controversial figure in the Indian freedom struggle. An unorthodox well educated Muslim barrister from London, who driven by ambition single-handedly changed the fate of the Indian subcontinent, by doing the very thing that he had opposed for most of his political career, until the fated 1937 Indian provincial elections .i.e inciting communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims, and thus, becoming the poster boy for the British policy of ‘Divide & Rule’.
Kiran Doshi has earned my respect, by seamlessly joining History and Fiction in his second published novel ‘Jinnah Often Came to our House’. One of the most difficult task for any Historical fiction writer would be to create anticipation in the story, people already know what happened, so to make them curious and WANT to know and feel surprised would be quite a feat. He has achieved this by keeping the story centralized to Bombay and to the leaders directly involved with it, Jinnah (Obviously) and Gandhi (to some extent, because the story of Jinnah would never be complete without The Mahatma). Also from his own admission by not thinking ahead and letting the story develop. The result is a 663 page(Kindle edition) long magnum opus. Though one thing is to be noted, that this is in no way a comprehensive work on Jinnah’s life, rather this story provides a common man’s perspective of the man and the time. This is something which, admittedly, bothered me in the beginning, but, then i realized was actually worthwhile, these people (Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, etc.) are now Legends, they have gained (or if not will gain in a few decades) the status of TITANS among men, where every word that they have ever said would be treated as Gold and their criticism by anyone as outright blasphemy. So, now, almost 70 years since independence seeing them as human, capable of everything that ails a normal person, struggling and faltering , indecisive and proud is almost a reminder that “If there is a single quality that is shared by all great men, it is vanity” (~Yousuf Karsh). And how true!, if only the Congress had realized that sooner, if only Jinnah was given his desired pound of flesh, if only his ego was soothed and massaged, if only Nehru or Gandhi would not have sidelined him and implored him to stay as the bridge between Congress and the league, if only Jinnah himself could have realized that what he was starting would lead to the creation of such unprecedented hate that it could last centuries, if only,if only, if only, ahhhh…We would be living in a completely different world.
But no, we can learn but never alter History. The story follows the ‘Kowaishi’ family in Bombay from 1903 till 1948, it Starts with the eldest son of the family ‘Sultan’ returning from London after completing his law studies, marrying ‘Rehana’ his beautiful and well educated impressionable wife and joining the Bombay high court as a barrister, much like Jinnah and then finally meeting the man in flesh. And from there it adapts to all that has to come, adding a whole lot of drama in between taking input from the social norms, beliefs and stereotypes of that time period. Bombay in the 1900’s would have been quite a place, i was transported to it, actively imagining it through the author’s writing and experience. The effect of the freedom struggle from ‘Gokhale‘ to ‘Tilak‘ to ‘Jinnah‘ to ‘Gandhi‘ on the common masses was an interesting touch. How the people perceived the struggle, their doubts, hopes from these leaders were something to wonder about. The story gives you everything it promises in its description, at time i felt that the story dragged a bit, that maybe near the end it focused more on the family drama than on the effect of Jinnah or the freedom struggle on the tale. But the characters never became redundant, in its style and length it reminded me of ‘Karambhoomi‘ though the two books are completely different in essence, the tale of sacrifice and transformation was the common denominator. Mr. Doshi has in my opinion done a great job on the book, the story though sometimes becoming dull was never truly boring, though a lengthy tale, the time period i suppose, demanded it’s share of words, the story had to react to so much.
The only complaint i have are the last chapters, they seemed rushed, and if the intention was to induce a sense of urgency in the reader well then it felt more irritating than exciting. And the complete biasness against the newly formed state’s administration, though in most of the novel Mr.Doshi had used fiction to blunt the wounds of history, but in the last few chapters the directness was like an open handed slap to the face. Which was surprising for me as i expected him to keep the whole story blunt till the end, him being a diplomat and all. This novel, told a story of a people divided and how that division came to be, what started it, The partition of Bengal?, The separate electorates policy?, The Muslim Royals like Aga khan ?, The indifference and self surety of IN Congress?, Jinnah?. Lessons each and lessons all, i see the current political state of India and am horrified to see that we have yet to learn a lot of them still. Perhaps this fictional tale would help. Perhaps we should be mindful of the lessons, because as George Santayana famously wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. And Its about time!.