Duped – A Book That Shocks As Well As Makes You Think
Anyone expecting the recently released book DUPED by Saadia Navin Bilgrami as a conventional chronicle or an autobiography or memoirs will be disappointed. Instead of a linear account of her life as a fourth child of an immigrant Pakistani family from Northern India, she offers a disjointed series of chapters that focus less on herself than on the predicament of her grandmother who left an affluent life behind to flee for life but losing half her family on her way to the ‘promised land’.
She, the matriarch, suffered more in her adopted land than had she stayed in the land of her ancestors and faced the consequences of her “quixotic activities”. She accuses the founder for everything that ails Pakistan including a degenerate society, depraved morals of its elite and lack of a democratic culture. “That who’s born crooked remains crooked the entire life” she claims. Lack of political savvy, arrogance, blind faith on the British and indifference to the advice of associates, caused an irreparable damage to the Muslims of the sub-continent on both sides of the divide. Had there been a process in the Party, people would have chosen their leaders wisely, she writes.
“The whole thing is ironic,” she continues firing from the mouth of her grandmother. “After living in harmony (not of course absolute as wishing it would be Utopian) for almost half a millennium in a united state of India, a bunch of anglophile ‘bourgeois’ declared that Muslims were a different species and therefore needed a separate homeland.”
In Pakistan, first her grandmother was declared persona non grata; then circumstances found her thirteen years old sister as a domestic in the house of a feudal lord whose scion had crippled her father for life and where the mysterious disappearance of her predecessor kept her on her toes; and lastly, bringing her family saga at par with a Greek tragedy, she describes the gripping tales of her two brothers who perished one after the other within a short span of time. And as the funeral of her brother was being taken out for burial, she, as a toddler, asks the older sister: “Can I use Bhayya’s slippers now?”
Saadia Bilgrami is a novice to the world of letters and, therefore, has not been able to advance her case in a scholarly manner. The whole book seems a catharsis of a wrung out heart. But s he raises questions that resonate fleetingly in the minds of serious thinkers. Citing example of the Mason-Dixon line to resolve a border dispute between a couple of Colonial American States that took five years to be drawn and which didn’t involve population or asset transfer, she writes; “… the partition of a country with a population of four hundred million, with more than one thousand cultures and tongues and a land area of some one and a half million square miles was allowed to be wrapped up in less than two months. Why?” Circumstances leading to accepting Radcliff, with no background as a demographer, a cartographer, a social scientist or even an industrialist, as the arbiter of the fate of the Indian sub-continent aren’t very clear! Why UN or some neutral country wasn’t considered for the job? She queries. Why the fate of Kashmir, Hyderabad and other princely states was left to be decided by India’s fire power? Allowing ‘partition papers’ to be destroyed was coupe de grace reminding that Muslim League leaders were cooling their heels while the thwarting minds were at work.
Her grandmother’s outbursts against organized religions, particularly monotheism, however, are difficult to fathom. Writing after a wide interval of years, the obscure author disgorging fire and smoke right down to the bone quotes the old woman saying that these have made both living and dying difficult. She has quoted copiously from philosophers, Nobel laureates, poets and classicists to bring “weight and wisdom” to the arguments defining ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ truths and shortness of life. Why God spoke in parables to the prophets and plainly and with clarity to those who fostered an enlightened society free of prejudices, petty rivalries, conflicts and misinterpretations? Why faith in God divides? What’s the difference between Divine punishment and Divine test? Is it a fact that Fate rules the destiny of man and even gods can’t escape its writ?
So this is a book that could be called a potpourri of reminisces, politics, philosophy and metaphysics and a highly wrought account of the travails of a family. Nonetheless, it is a must read book by the millennial generation. It’s always good to heed arguments opposite to one’s own. It widens one’s understanding of problems presently faced. The older generation having too fixed an idea would be, in their hubris, unwilling to accept anything contrary to their beliefs. - SSH
The book of nearly 500 pages, priced at $23 originally, is now available in cheaper editions at Amazon and Barnes & Nobel.