A bus conductor’s son, aspiring poet Danish Husain lives in Gangauli village of Ghazipur. Though the 28-year-old is unemployed, he is desperate to do “any kind of business”, and is on the lookout for contacts. Ask him about the late Rahi Masoom Raza’s Aadha Gaaon, a Hindi novel set in his village, circa 1947, and Danish looks uncomfortable. “It is too honest a novel. Rahi wrote in responsible times, when the truth could be handled, but what he said then can harm us now,” he says.
Raza is best remembered for his screenplays of Bollywood hits like Mili, Mein Tulsi Tere Aangan ki, Alaap and Prem Kahani and B R Chopra’s smash-hit teleserial, Mahabharat.
His most memorable novel, Aadha Gaaon, tells the story of how Gangauli reacts when confronted with Partition. While some are bewildered, some are pleased thinking that the village would be divided into two neat halves (Aadha Gaaon) and how in the end, deep divisions within the Muslim community come to the fore. Forthright and full of black humour, it has been often described as “saiyam-heen” (something that is not balanced). The novel is a powerful testament of how political jargon and ideas weave themselves into one’s day to day existence. So did the colourful characters like Phunnan Miyaan, Abbu Miyan, Jhangtia Bo or Babbarmua really exist ? Raza’s uncle, Syed Abuzar Hussain, who still lives in the family’s ancestral home, nods reflectively and says, “All stories have some fact and some fiction.”
Hussain feels Gangauli, a village of some 12,000 people, has stayed where his nephew left it in his novel. It appears untouched by “development”. There no hospitals or public health facility. A madrasa established in 1947 takes care of early schooling of children and a basic bi-weekly bazaar caters to the needs of the villagers.
Once a Communist stronghold, the village threw its weight behind the Congress in the 1970s and 1980s, but for the past decade-and-a-half, this Muslim bastion swears by the Cycle. The village is united in defending the Samajwadi Party. There is no industry in the village, save the weavers, who earn Rs 50 for every five hours of work they put in, weaving Benarasi sarees.
But despite the misery, weaver Mohammed Irfan feels the Samajwadi Party has done its bit to help the people. “The state has helped with the Kanya Vidya Dhan and it does give us some light. It is eight hours a day when there is no election, and now just before the polls, power is there for 18 to 20 hours a day,” he says.
At the Islamia Al Yaul Uloom, a Deoband madrasa set up in 1947, Hafiz Maulana Munir Ahmed, admits that “we do see who is best situated to defeat the BJP and vote for them, and that does happen to be the SP”. The Congress, and especially the fact that the Congress President has written an appeal in Urdu, is discussed with a degree of respect. But the villagers again remind you that the vote will go to “Mulayam’s party”.
Ghazipur and Mau were much in the news last year after strongman Krishnanand Rai’s killing and bahubali Mukhtar Ansari’s arrest, which led to considerable communal tension. But, say Gangauli residents, “Our village was unaffected, Hindus and Muslims live together here and there was no trouble.” Yet, they slowly air their perceptions about being discriminated against. Dr Aftab, who completed his MBBS from Muzaffarpur University, practices here and says there is prejudice against Muslims and the resulting insecurity leads people to Mulayam; “I applied for the UPSC and several other services, but have am yet to get a call from anywhere. Why do you ask what the qaum is doing? We are doing enough, but need help,” he says. Asif, an unemployed young man is less optimistic about how far his vote will travel. “There are 50 parties that have come up. Even if all Muslim votes are put together, I don’t think any party or set of parties will be in a position to form a government.” Another young man, Riaz Ahmed, openly mocks his neighbours, wanting to know the difference between the Congress, SP and BSP is as far as Muslims are concerned. “Sirf vote lene tak yeh baat karte hain, khat likhte hain, uske baad, phek dete hain,” he says.
All villagers here know where Raza’s home is. Especially since the time a TV crew came here to shoot his Neem ka Per as a tele-serial. But as they direct us to Rahi’s home, they are at a loss when asked if any amongst them have read his novels. Slowly, Shamsul Huda, a weaver, stirs to life; “Kitaabein toh azaad, khush-haal log padhte hain. Hum log to itne pareshaan rehte hain, hum log kya padh payenge ?” (Books are a privilege of the prosperous and those free of any problems, we are steeped in problems, how will we read?) he asks.