February 03, 2016

Book Review of Kiran Doshi's Jinnah Often Came to Our House

Business Standard

Jinnah, friend and folly

If Amitav Ghosh is a sociologist-historian turned novelist, Kiran Doshi is a novelist turned social historian

T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan 
Author: Kiran Doshi
Publisher: Tranquebar
Pages: 490
Price: Rs 695

Let me declare at the very outset: the author is a dear friend of mine of nearly 45 years. I have reviewed two of his previous books, both fiction, in these columns.

One of them was in verse as, indeed, quite fittingly, was my review. had finally met his match.

In his two previous books, Doshi had seemed a little tentative. In this one he has surpassed himself, in the narration, in the narrative, in the understated tone, in the soft irony, in the gentle humour and, above all, in the sheer sensibility that must underlie every piece of writing, whether a long novel, short review such as this one or even a tweet.

I am not going to summarise the plot because there is none, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. It is a story of many lives and a lifestyle, all now gone forever.

But there is a theme all right, never mind that it is an old one in this benighted post-Partum subcontinent of ours. Many others have written on it in the different languages and idioms of west, central and eastern India. This one is about how middle class and lived in near-perfect harmony with each other.

But he is ideally suited to write about the subject. His wife is Raziya, daughter of an officer in Bombay police who served during the 1940s and passed away only recently after turning 100.

But it is Raziya's mother who mostly informs the book. Her father had been a noted barrister. She was what we now call a freedom fighter. At the time she was merely a friend of Muhammad Ali Jinnah's. She ran a hospital and, as Doshi puts it, "She gave a lot to the world and took little from it." Quite a few of the incidents in this book, embellished for the purpose, are based on what she told Doshi over the years.

The story begins with the protagonist coming home from London after eating his dinners at the Inns of Court. It then moves purposefully through the spirit of the times and the things that happened during those years. It ends with the partition.

And you once again sense the senselessness of it all, of Jinnah's folly, of Gandhi's sadness and, of course, looming above it all, the shadow of Perfidious Albion.

It is also a historical novel in the mould about Hindu-Muslim politics. But it is without the occasional dreariness that creeps into Ghosh's because of his obsession with history gleaned from documents. Doshi's history is based on personal accounts of the people with whom he lived.

If Ghosh is a sociologist-historian turned novelist, Doshi is a novelist turned social historian. His nostalgia, in contrast to Manto, brings a smile to the lips, instead of moisture to the eye.

He has a light touch. Funny lines crop up in the most unexpected places. "...he was obliged to marry one of them. It was the least he could do after making her pregnant."

Or when Jinnah says: "The Hindus are saying they won't give us a corridor. They say then India will be moth eaten. But I say, so what? Why should only Pakistan be moth eaten?"

Doshi, having spent his life in the Foreign Service, will never be the toast of Litfests. In that sense, he is like Bhaskar Ghosh who has written two fine novels after a life wasted in the IAS. They are two bureaucrats who strayed far away from their natural talent.

This is a must read for people of refinement and taste. It is not a bestseller of the Chetan Bhagat type, you know, four shots of vodka and a double tot of rum; wham-bang and thank you, chum.

It is a slow burning scotch you can savour only if you know the difference.