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M J Akbar: BIOGRAPHY

 
M.J.Akbar Blood Brothers
 

BLOOD BROTHERS: A FAMILY SAGA
BY M J AKBAR

Blood Brothers is M.J. Akbar’s amazing story of three generations of a Muslim family – based on his own – in Telinipara and how they deal with the fluctuating contours of Hindu-Muslim relations. 

Telinipara, a small jute mill town some 30 miles north of Kolkata along the Hooghly, is a complex Rubik's Cube of migrant Bihari workers, Hindus and Muslims; Bengalis, poor and 'bhadralok'; and Sahibs who live in the safe, 'foreign' world of Victoria Jute Mill. Into this scattered inhabitation enters a child on the verge of starvation, Prayaag, who is saved and adopted by a Muslim family, converts to Islam and takes on the name of Rahmatullah. As Rahmatullah knits Telinipara into a community, friendship, love, trust and faith are continually tested by the cancer of riots. Incidents - conversion, circumcision, the arrival of plague or electricity - and a fascinating array of characters - the ultimate Brahmin, Rahmatullah's friend Girija Maharaj, the workers' leader Bauna Sardar, the storyteller Talat Mian, the poet-teacher Syed Ashfaque, the smiling mendicant, Burha Deewana, the sincere Sahib, Simon Hogg, and then the questioning, demanding third generation of the author and his friend Kamala - interlink into a narrative of social history as well as a powerful memoir. 

Blood Brothers is a chronicle of its age, its canvas as enchanting as its narrative, a personal journey through change as tensions build, stretching the bonds of a lifetime to breaking point and demanding, in the end, the greatest sacrifice. Its last chapters, written in a bare-bones, unemotional style are the most moving, as the author searches for hope amid raw wounds with a surgeon's scalpel

- The Asian Age

 

“A skilfully crafted family saga down three generations packed with information of events in the country and the world, particularly changing Hindu-Muslim relations. It could be a textbook on how to write, mix fact, fiction and history. It is beautifully written; it deserves to be in
Category A1.”
Khushwant Singh
Author & Historian
 
“I enjoyed M.J.Akbar’s Blood Brothers [as though it were] my own biography... It is an exquisitely written narrative of truth disguised in fiction and ends on a note that is deeply moving and unforgettable.”
Sunil Gangopadhyay
Pre-eminent Bengali novelist
 
“M.J. Akbar’s Blood Brothers is a marvellous work of history in the form of a deeply engaging story of a Muslim family in Bengal. The exploration of the complex interface between Muslims and Hindus over the last 150 years has the freshness of a first-person experience which it actually is. A work of considerable charm, grace and insight. A worthy companion to his earlier book shade of swords on the Islam/West encounter.”
Shyam Benegal
Renowned film-maker

 

E-mail the Author : mjakbar@mjakbar.org
E-mail your Reviews :
ilaxi@mjakbar.org

Blood Brothers a hit in Pak
- By Shafqat Ali

Islamabad: M.J. Akbar’s book Blood Brothers: A Family Saga is already a bestseller in Pakistan within a week of its launch in Lahore with many saying it will promote better understanding between the two countries.

The book of memoirs — a non-fictional account of three generations of a Muslim family — is selling like hot cakes among politicians, academics and media personalities. "I have personally purchased a copy of Mr Akbar’s book and found it very, very interesting. It is a mixture of reality and fiction," Pakistan’s education minister Javed Ashraf Qazi said. "The book is bound to let the younger generation know about our history. The story is so interesting that one gets captivated. I will make sure every Cabinet member gets it. I will even try (to ensure) that the President (Pervez Musharraf) and Prime Minister (Shaukat Aziz) read it," Mr Qazi told IANS here.

Makhdoom Amin Fahim, a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader and deputy to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has got a copy of the book, which also delineates the fluctuating contours of Hindu-Muslim ties. "The book is indeed a good addition to my collection. I have gone through it and would like to read it at least 10 times," said Mr Fahim, who is also a poet. The PPP leader said the launching of the book and Bollywood movies would bring the people and governments of the two countries closer. "I will send a copy to (PPP chief Benazir) Bhutto in Dubai," he said.

Former federal minister Aitzaz Ahsan said the book’s main theme, which he described as the "golden thread" of the book, was a message of hope, coexistence, brotherhood and tolerance between Pakistan and India.

Najma Najam, vice-chancellor of the Fatima Jinnah Women University, wants at least 100 copies for the varsity library. "I have found it to be interesting and worth reading in one go," she said. Jamil Mirza, a professor of the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, said: "Mr Akbar’s book is set to bring people closer." Salim Bokhari, editor of the News daily, said in Lahore: "I have always liked the way Mr Akbar writes. This book is very unique. I have got 10 copies, one for me, one for my wife and some for my friends."

The book is also doing brisk business in all major bookstores of the country. "I think it will lead the top-10 listing soon. It is already a bestseller," said Mohammed Taj, a bookseller in Lahore. Abdullah Janoon, another bookstore owner in Islamabad, said: "The marketing has been good and the book is selling well."

In Blood Brothers, Mr Akbar narrates the story of a poor child, Prayaag (in the persona of the writer’s grandfather), who is adopted by a Muslim family, converts to Islam and takes on the name of Rahmatullah.

As Rahmatullah knits Telinipara into a community, friendship, love, trust and faith are continually tested. Incidents — conversion, circumcision, the arrival of plague or of electricity — and a fascinating array of characters interlink into a narrative of social history. (IANS)


MJ Akbar's Blood Brothers launched
BY OUR STAFF REPORTER
Nation.com

LAHORE - Celebrated Indian journalist and writer MJ Akbar's book 'Blood Brothers' was launched at Alhamra Hall on Thursday evening. The event organised by Roli Books, New Delhi, and Liberty Books, Karachi, was attended by leading personalities from different sections of society including writers, journalists and politicians. 

Chairman PCB Shehryar Khan, PPP leader and writer Aitzaz Ahsan, Indian High Commissioner Shiv Shankar Menon, Editor The Nation Arif Nizami, Publisher Dawn Hameed Haroon, Roli Books owner Pramodh Kumar and the author shared their views at the book launch which was also attended by famous cricket star Wasim Akram. A number of friends of MJ Akbar had come from India to attend the event. The author's wife Malika and daughter Diya were also present. 

"The book is a story of three generations of a Muslim family. It is also about two cities - Calcutta and Lahore. My earliest memories can be divided into two phases - school days and holidays. 

"My mother's family was here in Lahore and all our holidays were spent here. She would eagerly wait for holidays. Lahore was very much part of our lives but it disappeared after 1965. Partition was a reality no one could change or should change. But for us the second partition was imposed in the shape of war imposed by two governments. All links between the two countries ended. 

"Therefore, the launch of book in Lahore has special significance. Time for change has come when we stop playing blame games. There is no need for them," Akbar said while sharing his views. 
Arif Nizami said a number of book launchings and other events involving the Indians are taking place. "But the relations between Pakistan and India seem not be making any forward movement. It seems they are like taking one step forward and two backwards or they seem to be going around in circles. Kashmir is the unfinished agenda of partition. Pakistan has made a number of moves to settle the core issue of Kashmir but India has not shown any flexibility in this regard. 
"It is high time we settle the issue to save our energies for dealing with other pressing issues like increasing poverty," he maintained. 

Nizami praised Akbar for his research in presenting the historical aspects of the book. "The Deoband movement and many other subjects dealt with in the book are revealing. He has presented the dilemma of Muslims in India. He has powerfully presented the spirit of his father, which reflected that of Indian Muslims. 
"His father was declared a Pakistani agent before the start of 1965 war and arrested. His mother had prayed and avowed that he would be released in 19 days time. He was released on the 19th day as the war ended after 17 days. 

"The Muslims had to face jingoistic treatment and this was the reason Akbar wanted to be a journalist. He can be called a success story. Is his success a token exercise or is this the surge of Muslims in India making great progress? The record of India's treatment to its minorities is not so good. Akbar can prove to be a bridge in improving relations," he said. 
Nizami said he first met Akbar in Bangalore during the SAARC summit with Mushahid Hussain and Kuldip Nayyar. "He was quite a rebel then," he commented. 

Aitzaz Ahsan said the golden thread of the book was co-existence. "When an incident like that of Gujrat or Babri Mosque happens we forget that across the sub continent many religions have co-existed through most of the time. The book gives us the message of hope. We must not be cowed down by extremism," he maintained. 

He praised fast paced narration of the book. "The power of the women is beautifully shown in the book. For example when there was issue of making cow sacrifice, it was Akbar's grandmother and mother who took the cow away and defused the situation," Aitzaz said. 

Shehryar Khan said his family migrated from Bhopal and he had seen the horrors of partition that Akbar had written about in his book. He identified three themes in the book. "First was the courage in the face of death as well as courage of your convictions and beliefs. The second theme is that of human bonding while the third is of making of blood brothers in the face of insanity prevailing around," he said. Shehryar read some excerpts from the book to explain the themes. Shiv Shankar Menon said he read the book as a work of history. "The strongest part is about partition. It asks very difficult questions and that is its strength. But it leaves you with hope," he averred. 

He said on February 14 last there were 2,800 Indians in Lahore for the cricket match. "There was violence but not even a single Indian was touched when they identified themselves as Indians," he revealed. 

Hameed Haroon said Akbar writes straight to the point and does not hide behind symbols. He lamented that not many quality books were being published in the country. He stressed on protection to authors and writers by ensuring due royalties and urged the civil society to care more for intellect.

 



 
 

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Saga of courage, faith, friendship and partitions
Staff Report
Daily Times

LAHORE: The launch of a book by celebrated Indian author and journalist M J Akbar at the Alhamra Art Centre on Thursday was an occasion to celebrate courage, faith, history, friendship and partitions – past, present and future—and instill hope in the younger generations of enduring peace between warring neighbours.

A galaxy of “friends of MJ” – sans Mushahid Hussain who is doing more important things organising the PML-Q as per editor Arif Nizami – paid glowing tributes to the Indian Muslim author, and the glittering audience of intellectuals and peaceniks rose to the occasion by applauding their every sentence.

Among the luminaries who spoke on the occasion were Aitzaz Ahsan who was as dramatic as ever; the irrepressible Hameed Haroon of Dawn; the dapper Arif Nizami of The Nation, the gallant Mian Sheharyar Khan of the Pakistan Sports Board, and the eloquent Shivshanker Menon, the current Indian High Commissioner to Islamabad.

The book in question, Blood Brothers – A Family Saga, was published in India last month and, according to the publisher Pramod Kapoor, sold out even before it was formally released! However, a couple of our speakers admitted that they had not fully read the book, prompting a backbench wit to quip “presumably because they didn’t want to prejudge it before the book launch.”

MJ, as he is affectionately known, said the book was neither fact nor fiction, but the truth. Actually, it is a bit of both fact and fiction, weaving the amazing story of three generations originating from the time MJ’s Hindu grandfather Prayag converted to Islam in Telinipura, a small jute-mill town north of Calcutta, acquired the name Rehmatullah and married a Muslim girl, to the time of the family’s escape to Dhaka at the time of partition in 1947, and return to Calcutta later. As a personal, political and historical chronicle, it is MJ’s first dip into the world of the novel, having previously authored seven books of non-fiction and biography.

Mian Sheharyar said it required courage to acknowledge the poverty-shrouded origins of MJ’s family. Aitzaz Ahsan pointed out how the book is a veritable tract of feminism in which women are the real heroes. Arif Nizami and Hameed Haroon regaled the audience with vignettes from MJ’s personal life while Shivshanker Menon exclaimed that there could be no better introduction to the wondrous and multi-coloured land that was India than this book.

MJ decried two historical partitions that tore the fabric of human relations and love in the subcontinent. One was in 1947 and the other in 1965 when a draconian visa regime was imposed on travel between the two countries. “My mother was a Lahori as much as she was a Kashmiri from Amritsar”, he said, “and she couldn’t return to Lahore after the 1965 war ruptured relations between the two countries.” “I couldn’t put it down,” claimed Mian Sheharyar, mocking a chiller thriller. It’s not an easy book, argued Shivshanker Menon because it spans so much knowledge. The long queue of eager book beavers for MJ’s autograph on the title page of the book after the event testified to the impact of his heroic endeavours. Buy a copy and travel his family’s remarkable journey over the last century.

Approach
:: Up close and personal with M J Akbar ::
 
-Mehmal Sarfraz 
http://www.thepost.com.pk/appr_vis.aspx  

M J Akbar is a leading Indian journalist and author of several bestsellers. He is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Asian Age, India’s first multi-edition daily newspaper with a global perspective, and is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Deccan Chronicle, a Hyderabad-based news daily. He comes from Bihari Muslim ancestry. He was recently in Lahore for the book launching ceremony of his latest (seventh) book, Blood Brothers: A Family Saga.

We found him sitting in the lobby of the hotel he is staying at, having coffee with some guests. After bidding them farewell, he greeted us with a warm and hearty ‘hello’. Dressed casually in a white summer shirt and trousers, M J exuded an aura of coolness mixed with exuberance. After the formalities, we sat down for a chitchat session.

M J started to talk about his latest book with such passion that it was clearly visible how strongly he feels about it. He said that this book holds a special place in his heart, though this was not to say that his other books meant any less to him. “Every book is like maternity and to a mother every child is equally beautiful, though one may be more of a favourite than the others.” M J has a penchant for writing. When asked how he makes time for writing books with his extremely busy schedule, he says, “Time nikalta nahi, par nikaalana parrta hai yaar,” (There is no time, but I have to take time out). “It’s an addiction! I can’t get enough of it,” he says with a hearty chuckle. He said he gets plenty of time when travelling to keep writing. M J said he gets his inspiration from everyday experiences, and as he himself puts it, “No text is possible without context.” He wants to leave his books behind as a legacy, as a treasure of knowledge from which others would learn.

M J’s strength as a writer comes from two things. One is his strength of expression and the other is the strength of his craft. To put a story in a way that puts it in the exact light of what one wants to say is how a writer masters the art of storytelling. He believes that simplicity is the key to success for any writer. “Otherwise there are hundred different ways of saying things, you can make it dense and opaque or clear yet keeping it simple – depends on the way you tell the story.” He does not like to write in a difficult manner, with difficult words thrust in all over the page, making it difficult for the readers to grasp what the writer is saying. “It does a writer no good when the reader can’t go beyond certain pages. What’s the use of writing a book? You are not here to show off your vocabulary. A writer’s job is to capture the attention of the reader till the very end, not to lose the reader midway.”

“It is very cruel to ask a writer when he will write the next book,” quipped M J when queried about his future work. “You cannot ask a mother when she would give birth to her next child, only when the seed is impregnated inside her will she give birth – just like the seed of a new idea would impregnate my mind and the next book will follow.” Let’s wait and see how long it takes for M J to get impregnated (with an idea for his book of course!)

Talking about what keeps him ticking, he said, “It is just belief in myself. The worst kind of defeat is to be defeated by stupidity, to be defeated by evil, to be defeated by pettiness. I accept that I am just a pawn in the large game, but the moral framework of any human being should be such that he is never overwhelmed by events.” M J said that he is not afraid of confrontations. “Why enter life if you cannot confront things? Never be afraid of anything.”

About his brief foray into politics, M J says he wants to “experience everything in life”. Asked if he left politics because he got disillusioned, he said, “No, no, not at all. You can only be disillusioned if you have any illusions. And I don’t have any illusions.” He said that venturing into politics had been a good experience, “but the term ended too soon,” he laughingly tells us. “There are no regrets, but I am not cut out for politics. I don’t even know how to make money through politics!”

The secret of his success as a journalist is fearlessness and honesty. “The simplest way to deal with anything is to not want anything in return. If I go somewhere, I don’t want to be invited again. If they invite me again, that’s thir prerogative, but I never asked for it. I never try to embellish the truth, never put a spin on it. I write what I perceive to be right.”

When asked whether he is close to the religion Islam, he said, “Of course I am! I have full faith in my religion, but I do not impose my beliefs on others. And I certainly do not believe in the Islam preached by the maulvis.” He said that these mullahs are not ignorant, but want the people to remain in ignorance. “Ignorance is the breeding ground for the subjugation of women. These maulvis just want to maintain their power over women through this ignorance. They do not want anyone to introspect the religion, when in fact all the big scholars of Islam believe that it is always open for introspection. “It is not wrong to introspect, especially in religion. How can you follow something that you are not comfortable with, that logic defies? You should always be willing to introspect when you are in doubt.” He says that intention matters the most, not deeds. “If you have good intentions, don’t worry even if it brings about a bad result.” “Islam teaches you everything. There is a beautiful hadith: ‘The Quran is the speaking teacher, while the silent teacher is death’, so we must learn from the Quran.”

On the condition of Muslims around the world, he said, “Muslims are facing injustice in many cases, but at the same time they themselves are the perpetrators of many injustices. Some of the greatest injustices against Muslims are done by other Muslims.” “I am comfortable with my age. But one should never sneer at time, for it passes fast,” when asked if he is afraid of old age. M J is 55 years old. He is very close to his family, especially his daughters.

People’s power is the solution to the Kashmir problem in his opinion. “In the end, the solution will not be found by the Pakistani or Indian governments, but by the people.” We wanted to talk a bit more about the political scenario of Pakistan, but M J made it clear he was here to talk about his book and not Pakistani politics.

M J Akbar believes in learning from moment to moment as living is learning. He comes across as a serious man, yet his sense of humour is highly visible during the whole conversation. M J truly lives the fearless way.

The DAWN, PAKISTAN
Blood Brothers launch today -By Shehar Bano Khan


LAHORE, May 10: Dressed in his summer crisp white shirt and trousers, M.J. Akbar looked quite untouched by the searing temperature outside the comfortable hotel environment. Sitting in the lobby of the hotel where he is 
staying, he talked with such motivated spirit about his latest book ‘Blood Brothers’ that its contents started coming to life in the listener’s mind.

“This is the first time I’m doing a book launch in Pakistan and if you read the book you’ll realise why I’ve chosen Lahore as the city for its launch in Pakistan. It forms an integral part of my narrative,” explained the journalist-author.

Blood Brothers is M. J. Akbar’s sixth foray into book writing and going by the reviews in India, other than being translated into six different languages, it has 
already claimed a place on the bestsellers’ list in Akbar’s home country. “It has received tremendous response from the people. Without sounding too cliched I’ll say this is one book which is close to my heart because of the passion involved in writing it. It’s about my identity as an Indian Muslim, about my parents, my grandfather and what being a Muslim means in India,” he elaborated.

Writing in an autobiographical narrative, M. J. Akbar has no hesitation in conceding that Blood Brothers is a mixed account of history interlaced with fiction to make it interesting.

“Though the events and characters in the book are based on reality, I’ve used the colourful fictional element to capture the reader’s interest. Reality and truth can be very monotonous. I had to use my craft as a writer to expand reality in a way which would not compromise its factual contents.”

Covering a period of three generations, M. J. Akbar starts off with Prayaag, his grandfather, who converted to Islam of his own free will and became Rahmatullah. “It’s in Telinipara, a small jute-mill town north of Kolkata, where the family saga began. My grandfather was barely 11 and on the verge of starvation when he was given shelter and food by a Muslim family. Since the couple had no children of their own, they adopted him,” narrated M. J. Akbar.

“There wasn’t any forced conversion. My grandfather did it out of love for the people who cared for him like they would for their own son. I’ve written this book keeping in mind the people of the subcontinent and how they’ve existed despite upheavals to create the social history of this region.”

Akbar is one of the best known journalists of India; he has gained international recognition for the crispness of style arising from accepting facts rather than nurturing politically convenient bitterness perpetuated by the manipulated history of the subcontinent. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Asian Age, a multi-edition national daily, and The Deccan Chronicle, besides being a Dawn columnist.

M. J. Akbar has already won critical acclaim for The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict between Islam and Christianity, Jawaharlal Nehru’s biography Nehru: 
The Making of a Nation, Kashmir: Behind the Vale, The Siege Within, Riot After Riot and a collection of his articles compiled under the title of Byline.

The formal launch of Blood Brothers will take place today (Thursday) at the Alhamra Hall III on The Mall at 5pm.

 
Author traces roots of Hindu-Muslim ties 

The Pioneer
New Delhi, 17 April 2006

History can disappear in a paragraph’
- Shana Maria Verghis

A state of neither elation, nor anger is a good base to write a book. Because you need calm to see beyond prejudices, says MJ Akbar, editor and author. ?After my parents died years ago, I thought it important to put the story down. And wrote it drained of all passion?

His novel Blood Brothers is a family saga based loosely on the life of Prayaag, his paternal grandfather, a Bihari Hindu, who migrated to Bengal, fleeing the famine.

Prayaag was taken in by a Muslim family. He converted, was circumcised, married a Muslim girl and became a successful businessman. The book splices fragments from history pre and post-1857. Wajid Ali Shah's excesses, selling out to the British, growth of Deoband Muslims, cholera epidemics to Partition, discussions on Urdu, Jawaharlal Nehru's death.  

Concluding in the late 60s, the book covers three generations of a Muslim family living in a jute mill town called Telinipara. 

Akbar says, I’ve known this story all my life. .rom tales told by aunts, myths and memories.?

Your choice of language is very lucid...

The merit of narrative fiction is craft and enables you to communicate through the use of right words. Rather than write for yourself. It's alright for James Joyce, but my objective is to include the reader in the story. There is a line from Ghalib in the book explaining this credo.The poet does not discover truth on my behalf. He deftly draws strokes on a page and leaves me to complete the portrait, for in the unwritten lies the reader's freedom.

The chapters are a series of vignettes...

The anecdotes are a metaphor for larger stories of Indian Muslims in a kasbah. About causes and consequences of how in the same street, history forces itself. A street where people want to observe Id, work, draw salaries, get out of poverty and don't want history.

Were you close to your grandfather? 
He established a sense of memory in the family through friendship. The only distinction we had with Hindus was of faith. This was true for everyone in those days. Now with ghettoism, we live separately and have stopped understanding joys and pleasures of others. A festival like Muharram used to be a common pageant. It was meant to remind us of injustice which affects both Hindus and Muslims. Of course women would walk under tazias.

What was the inherited legacy? 

A belief system passed on to my father. Attachment to soil.
Since the book looks at Indian Muslims, we are going to ask a cliche question about ?clash of civilisations?

No such thing exists. In fact, Huntingdon quoted me in the original essay, where I spoke of a clash of colonisation, as opposed to clash of civilisation. At moments of change, a familiar metaphor used is the image of a storm. Leaves flying in the breeze. That was how Gandhi described communal violence. We measure history in timespans. But it can disappear in paragraphs. We are in the process of evolution. Of creating a modern state. The notion of this ideal is in conflict with reality. To find solutions is the search of a lifetime.

You constantly revert to history... 

I had to go back to see where to depart from. .or reference points on human behaviour. Its dignity, joys, brief timespans. Instead of moving towards elimination of what was necessary in the 1950s. Not at the same point of what happened to Dalits. That was horrible, though some termed it positive discrimination. Good is ending discrimination, not institutionalising it.

What is the role of Muslim leaders? 

What is a Muslim leader? A leader of Muslims does not become a Muslim leader. Lalu will serve anyone of interest to him. Bengalis voted in favour of CP(M), the godless believers. Kerala for the Left. These are healthy signs. As for Hindutva, each idea peaks, lasts itself, then strengthens or weakness.

What is your writing method?

I let an idea germinate, then get confidence to write if I like it. I knew the beginning and end of Blood Brothers before I started.

What language do you think in? 

In weaker moments, Hindustani and English.

Writers you admire?

My professor at Presidency College. I refer to him in the book. I admire the sibilants and sounds of Milton. I have read Book II of Paradise Lost. I also enjoy Shakespeare and Urdu poetry. You can?t use it in book-keeping though. Or it may have been the language for commerce

INDIAN TOP 10 BESTSELLERS:NON-FICTION
3. Delhi: A Thousand Years of Building By Lucy Peck Lotus Roli, Rs 500
6. Blood Brothers: A Family Saga By M.J. Akbar Lotus Roli, 
Rs 395
First Week of its launch
1. Blood Brothers: A Family Saga by M J Akbar 
First & second week of May 2006
(Source: Bahri Sons, New Delhi)

M J AKBAR'S
POWERFUL AND COMPELLING HISTORY
AS FAMILY NARRATIVE

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