In the auspicious month of Ramzan, I take pleasure in sharing with you all – a few excerpts from my novel Across Borders, to recreate this time years back…
Soon it is time for Ramadan. In 1964, the first day of Ramadan of the year 1383 AH, is the 16th of January. It has been over ten days that I am living in Zaina’s house. It is here and now that I gain understanding about the actual significance of Ramadan. Muslims around the world anticipate the arrival of this holiest month of the year and unite in a period of community-wide fasting and spiritual reflection.
However, in spite of being part of a Muslim household, since I am a Hindu, I have religious independence and am not expected to observe the fast like everyone else. The children and I are exempted from the fast, but I participate in other activities with the rest of the family. Particularly during this time, as well as other times of the year, Muslims are encouraged to read and reflect on God’s guidance. The first verses of the Quran had been revealed during the month of Ramadan and the very first word was: “Read.” I spend considerable time trying to understand the learning’s of the Quran from Uncle and Aunty. I sit with the family when they have their meal at 4am. Though they do not eat anything till sunset, the children and I have our breakfast and midday meals as usual, prepared by the cook. I look forward to Iftar with the family. Iftar is the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
I am certain God will reward Farouk uncle and his family for their benevolence in hosting me, feeding me and keeping me under-cover all through Ramadan. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this family, for hosting me during the sacred month, especially when other Muslims are out there killing Hindus in the riot. There cannot be a better form of charity than protecting and feeding the child of perhaps another God. Allah chose this family to give me a new lease of life, but more, to teach me to respect and love people of all religious faiths.
I will later learn of the killings of a number of my close I will later learn of the killings of a number of my close kin by Muslims in the current riot and the subsequent ones leading to the formation of Bangladesh in 1971. But my private experience of living amidst a Muslim family, who adopted me in turbulent times when not even my family or those close cared to find out whether I was still alive, will always spearhead my reverence for the faith. This incident will never allow me to hate Muslims like most Hindus and people of other religious faiths of my times, who in addition to their own hatred, will leave behind gory tales to feed the hatred of subsequent generations to come.
Anywhere in the world you can order your copy of Across Borders from the platforms here — https://shuvashreechowdhury.com/2019/02/19/international-sales-platforms-for-my-set-of-just-released-4-books/
If you want to know more about the book you could read the media reviews of the first edition in 2013 here: https://shuvashreechowdhury.com/2013/09/13/the-telegraph-reviews-my-book-across-borders/
Sharing with you a relevant view…The most glowing compliment I’ve received so far for my book is from Dr. P.V. Krishnamoorthy, the first director-general of Doordarshan (Indian National Television), who was 93 in Nov 2013 when I received this letter:
‘My dear Shuvashree,
Often I pride myself that I know Bengal and the Bengalis as I have lived among them and understand their psyche. Eminent musicians of Bengal have sung my compositions and I have even dared to sing Rabindra Sangeet.
But your book Across Borders threw new light on the Bengalis. You are an engrossing story teller and your characters come to life. They are so real, so natural. I was happy that you brought in the Muslim family who sheltered Maya at great risk. I heard similar stories when I visited Dacca.
It might interest you to know that my father-in-law in Delhi protected a Muslim watchman from being massacred during the Pakistan riots. It is heart-warming to know that there are sane people across borders.
Your delineation of characters was superb, so true and real that I was able to identify myself with many situations. I happen to share many of the traumatic predicaments in which Maya finds herself specially the trials and tribulations she had to undergo when man killed man. I was a sad witness to many killings in anti-Indian riots in Burma and the slaughter of Muslims in Delhi.
I was deeply touched by the story of the Muslim family which sheltered Maya during the anti-Hindu riots in East Pakistan. I heard many such stories during my visit to Dacca years later. I was reminded of how my boss Prabhat Mukerji and I ventured into Paharganj to rescue a Pathan broadcaster and his wife. Such stories need to be told.
I wish this book is read by non-Bengalis. It unobtrusively brings out our shared cultural and social norms…that in spite of apparent diversity there is a silken thread of unity that binds us all. Was it Gurudev who said, “Ek sutre bandhi acchi sahasra jibon?”
I finished reading your novel in two straight sittings. Need I say more?