Aavarana, the best-selling Kannada novel that has been published in many Indian languages, means ‘the veil’. Its author, 83-year-old Santeshivar Lingannayya Bhyrappa, explains in his preface: “The act of concealing truth is known as ‘aavarana’.... The author’s responsibility is towards the historical truth of the subject on which his/her work is based. When truth and beauty are put on a scale, the writer’s fidelity must invariably be in favour of the truth. An author doesn’t have the moral right to violate truth and take refuge in the claim that he/she is only a creative artist.”
With this explanation, Bhyrappa goes on to write a novel with the sole aim of removing the veil, which, according to him, secular intellectuals and politicians have drawn over the inhuman character of Islam and the mountain of atrocities committed by Muslim rulers over the ages in India. This truth of history, he claims, has been suppressed and falsified in the name of secularism and national integration. His novel, he believes, performs the act of ‘anaavarana’—unveiling or exposing the hidden face of truth.
However, truth, pertaining to both historical and contemporary realities, has many sides. No writer has the moral right to deny some vital realities just to showcase his preferred reality as the only truth there is. The chief falsity of Bhyrappa’s claim lies in the fact that, while lifting the veil over one historical truth (especially the breaking of Hindu temples and idols under the watch of bigoted Muslim rulers in past centuries, where he is on solid ground), he has himself placed a veil over other important sides of the truth about the largely positive, and mutually enriching, encounter between Hinduism and Islam. He has refused to recognise anything noble and uplifting in Islam. He does not acknowledge that the Muslim contribution to the making of India has many admirable features. His depiction of the Muslim life in India is entirely negative. All the Muslim characters in the novel are conservative and closed-minded; Amir, the pseudo-progressive filmmaker; his parents, who are heavily influenced by the moral policing of the Tablighi Jamaat; and his son Nazir, who is born to his first wife Lakshmi, his artistically endowed Hindu lover whom he forces to convert to Islam. All of them look down upon Hindus and Hinduism. Nazir, who grows up to have a lucrative job in Saudi Arabia, is also shown to have the expat’s disdain for India.
Any unprejudiced person familiar with the diversity of our society would know that Bhyrappa’s stereotypical depiction of Indian Muslims makes him guilty of doing the same thing—of placing a dark aavarana on truth—that he is accusing Marxism-influenced secularists of doing. According to Bhyrappa, Islam’s entry into India has enfeebled and castrated Indian civilisation, which he equates solely—and wrongly—with Hinduism. (In a Mughal-era novel within this novel, there is indeed an elaborate tale of a male character who is first enslaved, converted to Islam and then castrated.)
When a writer takes liberties with truth, beauty perforce becomes a casualty. The novel has an irritating lack of artistic integrity, despite its immense popularity with readers influenced by Hindutva. (One such reader writes on the internet: “The more I read about Islam, the more I realise it is a pure and unadulterated force of barbarity. Bhyrappa expresses in a few sentences what our intellectual worthies will not be capable of expressing in a few lifetimes.”) Several narrative situations appear contrived. Indeed, in many places, it reads more like a polemic against secularists, for whom Bhyrappa has visceral aversion. As often happens, a routine ploy employed by a debater desperate to win the argument is to caricature his opponents. This is what Bhyrappa does by showing the character Professor Sastri, a Marxist celebrity respected by secularists, including Amir and Lakshmi in their youth, as a dishonest, unprincipled and money-minded careerist.
However, Aavarana has some redeeming features. Its case for reform of coercive Muslim practices is persuasive. The travails of Lakshmi—called Razia after her conversion, she returns to her ancestral village and to her Hindu cultural roots following estrangement with Amir (who remarries without divorcing her)—evoke empathy. So does the character of her Gandhian father. As one who has read this novel in the original Kannada, I find Sandeep Balakrishna’s translation commendable.
The novel’s appearance in English is to be welcomed. Its arguments, though not new, deserve to be widely debated anew—and many of them refuted.
This is in response to Sudheendra Kulkarni’s brilliant review of S.L. Bhyrappa’s novel Aavarana—The Veil (Still Tightening the Veil, Apr 14). When I read articles by the mainstream media about Bhyrappa’s Aavarana, I am struck by how illiberal the liberal media continues to be. Kulkarni accuses Bhyrappa of “falsifying the enriching interactions between Hindus and Muslims”. But if there had been such ‘enrichment’, there would be no need to create a separate Muslim nation! And if there had been perfect understanding between the two communities, there would be no need to obfuscate the truth. If one looks at the nature of conversions to Islam, the past of a person is obliterated, including his name, and ties with family and friends. One will have to actively research history to know that a Muslim prince might very well have been a first-generation Rajput convert, whose ancestors might have been worshippers of Eklingji. If there was no enticement or violence, no such conversions would have taken place. In a perfect world, Muslims too should have a chance to acknowledge their past heritage. The reviewer talks about the rich contribution of Muslim culture. Where? Hindustani music is totally ours. Look at how Pakistan is keen on eradicating that aspect of ‘their’ culture. And people with an unbroken cultural heritage can contribute more toward literature. I have always admired Bhyrappa for basing his novels on historical truth. He has held steadfast to his value system, unlike others who fictionalise it to the point where it blurs the truth.
Manjula Tekal, Champaign, US
I always take pride in being a moderate, liberal and secular Hindu. And I think the concerns of the minorities at the chance of Modi becoming PM are genuine. But I also deplore voices trying to paper over other historical truths. They try to publicise how Muslims managed to rule India with justice, how they contributed in enriching local culture with absolutely no ill-effects.
Abir Mishra, Calcutta
What a long critique of a book written by a rank communalist! They are not worthy of so much ink!
Deven V., Mumbai
The review of Bhyrappa’s Aavarana—The Veil (Still Tightening The Veil, Apr 14) does not present the novel in the correct perspective. Bhyrappa has relied on many authentic books and other material for the novel. If the depiction of Muslim life of the time when it’s set appears negative, he's not to blame. Though there are many positive things Islamic culture has given India, Sudheendra Kulkarni’s insistence on writing only good things about the religion doesn’t go with the theme of the novel.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
>> The more you post the more you expose yourself .
Your silly non-sequitur does not affect the validity of my comment: "It is easy to destroy idols or mosques, but try to forcibly convert a million people to your religion against their will!"
>>>> "That is an allegation invented by the RSS, not a fact."
>> So Islam is not interested in converting infidels.
"Interest" is different from what you had said earlier, namely "Since 712 AD, this effort (trying to convert 300 million people against their will) was taking place in India."
And Oh yes to qualify my statement:
"Infidels" are doing much better than "Believers" not only in India but everywhere in the world.
Even in the arab world "Infidels" are the porfessionla and the ones actually doing the work and running the show.
Oil Rich "Believers" are just enjoying camel races, falcon hunting and having a good time.
"Believers" Majority Countires cannot even manufacture a screwdriver without western advisers in their respective countries.
So dear Buddy, it is "believers" who need to look within "HONESTLY"
The more you post the more you expose yourself .
Hinduism is not a proselytising religion. It is a way of life. Hindus are not interested in converting anybody. They let them be and thus Hindus have been persecuted,looted and rapaged by succesive barbaric persons like Mahmud of gazni, Ghori,Babur,timur etc.
And yes , read JN Dixit who was the foreign secretary of your benevolent congress masters for three generations who says that : " India is secular precisely because Hindus are in a mjority. Where hindus are not in a majority, the result is around you in the sub-continent."
Sikandar Butshikan was not only destroying temples. His temple destruction and other demeaning conditions and persecution was based on his ultimate efforts to convert all hindus of kashmir into muslims.
Dar ul Harb to Dar ul Islam so to speak. And he had the sanction of the Ulema. Hell they were cheering him !!!
Why do you have the habit of blaming anybody and everybody except yourself.
Look within. Its a free country. Educate yourselves and get a bettre life. Stop expecting alms from the government.
Jews never got any benefits from anybody , in fact they were persecuted everywhere. In Arabia they were killed en masse. Maybe even in more numbers than the holocaust.
But they have still survived while you ask for reservation and alms and sops.
Grow up and get out of this habit of conspiracy theory and persecution complex and Us" and "Them" mentality.
"Infidels" are doing much better than "Believers" so its time for "Believers" to introspect.
If you sit blaming others and ask for dole and alms, your condition will never change !!!
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