Monga Caravan: review

Biplob Zaman

 It might seem an off beat fiction if not seriously read by reader. But Monga Caravan, a compilation of eight short stories, or should I say narratives, written by Maskwaith Ahsan as one of his several works in English, is a resonance of his longing of a world based on political freedom and social justice. The vision of a society that has soul and character, the cultural and religious ethos that has humanistic overtones, and enriched with knowledge and wisdom and yes, integrity. That is why his shadowy characters appear to be rather unconventional, anti-establishment harbingers of those grey zones of time, where the established rules and norms did more harm to the society; set wrongs to rights like an Aesop telling his fables with morals rewritten. According to Maskwaith in his own words, "After the Renaissance we had dreamt of life based on equality, humanity and aesthetics. But now an unfamiliar darkness of religion-political chaos confounds us. Racism, terrorism, radicalism, conservatism, ruthless alienation and cannibalism are astonishingly active all over the world in an attempt to pull back the clock of civilization."


 The first story which is also the title of the book shows the alienation of humane ideals in a world of adversity and crumbling fortunes. The protagonist, a flower girl named Julekha whose survival with her two sons depend on her seducing the traffic police to win their favour for business and a place for vending.
 The story then flashes back to Julekha's childhood when she shared some tenderly loving moments with both her parents who then had frightfully disappeared from her life with their deaths. The micro-credit lenders have pauperized them with their blood sucking agenda. But she never forgot the corn-white rice and its hue with smoke billowing from it that her mother prepared for them. 


 Now in the tired twilight of the day when she retires in a cosy corner in her shanty house with the small children ensconced in her lap, far from the humdrum existence, the ethereal happiness amidst the pain becomes so real that the white flowers seem like the pearly white rice. And Julekha, who in her lifetime suffers so much to win a morsel of her pearly white flavoured rice suddenly conjures a surreal demonic reality in this grain.
The second tale is about a dream dashed of an idealist- a poet's. "Must have been crazy. Yes, definitely not normal."


 A man of love, passion, romanticism and idealism, Masud and his unkempt awkward ways never had any admirers among the conservative scions. His passionate love was Anamica, who was his spiritual fodder and together they loved the beautiful things in life- music, dance, poetry- that was anathema to an unmarried couple.
However, the dream days wouldn`t last that long and a sense of despair and alienation pervaded over their lives. A wedge of separation drove them apart and Masud, supposing the pain unbearable, embraced the life after and Anamica became the victim of corporate culture.

 The 'Myth of Nine Eleven' is a glimpse of an Asian born in Germany and subsequently growing up in the horror of racism, xenophobic hatred and religious bigotry, more so after nine eleven. Rasheed the protagonist here faces the stigma of Ausländer or foreigner despite the fact that he was born in Germany and raised to be a German. However, the myth was shattered after nine eleven and he was driven to Islamic extremism. Not only did he change radically in his thought, ideals, beliefs and garb, he also tried to proselytize his younger sister into wearing hijab and run her life with spiritual and religious élan.
 This inevitably led to a culture and personality clash. According to Rasheed, "I tried my best to integrate. You should know that I had secular beliefs. What did I get in return? They looked at me through the eyes of religion and skin-colour."

 
 Ahsan's poignant empathy with ordinary hapless characters has made him one with a tragicomic hero who is at the same time prophetic and feels the nuances of desperation and near proletariat insanity and the on the other hand; neo colonial toff bursting at the seam with ungainly wealth regaling Commonwealth women(euphemism for Asian women) and sycophants. Lucifera, the character in his next piece “The Daily Blackberry” – a middle aged bigoted man of colonial mindset who runs a newspaper publication combining megalomania with his own half baked intellectual proclivities. He has a despotic mien that subverts natural growth of an institution and pollutes its ranks and files with incompetent, obsequious compradors. Maskwaith rightly hits at these gadflies of the society who bleed the society dry and them with a sickening anaemia of thoughts, ideas and hierarchy that could be at best be ludicrously morbid. off beat fiction. Monga Caravan, a compilation of eight short stories, or should I say narratives, written by Maskwaith Ahsan as his first work in English is a resonance of his longing of a world based on political freedom and social justice. The vision of a society that has soul and character, the cultural and religious ethos that has humanistic overtones and enriched with knowledge and wisdom and yes, integrity. That is why his shadowy characters appear to be rather unconventional, anti-establishment harbingers of those grey zones of time, where the established rules and norms did more harm to the society; set wrongs to rights like an Aesop telling his fables with morals rewritten. According to Ahsan in his own words,” After the Renaissance we had dreamt of life based on equality, humanity and aesthetics. But now an unfamiliar darkness of religion-political chaos confounds us. Racism, terrorism, radicalism, conservatism, ruthless alienation and cannibalism are astonishingly active all over the world in an attempt to pull back the clock of civilization.” The first story which is also the title of the book shows the alienation of humane ideals in a world of adversity and crumbling fortunes. The protagonist, a flower girl named Julekha whose survival with her two sons depend on her seducing the traffic police to win their favour for business and a place for vending. The story then flashes back to Julekha’s childhood when she shared some tenderly loving moments with bother parents who then had frightfully disappeared from her life with their deaths. The micro-credit lenders have pauperized them with their blood sucking agenda. But she never forgot the corn-white rice and its hue with smoke billowing from it that her mother prepared for them. Now in the tired twilight of the day when she retires in a cosy corner in her shanty house with the small children ensconsed in her lap, far from the humdrum existence, the ethereal happiness amidst the pain becomes so real that the white flowers seem like the pearly white rice and Julekha, who in her lifetime suffers so much to win a morsel of his pearly white flavoured rice suddenly conjures a surreal demonic reality in this grain. The second tale is about a dream dashed of an idealist - a poet’s. “Must have been crazy.Yes, definitely not normal.” A man of love, passion, romanticism and idealism. Masud and his unkempt awkward ways never had any admirers among the conservative scions. His passionate love was Anamica, who was his spiritual fodder and together they loved the beautiful things in life – music, dance, poetry – that was anathema to an unmarried couple. However, the dream days wouldn’t last that long and a sense of despair and alienation pervaded over their lives. A wedge of separation drove them apart and Masud committed suicide and Anamica became the victim of corporate culture. The “Myth of Nine Eleven” is a glimpse of an Asian born in Germany and subsequently growing up in the horror of racism, xenophobic hatred and religious bigotry, more so after nine eleven. Rasheed the protagonist here faces the stigma of Ausländer or foreigner despite the fact that he was born in Germany and raised to be a German. However, the myth was shattered after nine eleven and he was driven to Islamic extremism. Not only did he change radically in his thought, ideals, beliefs and garb, he also tried to proselytize his younger sister into wearing hijab and run her life with spiritual and religious élan. This inevitably led to a culture and personality clash. According to Rasheed, “I tried my best to integrate. You should know that I had secular beliefs. What did I get in return? They looked at me through the eyes of religion and skin-colour.” Ahsan’s poignant empathy with ordinary hapless characters has made him one with a tragicomic hero who is at the same time prophetic and feels the nuances of desperation and near proletariat insanity and the on the other hand; neo colonial toff bursting at the seam with ungainly wealth regaling Commonwealth women(euphemism for Asian women) and sycophants. Lucifera, the character in his next piece “The Daily Blackberry” – a middle aged bigoted man of colonial mindset who runs a newspaper publication combining megalomania with his own half baked intellectual proclivities. He has a despotic mien that subverts natural growth of an institution and pollutes its ranks and files with incompetent, obsequious compradors. Maskwaith rightly hits at these gadflies of the society who bleed the society dry and them with a sickening anaemia of thoughts, ideas and hierarchy that could be at best be ludicrously morbid. 

  Download link to Monga Caravan