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jimmy the terrorist book review

Written By Franklin V on Friday, November 18, 2011 | 9:46 PM

Book: Jimmy the Terrorist
Author: Omair Ahmad
Pages: 185
Publication and Price: Hamish Hamilton, Rs. 350




Omair Ahmad's latest book Jimmy the Terrorist, which was recently shortlisted for the Vodafone Crossword Book Award 2010, is a gripping and concise narrative. The book portrays the socio-political labyrinth of India, which subtly converts one Jamaal Ansari, in the near-believable-fictional-town of Mozzamabad, into Jimmy the terrorist.
The choices made by Muslims in a democratic, diverse and tolerant India are presented through the microcosm of Rafiq Ansari and Jamaal Ansari, the father-son duo's life in Mozzamabad. The microcosm is presented in the context of the nation moving from the political sanctioning of vasectomies to the demolition of the 16th century mosque in Ayodhya. With the death of the mother - Shaista, who conceived a second time in spite of the doctor's forewarning, the father-son relationship was strengthened as they tried to accommodate their religious identity amidst the majority.
A shift is marked as the narrative moves from a more liberal Shabbir Manzil, where maulana Rafiq shared poetic exuberance with Lal Sahib to the times of Rafiq's son Jamaal whose classmate Saurav Mukherjee in St. Jude's school promptly blames the lonely Muslim boy Jamaal for his missing pocket money. The shift makes one draw parallels to Rahi Masoom Reza's Adha Gaon. However, the characters in Ahmad's book never act with consistency but take different courses under conflicting situations-lending a palpable tone of reality to the story.
Throughout the different parts, from Book One to Book Two, the characters undergo tribulations of right and wrong as they seek to justify the turn of events with their faith; counteracting the imam's opinion of "Justice will be done by God alone". Rafiq asserts his view, "Our religion forbids us aiding oppression, even by voluntarily submitting to it." This dichotomy makes Jimmy hide a knife inside his shirt and the numbness of the metal makes the reader undergo the indecisiveness of how, why and if at all the knife should be used.
Though the riots and its chilling provocations fail to make Jamaal take out the knife, the policemen harassing a whore leaves him no option but to turn into a terrorist. The quick yet poignant built-up to the climax of the birth of Jimmy the terrorist gets jittered with the dramatised end. The epilogue tries to re-infuse the subtlety with the perspective of the whore, but seems more of an adage than a restoration of the poignancy. This might be an outcome of transforming a short story into a novel, but undoubtedly the entire spectrum of choices and issues that India puts forth before the Rafiqs and Jamaals could only have been encompassed in 181 pages and no less.
Khalid, who epitomises the bad Muslim who chooses the wrong path to survive the unforgiving world, could have become more of a critique of Jimmy (taking a different path only to meet with the destiny written by the unforgiving world) had he not been fleshed out as a stereotype. A little less roundedness could have given Khalid the subtlety to subvert the perception of the 'other'.
If for nothing else, Omair Ahmad's book can be read for a refreshing look at the contradictions and tribulations of the Indian society in its entangled history of religion and politics.
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