A Nether Nonconformist
Shamik Ghosh reviews Syed Mustafa Siraj’s cult Bengali novel “The Mythical Man”
Post Modernism diminishes every absolute to relativistic practicality. On the contrary, rampant fanaticism weighs every belief on an absolute scale. For example: Frantic political compulsion forces the devoted ultra-right to diminish every act of secularism to nether “sickularism”; the committed leftist rubbishes every religious ritual as bigotry irrespective of its humanism.
Shafi, however, was not devoid of belief, at least in the very beginning. His father Badu Pir,self-acclaimed Faraizi Saint, was a man shrouded in bellicose Islam and mythical miracles. Faraizi Movement was an Islamic religio-political movement, rooted in Hanafism, erupting in early nineteenth century undivided Bengal and impacting huge parts of the countryside.
In his effort to escape the soaring persona of his religious father, Shafi enrolled in an English school. This symbolic rebellion against the zealot father became the first in the series of many turning Shafi into a nonconformist, a tendency that would lead him to anarchist political activism and myriad epochs of love and lovelessness; finally culminating in his complete nihilism. The cynicism imbibed deep within the personality of a son arising out of his believer father’s fundamentalism ultimately concludes in his absolute disbelief of everything. Safi slowly turns into a compulsive assassin unable to differentiate between love and slaughter, massacring every possible thing in the course.
This itinerary of Safiujaman from absolute belief to absolute non-belief takes several forms starting with magical realism, reportage, surreal, realism in Syed Mustafa Siraj’s cult Bengali novel “The Mythical Man.” The novel earned several laurels including the prestigious Sahitya Akademi and Bankim Puraskar and has been translated into fourteen languages.
This epoch of oxymoronic politics where jingoism, hegemony and asinine, praetorian cynicism pose as true nationalism, the novel provides profound insight into the vast latitude in between belief and non-belief. It also enquires into our collective Indian psyche of dim apolitical mediocrity, if you don’t believe in anything, what are you?