Indian Revolutionaries as Metaphor in Modern Uzbek Literature


“Weary of struggles, I, the great rebel,

Shall rest in quiet only when I find

The sky and the air free of the piteous groans of the oppressed

Only when the battle fields are cleared of jingling bloody sabres

Shall I, weary of struggles, rest in quiet,

I the great rebel.”

“Bidrohi” (Rebel) by Nazrul Islam[1]

The political, economic, and cultural relations between the peoples of India and Central Asia have a very long history that goes back to antiquity. Central Asia has played an intermediary role in the exchanges of goods, ideas, and peoples during the famous [2] One of the most interesting aspects of historical relationship between India and Central Asia is of course connected with the so-called Moghul Empire of Babur Shah, a Central Asian Turkish prince, who founded a strong empire in India in the early sixteenth century until the colonization of the entire land under British Rule by mid-eighteenth century. His memoir, Baburnama, written in Chagatay Turkish, is the best testimony of the Indian topic in Central Asian literature.[3] Many Central Asian poets, including Babur Shah (1483-1530) himself, in their “ghazals” (lyric poems) have used the words “Hind” and “Hindistan” (India) as a country of delightful landscapes and beloved beautiful ladies. The late fourteenth and early fifteenth century Chagatay poet Gadâ’i compared the hair of his beloved one with the charm of India as follows:

Vah né jâdudur ki Hindistânda sihr-angîz éter,

Her zamân Rum u Xatâ élin qilur yagma saching.[4]

[Alas! Your hair is such a magician in India that

It practices sorcery and always plunders Rome & Cathay.]

On the other hand, Babur Shah, one of the best lyric poets of Chagatay Turkish literature, confesses that India’s allure has captivated his heart, but has given him melancholy because of his longing for his homeland in Central Asia:

Bu Hind yéri hâsilidin kop kongul aldim,

Né sud ki bu yér méni dil-gîr qiliptur.[5]

[I was fond of this Indian soil very much,

This place, however, has saddened me.]

Aside from the classical literature of Central Asia in both Turki (Turkish) and Farsi (Persian) languages, a modern interest regarding India appears in the early writings of an outstanding Uzbek writer, Abdurrauf Fitrat, in the beginning of early twentieth century in Turkistan. Abdurrauf Fitrat (1886-1938) is regarded as one of the founders of both modern Uzbek and Tajik literatures. He was initially a bilingual writer just as Sadriddin Ayni (1878-1954), both of whom has written their early works in two languages, Turki and Farsi, in 1910’s and early 1920’s. Later Fitrat wrote only in Turki (called “Uzbek” after 1922) and Ayni wrote exclusively in Farsi (became known as “Tajik” after 1922).[6]

Abdurrauf Fitrat, one of the most significant reformist and revolutionary leaders of Central Asia, was born in Bukhara. After his education in the Bukharan madrasas, he received his university education between 1909 and 1913 in Istanbul. During this time he published his first three literary works in Farsi (Persian) language. They consist of Sayha (The Cry), a collection revolutionary poems; Munâzara (Discourse), a prose discussion between a European intellectual and an uninformed Bukharan madrasa teacher who he encounters in India; Bayânât-i Sayyâh-i Hindî (The Accounts of an Indian Traveler), a prose travelogue about the grave state of affairs in the Amirate of Bukhara told through the eyes of an imaginary Indian intellectual.[7] After his return to Bukhara, Fitrat actively participated in the revolutionary movement of the Young Bukharans (“Yash Bukharalilar” in Uzbek) which toppled the Amir of Bukhara in 1920 with the help of the Bolshevik military units in Tashkent. The Bukharan revolutionaries then proclaimed the establishment of the Bukharan People’s Counciliar Republic (“Bukhârâ Khalq Shuralar Jumhuriyati” in original official documents). After enjoying long political career in many governmental posts in both the Republic of Bukhara (1920-1924) and Uzbekistan SSR (1924-1936), Fitrat was arrested on 24 April 1937 during the “Stalinist Purges” and was executed on 4 October 1938. A point of historical interest is that his court case was held the day after he was put to death.[8]

Besides his demanding and chaotic political and academic careers, Fitrat also dominated the Uzbek printing industry with his books of poetry, fiction (stories), plays (approximately 14 books), the history of Uzbek music (1 book), the Uzbek language (5 books), including the first grammar of Modern Uzbek, the theory of literature (4 books), the history of Uzbek and Central Asian literatures (10 books), Central Asian history (5 books), many translations of works from Russian, Turkey Turkish, and Persian, including the Gulistân by Sadi Shiraziy, and finally scores of articles in various newspapers and journals between the years 1910-1936.[9]

Several of his many stories and plays have been recently analyzed by both Uzbek and American scholars for their intensive usage of metaphor. The American scholar Edward Allworth, well-known for his works on Central Asian history and Uzbek cultural history and literature in particular, associates Fitrat’s preference for using a metaphorical language in some his writings with the express purpose of escaping Soviet censorship of the 1920s and 1930s. Allworth employs the term “evading reality” to describe the literary creativity of Fitrat as seen in examples from his works as follows:

“Evasive action has its acknowledged function in war. Evasion contrasts with avoidance or eluding. They suggest attempts to remain detached from a potential threat, or to abstain from taking risks. Evasion expresses a conscious, intentional engagement with the danger in order to defeat it, that is, to overcome its power, but not the environment in which it occurs. Evasion implies facing and escaping the treat by application of artifice, dexterity or subterfuge, and it usual entails the use of skill or contrivance.

A historian can aptly categorize the place and time of ‘Abdalrauf Rahim-oghli Fitrat as a war zone and period of active conflict in cultural affairs. For socially-responsive intellectuals between 1917 and 1937, under the ideological pressures of the rigid Bukharan Amirate, immediately followed by those of the Soviet regime, the strategies of evasion became paramount.”[10]

Allworth further argues that “…Professor Fitrat and friends encountered a fatal dilemma—either they conformed to the anti-intellectualism and ideological myths spread by officials of the Party and state or they persevered in the teaching of camouflaged treatment for Central Asia’s cultural and social reality.”[11] Allworth explains that the analyzed three works of Fitrat in this book delicately deal with the present day problems of the Soviet regime by converting them into a religious platform as if they were the shortcomings of a religious “misapprehension.” Through this kind of double-talk which emphasizes the use of ambiguity, Allworth suggests, “lay the terrain on which author ‘Abdalrauf fought his battle against conservative shallowness and against the unbelief of communism.”[12]

When dealing with the subject of India and the Indians in the literary works of Fitrat, we observe two chronologically stages of evasive action. In Fitrat’s first prose work Munâzara (Discourse, 1909/1910), we notice that India serves as a mere meeting place where a European intellectual and an uninformed Bukharan madrasa teacher engage in a long debate about Bukhara. It is probable that Fitrat must have thought of staging the debate in his work between his Bukharan teacher and an outsider (a European) not inside of Bukhara or another place within Central Asia, but in a neighboring country like India in order to accommodate the free flow of many critical ideas and commentary on the serious defects of the cultural, social, economic, and political life of Bukhara. He must have believed that such a debate couldn’t take place in Bukhara because it was dominated by the harsh regime of the Emirate.[13]

In his second prose work, Bayânât-i Sayyâh-i Hindî (The Accounts of an Indian Traveler, 1911-1912), Fitrat introduces an unnamed imaginary Indian intellectual who provides a narration of his recent travel to Bukhara. Again, Fitrat must have calculated that for a critical assessment of the problems inside Bukhara, bringing the views of an outside eyewitness would be best served for this purpose. This preliminary stage of employing India as a background location and then introducing an Indian intellectual in his first two literary works in 1909/1910 and 1911/1912, respectively, later opens the way to the second stage of his metaphorical exploitation of “India” and “Indian revolutionaries” in his two later plays, Chin Sevish (True Love)[14] and Hind Ikhtilâlchilari (Indian Revolutionaries)[15] published in 1920 and 1923 respectively.

We don’t know the exact composition date of the first play, “True Love,” published in 1920, although a note in the bottom of the cover page of the first edition of the second play, “Indian Revolutionaries,” informs us that the second play was composed in 1920, but was published in 1923. According to various sources, Fitrat who couldn’t find an appropriate atmosphere for the publication of his second play in the fast changing political situation in the Republic of Bukhara which was coming under increasing Soviet dominance, decided to entrust the manuscript of the play with some of his students who in 1922 were sent to Germany to receive a higher education.[16] We don’t have accurate information of how many copies of this first edition were actually published in Berlin. Nevertheless, many copies must have managed to reach Bukhara as well as other parts of Central Asia and have been widely read by the intellectuals there. The second edition of the play was published in Gräfenhainichen, Germany in 1943 during the World War II, but this time in Latin alphabet.[17] The editors of this new edition were Veli Kajum-Khan and Annemaria von Gabain. Mr. Kajum-Khan (1902-1989) was a former Uzbek student from Tashkent who was sent to Germany by Fitrat in 1921 and later became the leader of the Turkistani legion composed of the ex-Soviet Central Asian soldiers under the Nazi regime.[18] Annemaria von Gabain (1901-1992) eventually become an eminent scholar of Turkology with numerous publications on the Ancient Turkic language, including one of the best grammars of modern Uzbek literary language.[19] The Cyrillic Uzbek editions of the both plays were published in 1996 in Tashkent.[20]

These two plays share the same topic of an imaginary revolution in India against the British colonial rule. Some may wonder why the author wanted to write two separate plays based on a similar topic, since the composing and publication dates are very close? A more comprehensive understanding of this inquiry can be achieved by studying the plots and characters of both plays.

The plot of “True Love” is much simpler than “Indian Revolutionaries” while the actions of the main characters are bolder in the later play. Likewise, the first play ends with a tragedy in which the policemen kill the male hero (Nuriddinkhan) and take away the female hero (Zulaykha) for imprisonment. However, in the second play, “Indian Revolutionaries,” the final scene concludes with a reunion of both male (Rahimbakhsh) and female (Dilnavâz) heroes. The curtain falls when all the revolutionaries chant the slogans “We will rescue our country!,” “Long Live India!” and “Long Live Independence!”. Finally, the optimistic ending of the second play better serves the idea of revolution and India’s quest for independence than the first play, which finishes in a pessimistic mood under a shroud of tragedy. These points combined with others, reveal that Fitrat was not very satisfied with the plot, cast, or the subject matter of the 36-page long “True Love.” We can assume that it was this dissatisfaction which motivated him to write a second play (the 49-page “Indian Revolutionaries”) with an improved plot and cast.[21]

A comparison of the plots, the main characters and the subject matters of both plays allows us to facilitate a true appraisal of the second play (Indian revolutionaries) Both plays have five acts. The first play Chin Sevish (True Love) has the following cast: the main protagonist Nuriddinkhan, a 35 years old young Indian man from a middle class background and possesses a philosophical nature. His beloved one is Zuleykha, a 16-years old educated Indian girl who feels a strong affection for him. Nuriddinkhan has a 25-years old brother, Ahmadkhan, and a learned friend Sarvarkhan. Zulaykha’s father Karimbakhskhan and mother Fatimakhanim, complete the cast of positive players. On the opposing side, the primary antagonist is Rahmatullakhan, a 25 year old well-educated Indian young man who also loves Zuleykha and hates Nuriddinkhan because his love is unrequited. Rahmatullakhan’s two friends, Ayubkhan and Gulamkhan, along with an English captain named William, make up the negative players of the play. The main conflict of the play centers around the love between Nuriddinkhan and Zuleykha. Of course their love is challenged by Rahmatullakhan who sees no other option but to collaborate with the British colonizers in order to get rid of Nuriddinkhan and employ force to take possession of Zuleykha. This conflict is balanced on the one hand by Zulaykha’s mother Fatimakhanim who prefers that her daughter marry Rahmatullakhan since he comes from a wealthy family and has been well-educated in England. On the other hand, the prison keeper helps Nuriddinkhan to escape from the jail at the end of the fourth act. Captain William has a very minor role in the play since he appears only two times: first at the end of the Third Act to arrest Nuriddiankhan for his part in a conspiracy which has been designed by Rahmatullahkhan and his friends and again at the end of the Fifth Act. After the death of Nuriddinkhan during the police ambush, when Rahmatullakhan attempts to save Zuleykha from being arrested, Captain William kills him with his pistol and orders his policemen to take Zuleykha into custody in an effort to get her to disclose the names of other revolutionaries. Although it is well thought out by the author to punish the traitor Rahmatullakhan at the hands of Captain William, the actions of the main protagonists Nuriddinkhan and Zuleykha and the main antagonists Rahmatullakhan and his friends are very limited in regard to the idea of an armed uprising against the British rule in India.

The title of Fitrat’s first play, “True Love,” is well-matched with a plot in which the theme of an Indian revolution lies in background of a love-hate conflict. It seems that Fitrat must have seen this limitation immediately after completing the first play and must have written his second play, “Indian revolutionaries,” in order to improve the roles of the both protagonist and antagonist characters as well as to expand the plot to reflect the need for a stronger revolutionary uprising against the British occupation in India. Therefore, the second play contains a more complex plot, develops the intrigues between the characters, and more profoundly accentuates the subject matter. The well-known Uzbek poet Abdulhamid Suleyman Cholpan (1897-1938) also informed that “the author of Chin Sevish has finished the play Indian Revolutionaries which can be regarded as the continuation of the first play.” in his article published in 20 November 1920.[22]

There are a number of noteworthy changes between the two plays. Both the protagonist (Nuriddinkhan) and the antagonist (Rahmatullakhan) of “True Love” were Indians, but the antagonist of “Indian Revoltionaries” becomes a British police mayor of Lahore. This deliberate change, in turn, intensifies the key conflict moving away from the struggle between two Indians over a girl in the first play into a national clash between an Indian revolutionary (Rahimbakhsh) and the British police chief of Lahore (Mayor O’Conner) in the second play. Theirs is not just a battle over the love of an Indian girl (Dilnevâz), but over the destiny of India. Nuriddinkhan, the protagonist of “True Love” was portrayed as a Majnun (insane) who was madly in love with a 16-year old girl (Zulayka), but Dilnevâz, the heroine of “Indian Revolutionaries,” is more mature than the heroine of the first play. Although the author identifies Zuleykha’s age as 16 in the first play, he doesn’t provide any information about the age of Dilnevâz whose parents have now been excluded in the cast of the second play. The author brought several new characters in the second play. These include Lalahardiyal (a non-Muslim Magian wandering darvish), Mavlânâ No’man (a Muslim religious leader and the head of the Bunir fortress near the Afghanistan-India border), Merling (a British spy), two British captains (Punter and Parlinson), the Indian revolutionaries who are close friends of Rahmbakhs (Abdusubbukh, Fayzi Ahmad, Badrinat, Deynanat, Arnam Singh, Fazlillah, Mahmudkhan), two servants (Ghulam Naby in the service of Mavlânâ No’man and Reduni Bibi, a Hindu lady, in that of O’Conner), a lady-beggar (an Indian spy for the British), another unidentified British captain, two farmers, three workers, and several policemen and guards.

The first play lacked any characters from the non-Muslim communities and the rest of the Indian characters were Muslims. The second play includes several non-Muslim characters as Indian revolutionaries. Among these are as Badrinat, Deynanat, and Arnam Singh along with the Muslim-faith revolutionaries Rahimbakhsh, Abdusubbukh, Fayzi Ahmad, Fazlillah and Mahmudkhan. Moreover, the non-Muslim Magian (fire-worshipper) Lalahardiyal appeals to the lovers, Rahmbakhsh and Dinevâz, to love each other more than ever and encourages them to work harder for the liberation of India. The lady servant of O’Conner, the non-Muslim Redu Bibi treats Dilnevâz well when the later was in the house-arrest of the British Police Chief. On the other hand, the author shows that the Muslim religious leader Mavlânâ No’man sides with the British against the Indian revolutionaries. The second play has not only several British characters, but their acting time is increased significantly compared to the first play.

The First Act opens with the love chat between Rahmbakhsh and his beloved Dilnevâz in a green meadow near Lahore in early morning. Their conversation moves from love to the grave situation of India and the Indian people under the British occupation. Soon, Lalahardiyal comes into the scene and talks about love and liberation. After his departure, two farmers, one elderly and the other middle-aged, approach the young lovers and talk with them on the subject of liberating India. When they sight the mounted policemen in distance, Rahmbakhsh asks the farmers and Dilnevâz to leave the meadow immediately. The farmers obey, but Dilnevâz refuses to leave him alone. The Indian mounted policeman and their commander Mayor O’Conner take Rahmbakhsh to a nearby police station, but put Dilnevâz on a horse to be taken to the city.

The Second Act shows the richly furnished leaving room of Mavlânâ No’man in Bunir fortress. Leaving the newspaper aside, Mavlânâ No’man talks to himself about not being able to understand the revolutionaries and how it is impossible for them to liberate India from the hands of the Britain, which of course is the world’s largest empire. However, he thinks, that if they knew the truth and could get Germany to support the Indian revolutionaries against the British, things might change in their favor? Therefore, he decides, it would be better to closely watch the developments for awhile. The British spy Merling visits Mavlânâ No’man at the moment when the former had doubts in his mind. Merling convinces Mavlânâ No’man that the British rulers actually plan to give India its liberty, but they want the Muslims should take control of the future government of India and not the Hindus. Merling informs him that the Hindus have a secret plan to seize the future government of India by getting rid of the Muslims, but the British favors the Muslims. Therefore, he persuades Mavlânâ No’man to work for the British rulers in order to stop the bloodshed and chaos that the Indian revolutionaries would create. Mavlânâ No’man accepts Merling’s advice along with the offer of money for his future service for the British rulers. After Merling’s departure, several young revolutionaries visit Mavlânâ No’man and engage him in lively debate about the way to liberate India. At one point, Rahmbakhsh who has been wounded while escaping from police custody, enters. Soon afterwards, the young revolutionaries realize that Mavlânâ No’man is pro-British and leave his place.

The Third Act presents the audience with a grief-stricken Dilnevâz in the garden of the British Police Chief Mayor O’Conner’s house at night time. Radu Bibi tells Dilnevâz about her dream the night before in which three falcons rescue Dilnevaz from a serpent. When Dilnevâz leaves for her room, O’Conner enters the scene with two British captains Parlinson and Punter. Before leaving the garden, Radu Bibi murmurs saying “Here comes the yellow serpent!” The British Mayor and the Captains discuss the scheme to raid a charity foundation called “Duâkhâna-i Islâmiya” (The Islamic Hope House) in Lahore. They suspect the charity of lending support to the Indian revolutionaries. They also mention the verbal attack by the Indian newspaper Musafir-i Aghra (The Agra Guest) on Mavlânâ No’man because of his opposition to the charity foundation. At this moment, a British Captain enters bringing documents confiscated during the raid of the charity foundation. Mayor O’Conner orders the captain to take all the captured people to a jail, and to bring Makhmudkhan inside the house. O’Conner interrogates the young man to find out the financial resources of the charity foundation. Makhmudkhan finally says: “Our all supplies originate inside India. We trust only in India. We believe India is boundless and a different world of its own. All the needs of its all inhabitants are available here. Therefore, every thing should be taken from here.” Angered by young man’s words, O’Conner asks the captain to take him away. After the departure of the other guest, O’Conner calls Radu Bibi to bring Dilnevâz who adamantly rebuffs all compassionate words offered by the Mayor. O’Conner then places his pistol on the table saying she will either give in to his demands or will face her death this very night. When she refuses him again, he pushes her down and points his pistol toward her. At the last moment he decides not to kill her for now and turns down the light of the garden. He calls Radu Bibi to bring him whisky and to not let anyone else in. While interrogating her, he again attempts to draw his gun, but three veiled men in black clothes suddenly appear behind him. They press their daggers (khanjars) on O’Conner’s chest. And the following conversation ensues:

O’Conner (terrified): Who?!

The First Veiled Man (in a dreadful voice): The death!

Dilnevâz: Oh… I’m free.

O’Conner: What do you want?

The Second Veiled Man: Blood! (O’Conner tries to reach his pistol and call Radu Bibi, but the veiled men don’t let him.)

The Third Veiled Man: His Excellency Mayor! Since you have fallen into the lap of death, you don’t need to tremble!

O’Conner: Who are you?

The First Veiled Man (in a dreadful voice): I have told you already, the death!

O’Conner: What do you want?

The Second Veiled Man: The second time I’ll tell you: Blood!

O’Conner: What kind of blood?!

The Third Veiled Man: The blood of a villain!

O’Conner: Oh…robbers…traitors!..

The Second Veiled Man: We are not robbers!

O’Conner: From whom you asked to enter here?!

The Third Veiled Man: From whom you asked to enter our country?!

The Second Veiled Man: Who invited you to the village of this girl?![23]

Although O’Conner begs them to let him go free by offering to return the confiscated documents of the charity foundation as well as his gold, the Second Veiled Man stabs him. When the First Veiled Man opens his veil, he is revealed to be Rahmbakhsh, the lover of Dilnevâz. Entering with a bottle of Whisky, Radu Bibi looses her mind after seeing the incident. The curtain falls with the insane laughs of Radu Bibi.

The Forth Act is set inside of a cave in the Gangar mountain. Rahmbakhsh, Dilnevâz, and other revolutionaries are present. They talk about revolution and Afghanistan’s brave resistance against the British, while Dilnevâz cooks food for them. A Beggar Lady enters the cave after reciting the passwords correctly. She tells them that Muhammad Hussain from Peshawar had sent her with a message that a revolt against the British in Peshawar is being prepared to start by April. Other revolutionaries in Bombay, Lahore, Allahâbâd, Alikada, Kolkata are also getting ready to start coordinated revolts at the same time. She also informs Rahmbakhsh that the British authorities have discovered that he has distributed the revolutionary leaflets in Lahore. Therefore, he should not go to the city. Dilnevâz suspects the Beggar-Lady of being a British spy and attempts to cross-examine her, but Rahmbakhsh stops Dilnevâz. Shortly after the Beggar-Lady’s departure, the British captains and the Indian policemen raid the cave. The British captain Parlinson manages to get hold of Dilnevâz and Badrinat, but the other revolutionaries escape.

The Fifth Act opens on a small hill of the Gangar Mountain. Rahmbakhsh and his compatriots wait in ambush the arrival of the British captain Parlinson and his entourage of the Beggar-Lady, his policemen and their two captives, Dilnevâz and Badrinat. They coordinate their attack with every one hiding on either side of the mountain pathway. When the unsuspecting group walks into the trap, the revolutionaries attack them by killing Parlinson and subdue others. Rahmbakhsh appeals to the Indian policemen as follows:

“Friends, you are our compatriots and brothers. Our hearts beat for your sake. We stay in caves that you have seen, on mountains and hills under this kind of murky nights. We don’t have any other wish than to liberate you and make life comfortable for you. You have come to raid us and than engaged in shooting. You have captured two of us also… We, however, know that you are not responsible for these deeds, but your captain is (the policemen smile). Therefore, you are free at this moment. Whenever you want, you can return to Peshawar and your horses are yours too. Your rifles and pistols, however, should remain with us.”

One of the revolutionaries kills the Beggar-Lady. A policeman informs Rahmbakhsh that they would like to join the revolutionaries on the path to liberate India. The revolutionaries and the Indian policemen embrace each other and the curtain falls while they chant the following slogans:

Badrinat: Now we are all together and all of us will work for India. We will liberate our people from the predators! Long live India, long live the future!

All: We will liberate our land. Long live independence!

by Timur Kocaoglu

Asia Annual 2004 (editor: Mahavir Singh). New Delhi: Shipra Publications 2004; s. 1-23

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