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283. Syed Abdul Malik

Syed Abdul Malik (1919-2000) was one of the most widely known and popular writers in Assamese literature. Beginning his literary career in the early forties he enriched Assamese literature with short stories, novels, poetry and other writings spanning over five decades. In terms of statistics of fictional work, Syed Abdul Malik was unrivalled. No other writer has contributed so extensively towards the growth of Assamese literature as he did. Malik’s contribution to Assamese literature, particularly in the sphere of the short story and novel, is indeed noteworthy. He is the foremost among the fiction writes of the pre as well as post world war period who have successfully depicted the problems of man and the society. As a matter of fact, the three contemporary writers who mainly dominated the post-independence era of Assamese novel literature at the initial stage are Syed Abdul Malik, Jogesh Das (1927-1999) and Dr Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya (1923-1998), who with their creative genius not only enriched Assamese fiction literature but also made it colourful and vivid. Syed Abdul Malik’s advent in Assam’s literary horizon marked a new chapter. Writing continuously till his death, he not only brought about a new wave but also became the symbol of continuity – a bridge between the pre and post war literature.
Born to Syed Rahmat Ali and Syeda Lutfun Nissa at Naharani Village of Golaghat district on January 15, 1919, Syed Abdul Malik took to fiction writing at an early age. His first novel appeared in instalments in the pages of the monthly magazine Banhi in 1945-46. It was titled La Sa Gu (LCM; lowest common multiple) about which Malik says: "The oppressed, the neglected, the downtrodden people of the world are like the lower support of the Kuber’s treasure box. They are the LCM: the lowest common multiple. In the matter of human rights they are the lowliest." There is no precise story in the novel. There is a call against social inequalities and racial discrimination. His subsequent novels Rathar Chakari Ghure (Wheels of the Chariot Roll); Kanthahar (Necklace) and a few others have a common theme -- the pain and suffering of the neglected lot in the society. The author’s Marxist leanings are evident in these works.
In Abdul Malik’s fictional works one gets the raw smell of the soil and water of his motherland, Assam, for these have influenced him greatly. Especially Naharani, his place of birth, as well as the Dhansiri river that flows nearby, have greatly influenced Malik’s creative works. In this context, his widely praised novel Surujmukhir Swapna (Dream of Sunflower) where the characters are moulded on the ideals of the Surujmukhi flower -- whose nature it is to look upward, needs special mention. But after two decades that dream of the novelist was shattered and this expressed itself in his fiction Swapna Bhanga (Shattered Dream). For, he found to his distress that Dalim village, situated on the bank of Dhansiri with a Hindu-Muslim population, saw no progress at all even after 20 long years in the field of education, culture, communication, etc.
With nearly 50 novels, including the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award winner novel Aghari Atmar Kahini (Tale of Nomadic Souls), Adharxila (Foundation Stone); Doctor Arunabhor Asampurna Jivani (Dr Arunabh’s unfinished biography); Kavitar Naam Labha (Lava is the name of the poem), Pran Samudra (Ocean of Life); Trisul (Trident), Dukhan Nadi aru Ekhon Marubhumi (Two Rivers and a Desert) and others, Syed Abdul Malik enriched the Assamese biographical novel. His two novels Rup Tirhar Yatri (1963-65) and Dhanya Nara Tanu Bhal (1987) are based on the lives of Rupkonwar Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla and Mahapurush Sankardeva respectively.
Anovel is a picture and reflection of human life. Therefore, human feelings and emotions find expression therein. In the words of Dr Satyendra Nath Sarma: "The central subject of Malik’s novel is love -- human love. But the love is largely born of romance. Love finds expression in his novels in a variety of form and colour." The writer’s social consciousness and his revolutionary urge can be seen clearly in his novels.
Facets of urban life and the most undiluted village life come alive in his writings, which also reflect the emotion and feelings of men and women of various social strata -- the eternal relationship between man and woman, nature’s ethereal beauty and man’s sexual as well as bodily urges, etc.
Short story writers generally make their mark in the pages of literary journals. Malik’s short stories also saw the light of the day through the pages of Assamese literary journals like Banhi, Jayanti, Awahan and Ramdhenu. Some of his short story collections are Parashmani, Ranga Gorah, Maraha Papori, Ejani Natun Sowali, Sikhare Sikhare, etc.
The large variety and type of characters introduced through the stories is another hallmark of Malik’s literary achievement. As Prof. Hem Barua puts it, Syed Abdul Malik is ‘an inspiring creator of character’. His characters are drawn from all spheres of the society and all walks of life. They are artists, criminals, politicians, bureaucrats, teachers, students, poor peasants, rich merchants, prostitutes, saints, beggars, social workers and what not? However, they are all life-like, robust and sweet. Each one presents itself as a true representative of the class. Many of the characters are highly sensitive as in Jeesu Christar Chabi (Portrait of Jesus Christ) or Maram (Love). In Kathfula (Mushroom) Malik has created one of the finest women characters found in contemporary Assamese literature.
The most remarkable thing about Abdul Malik’s short stories is the large variety of experiences that goes into his works. In terms of depth, expanse and variety of experience his stories have few parallels. The backdrops of Malik’s stories are as varied as their themes. He has, so to speak, scanned society, looked into it in minute details, picked up its many facets and projected them through his stories. Malik is credited for the uniquely wide range of themes of his stories. He has dealt with abject poverty of the under privileged without over playing it. He does it in a style which is his own. This is evident in his stories like Xio Maril (He too died), Eghantar Diary (An Hour’s Diary), Barakharar Diary (Post-drought Diary), Barakharar Baraxun (Post-drought Showers), Xihate Nathage (They do not Cheat); Bharaghar (the Rented House), etc. It is interesting to see that he does not allow the basic human values to be covered completely by the dust of poverty and hardship. Malik’s characters do not cheat even though they are lowly and poor. In Malik’s short stories one finds lucid expression of his human sympathy and concern for the poor and the downtrodden. The portrayal of the two street beggars in Danvira (Donors), one sharing his paltry earnings with the other who is disabled, touches the innermost recesses of the reader’s heart. For the writer it is the biggest of all donations. He, however, laments: "No governor will ever unveil their statue. They have no name, no address. they are the society’s garbage."
Malik’s style of presentation is his own: it is simply captivating. The abruptness of the introduction immediately fascinates the reader. Sometimes it takes the reader to pre-history. For instance, his story Sambad begins, all of a sudden, thus: "Saded’s heaven got buried. There is only earth and no gold in Ravana’s Golden Lanka. In Midas’ world one hears only tales about gold, there is neither the gold nor Midas the king." His style of expression and the flow are unique and the narration vividly colourful. However, sometimes when brevity would have been a better option, he tends to be elaborate. Yet, because of his style, one does not get quite bored even by the relatively long narrations. In his evaluation of Malik’s short stories, late Prof. Hem Barua has observed that these are "examples of skilful and conscious craftsmanship in which every word tells and every effect is brought into a natural focus." His artistry is again evident in the peculiar manner in which he concludes a story. The curtain drops abruptly and unexpectedly. The reader is not prepared mentally to close the story. The story lingers in his mind like the song of Wordsworth’s solitary reaper.
The description of a scene, the backdrop or situation is poetical and lively. It can be seen vividly by the reader through his mind’s eyes. All his short stories, the most successful as weel as the one which are considered commonplace, have his speciality, a unique charm. A simple example is his description of a night in Pran Powar Pisat. Hemanta narrates the moonlit night thus: "It is a fullmoon night of Phagun. Up in the sky is the silvery moon. Down below, the earth is washed by white rays of the moon. The stars are dancing quietly. A little spring flows down the hill. Its murmuring tune makes the earth close her eyes in sleep." His descriptions are perfect picturization. They create the appropriate atmosphere for the plot to grow.
In one of his most remarkable short stories Anneswan (Search) Syed Abdul Malik deals with the character of a prostitute in his inimitable way. He looks at her not as a degraded untouchable, but as ’basically a human being.’ Dookhan Bhari (Two Legs) is a unique story where two opposite mental reactions came to play -- one of emotional attraction of the hero to a young girl at the sight of her two beautiful feet, and the other is of his repulsion for the same girl generated by a deep sense of patriotism when he knew that the girl’s father had kicked a volunteer during the freedom struggle.
Although his themes are predominantly romantic, a large number of his stories, particularly in the post-war period, revolve round socio-economic problems. But in both the types there is the touch of reality. He does not overplay sex except in Bibhatsa Bedana (Obscene Pain) which led to a spate of objection and criticism. Natural human emotions find an equally natural expression in his stories. A typical example is his story Mamata where one can see the extension of compassion, a part of human nature, to an animal and where the strong willed Captain Bibekananda’s heart melts at the sight of the dying pup in whose eyes he saw what death is like.
It is quite difficult to do a comprehensive survey of Abdul Malik’s literary world, for it is too vast and varied. Many of the better-known critics have commented on his works. This article is a humble attempt to bring out some of the unique characteristics and qualities of Syed Abdul Malik.

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