Book Review

Published:  05:45 PM, 26 September 2021

The Reason Why Abdul Jalil Died: A Kafkaesque Quagmire

-Khandakar Ashraful Islam

The Reason Why Abdul Jalil Died (2021) is Quazi Mostain Billah’s translation of Moinul Ahsan Saber’s Bengali novella Abdul Jalil Je Karone Mara Gelo (2015). Saber is one of the most renowned and gifted writers in Bengali literature. For his outstanding contribution to Bengali fiction, he is rewarded with many accolades like Bangla Academy Literary Award, Ekushe Padak, the Philips Award and many more to mention. This translation of Saber’s work has contributed to asserting the variety and richness of Bengali literature in the arena of world literature written in and translated into English. The translation makes it readily commendable that in its postmodern narrative techniques and art of characterization, The Reason Why Abdul Jalil Died is comparable to many twentieth century classics. With the use of Jalil’s interior monologue, the narrative of this novella coincides with the narrative style of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner. It’s title apparently sounds ordinary and unsophisticated. However, the quest to unravel the cause of Abdul Jalil’s death will not only startle the readers but also take them to the darkest terrains of contemporary socio-political reality where ordinary people are crushed by the abusive practice of bureaucratic and juridico-discursive power. 

As depicted in the novella, the abducted Abdul Jalil is a simple and innocent man. He has no other business than a low salaried job. He is somehow happy with his regular strolling, roadside snacking, and watching movies with his beloved wife Jhumka. Like the commonness of his name, Abdul Jalil represents everyman. As the story begins, Abdul Jalil is abducted by a gang of three men. He is kept detained in a desolate place. The particular reason behind Abdul Jalil’s abduction is not overtly disclosed in the narrative. In several sessions Abdul Jalil is rigorously interrogated and brutally tortured by the gang members who abducted Abdul Jalil assuming him a notorious criminal involved in crimes like forgery, money laundering, contract killing, syndicate business, sabotage and anti-governmental conspiracy. Access to Abdul Jalil’s stream of consciousness allows the readers a unique privilege to drift into the terrains of Abdul Jalil’s credulousness and simplicity of thought. His naivety and inwardness indicate that he is not the Abdul Jalil these people are looking for. Despite his persistent denial of the accusations, Abdul Jalil fails to convince his captors that he is not that criminal Abdul Jalil they have targeted to lock up. Abdul Jalil’s howl and outcry are assumed as pretentious. Therefore, after each interrogation the intensity of torture is increased to make him accept those allegations brought against him. Miscommunication and misunderstanding are the two dominant themes in this novella. Because of the differences of perceptions, Jalil and his captors are the people of two opposite worlds. While Abdul Jalil is a simple, romantic, and naïve person, his captors are sophisticated, practical, and cruel. Hence, no bridge connects them, and this misunderstanding is not resolved till the end.

The activities of Abdul Jalil’s captors raise suspicion. It is not specified anywhere that whether these people—wearing the same attire, interrogating in the same manner, and torturing the victim with the same rapacity—belong to any law enforcement agency or not. However, their nature of interrogation makes the readers assume that this gang is either working under the shadow support of government agencies or it is a group of officials who are misusing their juridico-discursive power to earn some hard cash. They have never disclosed their identity to Abdul Jalil. At one point in the narrative, it appears that these interrogators are engaged in a big mission to arrest the corrupted officials and criminals who under the shelter of bureaucratic and political power are creating anarchy in society. However, their demand for a hefty ransom from Abdul Jalil’s family discloses the true intention of those unknown abductors. Moreover, it gets clear that these people have been misusing the extrajudicial power they are endowed with. The denial of Abdul Jalil’s family to provide any ransom makes his captors suspicious of Abdul Jalil’s true identity. To resolve their doubt, Abdul Jalil is put to a filter test. Abdul Jalil is not skilled at escaping like the criminals. Therefore, every time the test is conducted, he remains stuck inside the filter. Abdul Jalil’s failure to escape from the filter, for the first time, makes his captors realize that Abdul Jalil is a wrong catch. Although Abdul Jalil is proved innocent, he fails to earn his freedom.

The dark and uncanny room where Abdul Jalil is dumped and tortured is the setting of the novel. As the narrative progresses, it gets clear that Jalil’s abduction is neither officially documented nor publicly reported. In fact, no specific allegation is brought against him. Instead, he is randomly accused of countless unlawful acts. All the time it is insisted that his accession to those alleged crimes will release him from this captivity. However, Abdul Jalil keeps wondering why and how he should accede to those accusations which he has never committed. The nightmarish setting of the novel and the nonsensical ambiance Abdul Jalil is confined in create such an aura that equates this novel with “the world of Kafkaesque absurdity.” In academia, Kafkaesque refers to “a bizarre and impersonal administrative situation where the individual feels powerless.” In the context of this novella, Abdul Jalil’s helplessness and predicament resemble the horrific reality that Kafkaesque promulgates.

In his depiction of the undue trial of the innocent Abdul Jalil, Saber creates a Kafkan world in which individuals like Abdul Jalil are “crushed by nonsensical, blind authority.” Franz Kafka, in his famous novella The Trial (1925), has portrayed Joseph K.’s helplessness in the face of a completely incomprehensible system which in many ways coincides with Abdul Jalil’s predicaments. Both Joseph K. and Abdul Jalil are kept in the dark regarding the precise cause of their perdition. While Joseph K. finds himself ensnared in a bureaucratic justice system, Abdul Jalil is caught in the biopolitical nomos to confess about those crimes in which he has never been involved. Instead of being victors over their oppressors, both Joseph K. and Abdul Jalil wind up as miserable victims in an unreasoning and incomprehensible world where the keepers of law and order have turned desperate to amass wealth by any means. In such a world of greed, corruption, criminality, and abuse of power, ordinary people like Abdul Jalil need to die for the criminals, the corrupted, and the godfathers to survive. As Saber disappointedly conveys through Abdul Jalil, “The Abdul Jalil that you were looking for or you took me for the Abdul Jalil, he is spared…If I were one of those Abdul Jalils, I would survive”. In this novella, depicting Abdul Jalil’s entanglement, Saber has shed light on the abusive practice of extra-judicial killing and enactment of biopower in the present-day reality. With its experimental narrative and contemporaneity definitely this book is an interesting one to read. 

My simultaneous reading of both the Bengali and the English translation of this novella gives me the impression that the translation of this novel had been a quite challenging task due to its experimental narrative technique. To express Jalil’s stream of consciousness and his unstructured mind, the way Saber exploited his mother tongue, in translation to retain and reflect the same essence demands the translator’s mastery, expertise, and control over the original (Bengali) and the target language (English). It is expected that The Reason Why Abdul Jalil Died will attract local readers who like to read in English and invite international readership and inspire young translators to venture into translating the groundbreaking Bengali texts which might contribute to spread the richness and magnanimity of Bengali literature across the world.

Details of the book:
The Reason Why Abdul Jalil Died
Moinul Ahsan Saber
Translated by Quazi Mostain Billah
Publisher: Dibyaprokash
38/2 Ka Banglabazar
Price: Tk. 300

-The writer is Assistant Professor, Dept. of English, Noakhali Science and Technology University

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