City-based progressive Urdu author Rahman Abbas who had courted controversy and was even jailed for allegedly depicting obscenity in his first novel has won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award for his fourth Urdu Novel ‘Rohzin’. The Akademi awards were announced in Delhi on Wednesday and Abbas, along with other winners, will be awarded in January 2019. The award carries a cash prize of Rs 1lakh and a citation.
Born in Chiplun (Konkan) and educated in Mumbai, the Mira Road-based Abbas’s novel ‘Rohzin’ (The Melancholy of the Soul) is set in the backdrop of the 2005 deluge in Mumbai and is a story of love, lust, belonging, rejection and identity spread across shades of the city. “I have lived in Mumbai since age four and my novel is set here. It talks about the city’s sociocultural life, its dark underbelly. The reader feels fragrance and smells as he meanders through localities like Mumba Devi and Mohammed Ali Road,” said Abbas, sipping tea at a popular Mira Road ‘adda’ on Thursday, amidst a flurry of congratulatory calls.
Abbas, 46, claims he is the youngest and first Maharashtrian Urdu novelist to have won a Sahitya Akademi Award. Part of the 2015 ‘Award Wapsi’ campaign (he had returned the award of the Maharashtra State Urdu Sahitya Akademi given to him for his 2011novel ‘Khuda Ke Saye Mein’), Abbas says he will not return the latest award. “That time it was a protest against attacks on liberal writers and rationalists. Sahitya Akademi is an autonomous body and chooses books for awards purely on merit. I will keep this award,” said Abbas.
The 2016 novel ‘Rohzin’ has been translated into English, Hindi and German. He was invited by the German publishers for the book’s launch in Zurich, Switzerland, earlier this year. It is a bestseller in Pakistan and has received rave reviews by eminent commentators, including Pakistani writer Mustansar Hussain Tarar and eminent Indian Urdu critics Gopichand Narang and Shafai Kidwai.
Abbas first hit the headlines in 2005 when his first novel ‘Nakhlistan Ki Talash’ (Search of an Oasis) landed him in trouble for allegedly depicting obscenity. Some conservative elements in the community filed a case against him and he was arrested and had to spend a few days at Arthur Road Jail too. He was subsequently acquitted by the high court in 2016.
“This is all part of a writer’s life. Right now, I am celebrating the award which I dedicate to Mumbai, the city which has made me,” said Abbas.