Pages from the Past: Inqilab by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas

They led him away but from the corridor outside came his mighty roar still shaking the walls of the chamber: IINQILAB ZINDABAD!

And in that moment Anwar knew that the still and slimy waters had at last been shaken to their depths. The deaf had, indeed, been made to hear. The Revolution had arrived. India would never be the same again – the impact of that one single bomb would shake and change the life of every Indian.

This week, as India celebrated her 66th independence day on August 15th, I decided to pick up a book that had been long on my wishlist but which I had so far desisted from reading since I wanted to savour the anticipation of reading it all the more.

Inqilab by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas is a lost classic. Written during the forties, it chronicles the nationalist struggle for freedom in India. Told through the p-o-v of a young boy, Anwar, it narrates not only his growing-up but also a country’s march towards self-determination.

Young Anwar who lost his mother early on and has been brought up by his father – the strict, austere Akbar Ali and his doting aunt, Phuphi Amma, receives his political baptism one fine day in Amritsar. On13th April 1919, when Punjab is celebrating the festival of Baisakhi  and ushering in a new year, army men under the command of General Reginald Dyer open fire on an unarmed crowd which is protesting peacefully against the detainment of a few political leaders. As Anwar watches the ground turning bloody round him, he starts questioning the rule of the British. A few days later, he is made to crawl in the streets when he goes visiting the home of a friend who lost his father in the Jallian Wallah Bagh massacre and this humiliation further reinforces his views about the colonial regime.

Not only Anwar, the entire country is aghast at the brutality of their colonial masters whom they had served  loyally during the World War. Dying or being crippled in the trenches, they had never thought that the British would go back on their promise and instead of Dominian Status would impose on them draconian laws and rules. The reply to this betrayal seems to come from Gandhi who returns from South Africa and instantly captures the imagination of the Indians. The Non-Co-operation movement launched by him is a stupendous success which almost brings the colonial regime on to its knees. Not only that, there is remarkable unity shown by members of all communities. But just when freedom seems round the corner, Gandhi withdraws the movement under the pretext of a violent incident in the small town of Chauri-Chaura. This disillusions many people – including Anwar’s father Akabr Ali (who had courted imprisonment during the agitation) and Ratan, Anwar’s friend, who sees it as a betrayal. Their disillusionment makes them seek other routes to freedom: one turns to religion, the other to violence. As the personal becomes political, new lines of allegiance and discord appear very often within the same family.

These conflicting voices are what lend such a charm to the book. Revolutionaries and Reactionaries, Gandhiites and Gaddharites, Communists and Collbrators, Socialists and Sychophants, Princes and Pretenders… all are present in this glittering picture-gallery. On one page one hears Bhagat Singh and watches Sukhdev, on another Sohan Singh Josh. One travels on the train with Jawahar Lal Nehru and interviews Subhas Chandra Bose. One encounters the formidable Ali brothers and then gets to meet the Gentle Pathan: Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Mainstream leaders or those marginalised with the passage of time, it gives a thrill to read about these people as both the novel and the nation progress.

Told in a simple manner with no experimental flourishes, the novel is able to capture well the heady atmosphere of those days when India dreamt of a glorious future and men and women were ready to court death for their dreams of a free India.. The evocative prose gives one an adrenalin rush as well as makes one wonder as to how many of those dreams have been realised.


First Line: The Maulavi Sahib’s venerable beard was a source of never-ending wonder to Anwar.

Title: Inqilab

Author: K(hwaja) A(hmed) Abbas

Publication Details: Jaico Books

First Published: 1958

Pages: 355

Other Books read of the Same Author: Mera Naam Joker


The book might be available in libraries, I picked it up from a second-hand books shop.


Submitted for the Back to the Classics Challenge

Also submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles), A Classic Challenge, Mount TBR, South Asian, TBR Pile, Unread Book.


Entry for Friday’s Forgotten Books.

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