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‘Rohzin’ Review: The English Translation Of Rahman Abbas’s Book Proves To Be A Reader’s Delight

Originally written in Urdu, the English translation of Rahman Abbas’ “Rohzin” (translated from Urdu by Sabika Abbas Naqvi) has been doing the rounds lately. Along with being long listed for the 2022 JCB Prize, “Rohzin” has also been the winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2018. The title of his novel, “Rohzin,” Abbas says, is an amalgamation of two words: “rooh,” which means soul, and “huzun,” meaning melancholy. Therefore, to broadly speak about the novel, “Rohzin” is Abbas’ fictional project of exploring the soul and its eccentricities.

The story begins with the end itself. The very first line of the novel gets the readers acquainted with the fate of the two protagonists, Asrar and Hina. The remainder of the novel, therefore, is a build-up to this ultimate culmination point. Asrar is a boy from a fishing village, Mabadmorpho, who has lost his father to the sea. He decides to go to Mumbai to help his mother and ease their financial struggles. Abbas takes quite some time to establish the plot and explore the backgrounds of the individual characters before the protagonists of the novel meet. A good first half of the novel describes Asrar’s stay at the ‘Jamat Ki Kholi’ as he explores the city, makes new friends, and gets himself acquainted with his new life. It is only around the fourth chapter that the readers meet Hina, a regular college goer with a complicated family. Soon in an almost providential manner, the lovers come face to face in ‘Haji Ali Dargah.’

On the surface, “Rohzin” appears to be a classic young adult romance where a boy meets a girl and falls in love at first sight. However, on a more expansive level, when one is ready to overcome the somewhat Bollywood-like feel of the story, we realize how the novelist tends to explore some unconventional themes. From childhood trauma, infidelity, religion, and mentions of terrorism, to occult and satanic practices, the narrative includes it all.

At a point in the story, we find a character stating that it is sex and its potential that acts as the cure to “rohzin,” or the melancholy of the soul. It is around this conjecture that the majority of the plot revolves around—the melancholy suffered by the characters, physical intimacy as their way of dealing with it, and finally, how they perceive it. The novelist provides us with a plethora of characters and familiarizes the readers with their distinctive sadness—a boy who loses his father; a boy whose mother leaves him behind and runs away with her lover; a teacher who feels disconnected from her husband and is attracted to her student; a husband who discovers love in another woman; and a wife who hopelessly awaits the return of the husband who left. In the course of the novel, we see how these individuals try to heal their wounded souls through physical intimacy. The story raises certain questions and answers some. Is sex a reaction to love, or can it exist independent of love? Is sexual intimacy the ultimate cure for the agonized soul? Urdu literature in recent times has not been much privy to bodily relations. Hence sex is not a topic that is explored much when compared to literature of other languages. Rahman Abbas somewhat breaks this custom in his novel and takes on the path of the likes of Manto or Chugtai. However, unlike them, the novelist does not probe into the violent attributes of sex but instead deals with its transcendental aspects.

What is particularly noteworthy is Abbas’ style of narration. In general, what usually keeps readers hooked on a novel is the element of suspicion. In “Rohzin,” however, this very element is taken away. Here, the novelist voluntarily lets the readers know what is to be the final outcome and yet somehow manages to keep the readers engaged till the very end, and therein lies its beauty. Another commendable feature one finds in “Rohzin” is Abbas’ treatment of Mumbai city. Apart from the overused trope of hope and desire, which is generally associated with the city, the novelist also brings in the play of folklore and history in his narrative. The subtle commentaries of Mumba Devi, the conversation between djinns and deities, creative references like the ‘Book of Knowledge of All Worlds,’ and the dream sequences with a Freudian element in them make Rahman Abbas’ story stand out. Finally, when talking about Mumbai, the famous ‘Mumbai ki baarish’ (Mumbai’s rainfall) can hardly escape mention. Likewise, the rain plays a character of its own, acting as a major catalyst in Asrar and Hina’s love story.

Needless to say, Sabika Abbas Naqvi’s translation of “Rohzin” is indeed laudable as it opens the novel for English readers. However, that which is linguistically aesthetic in Urdu, often comes across as an overstatement in English. Hence to some, the essence of the narrative might just get ‘lost in translation’ (which is a complication common to most translation works). Lastly, the ending of the novel could attract divided reactions from the readers. While to some, the fate of Asrar and Hina might almost be poetic, others might sense a certain lack, possibly leaving them dissatisfied. Overall, the English translation of Rahman Abbas’s “Rohzin” proves to be a reader’s delight. The book is published by Vintage Penguin and is easily available online as well as at any nearby bookstore.

Farhana Tasnim
Farhana Tasnim
Farhana Tasnim is a Ph.D. scholar pursuing her degree in English literature. She has previously worked as a content writer. Farhana has always been an avid reader. Reading books across genres, analyzing them, and learning from them is how she likes to spend her time mostly.


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