Ullug is a brilliant scientist who leaves his homeland in Uzbekistan for further studies in Moscow. There he meets Dr Khoshev who takes him under his wings, and together they go to a remote reserve at the border of Congo and Tanzania to research on chimpanzees. They find some of the monkeys are infected with a terrible disease that leaves them dead after just three days. They collect blood samples, and leave quickly and furtively, without telling anyone, not even an English researcher who was also working on the same primates. Thus begins a journey of secrecy and mystery that the author, Navin Bhai Vibhakar plots adeptly with the pen of an veteran novelist. Trained as a doctor, Navin Bhai Vibhakar is able to clearly explain the medical procedures in a story in which the transmission, preservation and effect of the Ebola virus plays a central role.
Navin Bhai is a well-known Gujarati writer with 40 published books to his name and many short stories that have appeared in magazines such as Akhand Anand and Kumar. Born in East Africa, he holds the covetous Parishad Award from Gujarat’s most respected Sahitya Academy. Revenge: Bio-terrorism unleased, is the English translation of Navin Bhai’s award winning book that was first released in Gujarati bearing the title Virus. The novel claimed 2nd prize by Sahitya Academy 2012 from among literally thousands of competitive writers of Gujarat, the state in India with a vibrant reading culture. To win a literary award in a society that cherishes its rich literary heritage is no small achievement for a writer. Hundreds of new novelists and books appear each year in Gujarat with a population of forty million and a high literacy rate of nearly 80%. There are tens of Gujarati laureates who have been honoured by such famed academies as Gujarat Vidhya Sabha, Gujarat Sahitya Sabha and Gujarati Sahitya Parishad. Libraries abound in every small town, a tradition that the Gujaratis carried to East Africa. Today, wherever they settle, Gujaratis have a library set up within the temple, the derattsar and the jamat khana premises.
The history of Gujarati written literature is grouped in three periods or yoogs. The ancient yoog starts from around AD 1000 while the Medieval Yoog is counted as four centuries from 1450 to 1850. The Modern Yoog, within which Virus (Revenge) falls, is from 1850 to the present. Each yoog is then sub-grouped or has minor yoogs that reflect on the spiritual, intellectual or political character of the time. For example, the Medieval Yoog (1450-1850) is characterized by the poetry, songs and stories of spiritual awakening in three sub-yoogs: Bhakti, Sagun and Nirgun. The most recent sub-category of the Modern Yoog is from 1985 and is also known as Anu-Adunik Yoog. Â This sub-category includes literature relating to social themes such women’s issues in Gujarat, some written from feminist perspectives, and the lot and struggles of the Dalit undercaste Gujaratis. Virus has already made a name as a book of literary merit of our time. The novel may add Terrorism to the growing body of Anu-Adunik Yoog – a contribution that Dr Navin Vibhakar brings to Gujarati writing of the Modern Age. But Virus also belongs to the new and growing group of Gujarati Diaspora Literature. In fact Gujarati Diaspora Literature is the largest of all the other Indian languages outside of India. This is according to Dr Balvant Jani, a prominent scholar of Gujarati literature at the University of Saurashtra. http://www.generallyaboutbooks.com/2011/05/gujarati-diaspora-literature.html
In fact it’s so large that Dr Jani compiled an anthology of Gujarati Diaspora Literature that led to the establishment of Gardi Research Institute for Diaspora Studies or GRIDS as it is called (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGyrEEueA64). It remains to be seen how the Diaspora literature will be named in the Yoogs. Will it merge into the Modern Yoog as a sub-group or will it be called literature of the Diaspora Yoog in a separate category in its own right? With thousands of Gujaratis in the Diaspora becoming third and fourth generations on almost all the continents now in the 21st Century, this may justify a separate category.
The story of Revenge moves as seamlessly in the Diaspora as does terrorism. It affirms what one sees on TV channels and reads in newspapers. Revenge reminded me of the Reluctant Fundamentalist, a novel by the Pakistani writer, Mohsin Hamid (2007).
While the Reluctant Fundamentalist moves between two countries, that is the USA and Pakistan, and there is a manageablea number of characters, Revenge journeys across many. Some of the countries traversed in Revenge are Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Russia, the Congo, USA, England and the Caribbean. Then there are as many characters set in family, work and love lives as there are the countries they live in. Truly that’s the global range of terrorism today that is not confined to any one country, social group, ethnicity or profession. One may think this would make a complicated reading but it’s not so because Navin Bhai Vibhakhar writes flawlessly through the geographies and the lives of the characters whose names like Zeba Khalid and Mulla Maqsood bear witness to their ethnic background and beliefs. While both the names sound Muslim, Zeba is an America FBI agent and Mulla Maqsood is a committed terrorist. Hence the message: One cannot judge a person by her/his religion or name. The two characters in the book are as different in their outlooks as they can get. One is a loyal American citizen and the other sees his loyalty to his religion as being above all.
The book in fact begins with a prologue on jihad what is said in the Quran and how it is misinterpreted. The story then traverses landscapes and networks of terrorists plying through lives of families and friends on the Diasporic stage as it is in the real world.Â But the question that underlies the book is why a young man, a brilliant and honest scientist, a devoted son and a loving husband like Ullug, the protagonist, should turn into a terrorist? While Navin Bhai Vivhakar is not sympathetic to violence that he depicts in gruesome deaths of innocent folk who get infested with the Ebola virus at a village feast in Kazakhstan, he also shows the need for understanding how circumstances can change human beings. Revenge is about how a young Muslim man falls victim to terrorism when embroiled by emotions of loss and humiliation that humans are prone to due to changes in life. The protagonist in the Reluctant Fundamentalist changed from being a CEO in the USA to a terrorist in Pakistan. The novel in fact has been made into a fine movie by Mira Nair who also made Mississippi Masala that’s about how a Uganda Asian refugee girl’s racial and caste attitudes altered in the USA. Both the movies are about how people act differently when their surroundings change.
Ullug’s loss and humiliation turn to hate and hate to revenge in a country occupied by America. Such a story is not unreal. The Guardian recently reported (May 28th, 2015) that a US-trained commander, Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov who led the Tajikistan’s special-purpose police force, defected to ISIS. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/28/tajikistan-police-chief-defects-to-isis The Guardian report shows how close to reality is the story in Revenge: Bio-terrorism unleased, which is a work of fiction.
Sultan Somjee is the author of Bead Bai ( http://thebeadbai.blogspot.com/) and curator of the Asian African Heritage Exhibition, National Museums of Kenya 2000 -2005. He was born in Kenya and trained as an ethnographer. He now writes from Vancouver, Canada and teaches how to write from memories.
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