Amidst the communal tension and schism of conviction, Sabin Iqbal Aleph has weaved a very sensitive story.
By Sapna Kumari
The Cliffhangers: A Novel, written by Sabin Iqbal, poignantly narrates a very simple yet fascinating adventurous life of four boys known as the Clifhangers. Set in a village by the sea, located in a town called Varkala, the book has both religious as well as political divisions. Just as the two extreme sides of the cliff, the two communities, Hindus and Muslims, coexist in the village, which resonates with contemporary times in the country. Amidst the communal tension and schism of conviction, Iqbal has weaved a very sensitive story. As the story picks up after a brief introduction to the beginning of the friendship of the Cliffhangers—Usman, Thaha, Jahangir and Moosa—the reader enters into the lives of the distinctive communities, as well as those whose lives get amplified through the four characters.
The boys are rebels in every way, who take a vow never to adhere to any religion post the humiliation meted out at the hands of the Ustaad at their local madrassa. In the initial pages, it establishes the dichotomy of the two extreme sides between which they were caught—saffron and green—and the threat of the police looming large. They are often named as kafirs, for their friendliness with the foreign tourists and being carefree.
A senior journalist who has worked in India and the Middle East, Iqbal has efficiently used his faculty of observation and added a flavour of the mundane and the minute in every chapter.
There is a sudden turn in the events as the news of a tourist’s rape is circulated and this alerts the cop Devan to tighten his strings against the Cliffhangers even more. As speculations run rife that they might be the culprits, they face the overwhelming task of proving their innocence, which threatens their own identity. As one character says, “your identity is your enemy”, they come face to face with the undercurrents and outpouring rage of communal intolerance that is beginning to divide the Hindu and Muslim fishermen and villagers. The growing communal tension and the search for the real culprit is mixed with various other colourful episodes revolving around the boys.
The novel follows the narration by Moosa and this narrative is further accentuated by some clever strokes of a visionary portraying how the separation and the ensuing loneliness change the basic nature of people in Moosa’s own space. The women in the novel intriguingly present what the reality entails for them. Be it Moosa’s indomitable yet highly vulnerable mother, or the daughters-in-law of the family who try best to linger on the hope of seeing their husbands back—Thahara, a passionate and loyal beloved, or an ambitious Amina.
Although written with a partial flashback in time and age, the novel can be considered a great choice when it comes to contextualising the political and social paradox of the age.
Sapna Kumari is a PhD Scholar in Delhi University, also teaching at Miranda House, Department of English
The Cliffhangers: A Novel
Sabin Iqbal Aleph
Pp 184, Rs 499