I grew up hearing that my father Aabid Surti was a great writer. He had been conferred a National Award for Literature in 1993 so I didn’t doubt it, but his books were mostly written in Hindi or Gujarati languages, neither of which was a fun read for my English-educated self. So it was not until my late thirties that I actually read a book written by him.
The first book I read was an English translation of ‘Sufi – The Invisible Man Of The Underworld’. I remember I kept telling my wife every few pages how marvelous it was, secretly expecting it would go downhill soon after. But the pace didn’t flag right until the final twist at the end. It was an amazing parallel biography of dad’s life with that of an underworld smuggler, both of whom grew up in the same crime-infested section of Bombay in the 1950s. My wife read it next, stopped communicating with the world for a night and day, and emerged another fan. She recommended it to her parents, and so it went on.
Until then, I had only known ‘Sufi’ as the book because of which dad had received death threats from the underworld – at one point forcing us to leave our home indefinitely with just a suitcase of clothes. His books often caused him problems but I always admired dad’s integrity. He bowed down neither to the underworld, nor to political pressures to become a mouthpiece for party agendas. During the Hindi-Muslim riots of 1992, while city Muslims stayed home, he would go alone for a walk down the streets of Bandra during curfew hours and say, ‘Let’s see who dares to kill me in my own city.’ It scared us then – but he was too much of a man to allow someone else to take away his city.
Though he was neither a political nor a religious man, the 1992 Babri mosque incident – where a Hindu political rally developed into a riot involving 150,000 people – and the ensuing riots in which 2000 people were killed, scarred him deeply. He wrote ‘In The Name of Rama’, a scathing indictment of the ruling party inspired by a true incident about a lone Hindu constable who stood at the foot of the mosque to protect it from thousands of Hindu fundamentalists. The book was a fictionalized back story of this character, exploring what is true love and true faith. I read that next and cried through parts of it too.
His honesty created some more humorous problems for him too.
When he wrote ‘The Golf Widow’ which was the diary of his ultimately tragic love affair with his beautiful Japanese art student, my mother was, to put it mildly, not pleased. But the point of the book was not to boast about a boyhood locker-room fantasy. The book is a meditation on growing old and coming to terms with the life we are given.
Unlike some authors who stick to their niche, dad’s writing spanned multiple genres. His 80-odd books covered crime, biography, romance, spy thrillers, humor, children’s books, poetry and even erotica before it was available in shades of grey.
It has been one of my longstanding dreams to make my father’s out-of-print books available in English to a global audience. Despite his national award, I failed to interest local publishers. Currently, publishing in India is in that awkward growth spurt where it is besotted by young ‘Indian-English’ authors writing about teenage love. I hope that will expand, not just for dad’s sake but also for all the brilliant writing that is hidden buried in Indian languages.
Finally I took it upon myself to get it done. My brother and mentor GD readily agreed to don his cape as a super graphic designer to create the fantastic book covers. And thanks to Amazon, I have been able to make them available at a terrifically low price. I am super-excited to share the links for the ebook versions of three of dad’s best books in English for the first time here.
Looking back, I read the first book written by my dad mostly because he was my father. But the second, and the third, and the fourth, I read because I had discovered an author who knew how to spin a great yarn and gently evoke a glowing pearl of meaning hidden inside it.
And I do hope you find some pearls of your own to carry away too.