Special Review by Jyoti Vyas
Freelance columnist writing for The Asian Age and Prithvi Theatre Journal

Aabid Surti – Author of The Black Book

Aabid Surti is a multi-faceted artist equally versatile in every art form he explores. As a writer, painter, cartoonist, innovator of mirror collage, journalist, maker of stain glass artifice, play director, filmmaker and himself a subject for filmmakers, Aabid Surti has Midas touch to turn simple observation or personal expression into an exquisite creative work.

Aabid has penned over eighty books, covering different literary forms – from travelogue to novel, fictionalized autobiography, satirical Ghazal with common English words, fiction based on reality (Katha Vachak is fictionalized novelette in the back drop of demolition of Babri Masjid) – but his boldest and most controversial book is undoubtedly The Black Book . It is not only revolutionary in form and content but also a fresh vision of the World's major religions.

This work of fiction is written in the classical style of the epics. Although Aabid has employed the form of scripture, the structure is of the novel. Notwithstanding the source of the events go back to the religious scriptures like Bible, Quran, Geeta, black magic and ritualistic tales from the different parts of the world.

The crux of the book is revolt against blind, cruel, fanatic adherence to religious belief and total lack of tolerance for other faiths resulting in lethal hatred working as a driving force to obliterate those belonging to different faith.

The Black Book looks at the deep-rooted, established religious conventions and squashes them with ferocity. To evolve a new world order, the central character introduces an unorthodox and seemingly bizarre philosophy about religion, sex, food, marriage and the rights of senior citizens. The message of the book is that all happiness is here and now, on this earth only. Yet, paradoxically, except for his birth, the devil Yam-Zalal's childhood is just like that of Lord Krishna and he dies the death of christ. So where is the dividing line between good and evil? What is the difference between devil and God? Who is God and who is Satan?

Each one will find a different answer from this classic, illustrated with Tantric-style line drawings.

The birth of this book is unique in many ways. It was originally written in Gujarati (1971). A numbers of local publishers were awed by the subject matter but did not dare to publish it. But a respected name in Indian literature, Kamaleshwar, the then-editor of Sarika (A Times of India publication of short stories), was highly impressed and offered to publish its translation in Hindi.

The first publication (1975) titled Kali-Kitab was followed by a flurry of threatening letters and abusive phone calls. Kamleshwar and the author had the unique distinction of receiving death threats from both Hindus as well as Muslims!

Intrigued by the book and the controversy, Playboy International offered to publish The Black Book in English. But before it could go to the press, cult riots erupted in the US , inflaming the nation. Keeping the public sentiments in mind, the project had to be shelved.

In a slightly better climate came the offer to publish it in U. K. by London Publishing who liked the manuscript ‘enormously', but before they could complete the contractual formalities, Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses was published. The publisher wrote back: ‘As you can imagine, given the backlash from Satanic Verses, it would be at the worst indiscreet and at best blatantly aggressive to publish The Black Book at this stage.'

In 1990 an Urdu scholar turned politician from Bombay , Sajid Rashid, liked the book so much that he approached the author with a request to publish it into Urdu. In the assembly elections in the same year, when he stood on a Janata Dal ticket from a predominantly muslim locality of Kurla, he was branded by his political rivals as a satan-worshipper. The book cost him an assembly seat.

SOMETHING MORE ABOUT THE BOOK: Surprisingly the basic difference between Satanic Verses and The Black Book (which was written nearly two decades before its counterpart) is that the former targets only one religion – Islam, while the other, in Aabid's own words, is “..to question blind followers of every religion; to provoke doubt, which is the foundation of true religion.”

The Black Book has so far been published in 7 languages and won the Book of the Year award in Kannada. In Hindi Scholar late Dr. Dharamvir Bharati's opinion: “Shiva's Tandav is always callous. It destroys many things so that a new order can be established. The same callousness is also found in this satirical fiction and the same motive. The writer has given voice to the complete truth of the day”.

Kamaleshwar wrote: “In this black book, which is darker than the night and brighter than light, a man can clearly see both sides of his soul, the black as well as white. There is no element missing in The Black Book which cannot be found in Man today.”

About the process of writing this book, Aabid says: “Some books are written, some are inspired. This is one of those books which was clearly not written by me, it was written through me – by God or by the devil, I don't know.”

A woman gets impregnated by a wolf and Yan-Zalal, the son of the Devil, is born. As he matures, he starts to preach...but this is no messenger of God – he has taken birth to preach the Devil's gospel.

And then, what follows in the story is similar to the life of any Messiah... Yam-Zalal is betrayed by his followers and tried by the ruler, convicted and crucified. The end of the book reads – For in the place (where he was crucified) where Yam-Zalal had been, there was now nobody. But the black phallic symbol of Satan.

At the end of reading and writing about The Black Book following questions have come up that I put to Aabid.

Jyoti – Almost three decades before you have written this book, since then so much have happened in India and the world. Do you think that the validity of the preaching of Satan has changed? What would you add or subtract?

Aabid – The validity of the preaching has not changed. On the contrary, it has become more relevant. A look around the world shows that Satan's teachings are more widely practiced than God's psalms.

Jyoti – The basic preaching to destroy the monopoly of religion as controller of human race by denying them the freedom of choice is welcome, but can the personal freedom be achieved by indulging in unbridled sexuality?

Aabid – Personal freedom cannot be the result of unbridled sexuality. However, the suppression and perversion of sexuality has harmed humanity incalculably. Freedom and choice, should be a human being's birth right in every sphere, not just in sex.
Well, since it was written and published in Hindi, after a number of unsuccessful early attempts the book at last has been published in an international language – English – by English Edition.

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This article was written by Jyoti Vyas. Jyoti Vyas is freelance columnist writing for The Asian Age and PT. Notes (Prithvi Theatres Magazine), Gujarati News Papers and magazines, translated plays in Hindi and Gujarati, is actively involved in art and culture world of Mumbai.