An extract from “The Lovers: A Novel” by Amitava Kumar

Amitava Kumar in the Indian Quarterly:

IndianQuarterly-copyWhen Ehsaan was young, that is to say the age I myself was when first I met him, he had gone to Tunisia for his doctoral research. In nearby Algeria, revolution had caught fire. It was said that Ehsaan had travelled to Algeria and fought in the war against the French. Had he? No one knew for certain. I never got the chance to ask him and, years later, sitting in a restaurant on Broadway, when I asked his widow that question, she quietly said, “I don’t know.” I had liked her honesty, especially when I pressed her to explain why Ehsaan had chosen to stay in the US and not return to Pakistan when his studies were over.

She laughed and said, In Pakistan the women wore the hijab. Here they showed their legs.

The very first time I had gone to Ehsaan’s office, to get my enrolment form signed for the class he was teaching, I had seen on his wall the framed poster of The Battle of Algiers. I had watched the film, when I was in my teens, in Pragati Maidan in Delhi. The poster’s background showed grainy black and white warren-like homes in the qasba, and leaning into the frame from the sides were the Algerian Ali La Pointe on the left, and, on the right, the French military colonel Mathieu.

The film’s director Gillo Pontecorvo had sought out Ehsaan when making the film. Pontecorvo had arrived in Algeria with his screenplay, but accidentally left it on the top of a car. Parts of the screenplay soon appeared in a right-wing paper. So Pontecorvo had recast the story, basing it upon interviews with revolutionaries: “a fiction written under the dictatorship of facts.”

More here.