Earlier this month, Chennaibased publication house Blaft released a translation of Hausa novel, Alhaki Kwikwiyo by Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu in English (Hajiya is a title for a woman who has done the Haj pilgrimage).
Titled Sin is a puppy that follows you home, the novel is part of the highly popular pulp fiction of ‘love literature’ from northern Nigeria called Littatafan Soyayya (‘so’ means love in Hausa, the language of twothirds of the country’s population) which is inspired by Bollywood melodramas of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
“In this book, I tell the story about a type of man found commonly in Nigeria who regards a married woman with children as a sort of slave to be bought or sold at the marketplace.
These men think they may treat such a woman as poorly as they like, since they believe her to be completely worthless,” begins the 126-page novel. It then goes on to tell the story of a merchant, who neglects his wife and six children, and takes on a second wife. The abandoned first wife opens a restaurant that becomes popular while the husband faces misfortune.
At the end, he realises his mistake. “I would be delighted if any Bollywood producer or director would make this into a Hindi film because it contains all the melodrama of Indian films,” said Yakubu over an email interview. “There may be similarities between the broad plot elements of my novels (like forced marriage) and general directions of older Indian cinema.”
Yakubu has good reason to talk of Bollywood. The 54-year old author grew up, like most of her generation, watching Hindi films like Changez Khan (1957), Raaste Ka Patthar (1972), Waqt (1965), Rani Rupmati (1957), Dost (1974), and Mother India (1957).
In 1976, NTA Kano, the state television network, began to broadcast Hindi films on the late-night movie slot on Fridays. Much of Soyayya literature — that began to be published in 1989 — engaged with similar themes: Should you wed the person you love, or whom your parents choose; What qualities make a woman ‘good’; The enduring value of sacrifice.
The traditional value system of these films resonated with a conservative Hausa audience. (In Kano city, a major centre of Soyayya literature, it is now illegal for women to visit cinemas.) “Balaraba’s novels address the trauma of forced marriage and expose the problems of the domestic sphere, such as abuse and the way women in polygamous marriages are often pitted into rivalries against each other,” said Carmen McCain, a PhD candidate whose dissertation includes a study on Yakubu’s works.
Perhaps that is why Indian audiences will be able to relate to Sin is a puppy, feels Blaft’s Rakesh Khanna. “There are many similarities between Soyayya novels and the family-oriented dramas we watch in Hindi and Tamil serials.”
Much like the literature, Bollywood, even today, offers limited resistance to what is perceived as tradition. Films where the Westernised heroine eventually moulds herself into a more ‘traditional’ woman include the recent Cocktail, where Deepika Padukone starts the film skimpily clad (as opposed to her foil Diana Penty) but ends up in salwar kameez, with her head duly covered.
Yet, detractors of Soyayya books condemn them as promoting a culture that is decadent and traditionally unacceptable. But the critique runs both ways. For instance, Yakubu doesn’t like contemporary Bollywood films, because they are “too Westernised”.
By contrast, “the young generation Hausa Muslims would not be seen dead watching Amar Deep (1958),” said Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu of Bayero University, Kano. “The younger Hausa would prefer to watch films of Salman Khan, Hrithik Roshan, and Kareena Kapoor (that) are vaguely American and project ultra-cool.”
Kannywood (Hausa’s film industry based in Kano), which grew alongside Soyayya literature through the ’90s, is heavily influenced by Bollywood, too. In fact, Yakabu has written, directed and produced several films in Kannywood. “Kannywood is based on three sub-plot elements: forced marriage, gender rivalry, singing and dancing.
These elements characterise, by and large, Hindi commercial cinema,” said Adamu, adding that as many as 128 Hausa films are rip-offs of Hindi films.
Al-rahus, a popular Kannywood producer even shot a film in India last year, and was quoted in an interview saying, “I decided to fulfill the promise I made to my viewers that the third part of the movie will be shot in India. (…) You know, India is ranked No. 1 in the world of entertainment.”
► I would be delighted if any Bollywood producer or director would make (my book) into a Hindi film because it contains all the melodrama of Indian films
- Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu