Tree Without Roots by Syed Waliullah

An Analysis of the character of Majid in ‘Tree Without Roots’ by Syed Waliullah

Tree Without Roots by Syed Waliullah

Tree Without Roots by Syed Waliullah : Majid, the protagonist of the novel Tree Without Roots by Syed Waliullah, is a round character who undergoes changes in the course of the novel. Majid, who is a rootless, financially helpless and religiously corrupt person at the beginning of the novel, turns into a socially and economically strong and deeply rooted religious guru at the end of the novel.At the beginning of the novel we find Majid introduce himself as a savior of the people of  Mahabbatpur and earns their faith.

Gradually he is able to send a message to the villagers that he is the person who can guide them to the spiritual salvation. He also gains material possessions by selling religious faith and becomes rich within a few years. He also fulfills his carnal desires by marrying two times. So, by the end of the novel we find a Majid , who is socially, economically and religiously very strong. But in some respects, Majid does little change till the end of the novel. Majid is very lonely from the beginning to the end. He also suffers from a sense of insecurity throughout the novel.

At the beginning of the novel we find Majid establish himself as a religious guide of the people of a backward village named Mahabbatpur. Majid, a poor man from a devout muslim background, comes to Mahabbatpur. He declares an old grave to be the majar  that of a pir (a Muslim saint), covers it with the traditional red cloth used for muslims , and establishes his stronghold on the life of the people using the reflected power on him of the supposed saint. Thorough his charismatic behavior Majid quickly establishes himself as a spiritual guide of the people, most of whom are illiterate and hold a blind religious faith.

Tree Without Roots by Syed Waliullah published in 1948, but actually written before Partition of India, portrays the socioeconomic, political and religious context of Bengali-Muslims. Indian history then was marked by troublesome upheavals of religious, ethnic and gendered conflicts. The cultural, moral and ethical agenda in Waliullah’s text foregrounds the dubious nature of the pseudo-religious dogma grounded heavily on patriarchal assumptions and control. Like a parody of the Prophet, Majid, the middle-aged protagonist of Tree Without Roots, exiled in Mahabbatpur [the city of love] pretends to be the ‘bearer of the light’ to show the ‘rustic,’ ‘illiterate’ ‘non-believer’ inhabitants, the ‘right path.’ However, Majid had actually migrated to Mahabbatpur fleeing drought, famine and poverty, driven by a sheer need to survive and thereafter seeking a better life.

Majid wholly capitalizes the religious faith of the poor villagers and soon earns the confidence of the village people. Like the villagers, readers are also enchanted by Majid’s story-telling genius and  by his ability to understand other’s psyche. In this regard , Majid is a representative of gross poor Bangladeshi rural people who seek their existence in self-created religious identity. Instead of their severe poverty, they have to survive but for the living they have to have some kind of value to hold or to make their life meaningful. The narrator of the novel says:

Perhaps the reason there are so many white Tupees in this part of the world is that the land cannot feed the men. Little food means more religion. God said: cover your heads when you pray to me, for this is the mark of the god-fearing man. . .There are more tupees than heads of cattle, more tupees than sheaves of rice. (Waliullah 5)

Majid represents the patriarchal power of the Bengali Muslim society of the 20th century.  As it has been shown in the novel, the patriarchal paradigms impose religious, political and social order of its making onto the community. Any challenge to such order is mercilessly neutralized. Thus the protagonist of the novel in his clever religious role with aids from the patriarchal superstructures is able to create hegemony in Mahabbatpur, while his wives continue their subalternity. After settlement, Majid marries twice: first Rahima, the widow, who is ‘wide hipped, strong and beautiful’; and then, Jamila, the young, lively and curious one.

In the post-Hijra period of his life the Prophet too married two women, viz. Sawda and Ayesha: the elderly Sawda was suitable to take care of the family and the younger Ayesha remained under their care. Rahima and Jamila invoke the memory of the prophet’s two wives. However, such parallelism appears only to be the novelist’s trope to highlight his critique of the political context in which religion was being used to force a ‘partition’ on people who were otherwise not bothered by differences.

In Tree Without Roots by Syed Waliullah, Majid’s intention of offering ‘spiritual’ service to this community represents the agenda of re-appropriating the existing patriarchal religious hegemony to launch a counter-offensive, exemplifying competitive patriarchy. Those, already pushed first to a corner and subsequently marginalized, are not allowed to ‘speak’ but only be spoken for or be represented by Thereafter, Mahabbatpur becomes a site of contesting patriarchal practices.

Akkas is the representative of the postcolonial society endowed with modern education, and urban polish whereas Majid is the representative of the patriarchal order of the pre-colonial society. Their interests clash around the debate over the conflicting proposals to build a secular English school (though there were two maqtabs11) and a mosque for the spiritual upgradation in Mahabbatpur. Majid procures better support among the villagers in favour of a mosque and defeats Akkas on grounds of faith. Women, however, remain irrelevant in this debate. Notably, this incident takes place to diffuse the tragic overtone of the forced divorce between Khalek Byapari, the richest man in the village and his first wife Amina for her alleged ‘infertility.’

Actually Majid had begun to covet her and so he manipulated this divorce solely based on his unsolicited verdict. Majid declared her as ‘fallen’ and therefore unfit as Byapari’s wife. Amina was forced to leave her own family. This event accelerated several cases of desertion of supposedly ‘infertile’ women by their husbands on grounds of their suspected ‘chastity.’ These manipulations were executed amidst formidable silence and with calculated precision. As a self-proclaimed religious leader, Majid had imposed certain codes of conduct onto the community. Yet, his second wife, Jamila seriously challenges this order and intimidates Majid so much that she is physically gagged and left to die. However even in her death she threatens Majid’s authority – the feet of her dead body was poised desecrating the sanctum sanctorum of Majid’s place of worship. Patriarchal violence seems to be at a loss and somewhat flustered when confronted with such silent yet visible defiance.

Jamila also refuses to conform to patriarchal norms set for women. Her spontaneous outburst into the terrain of maleness, i.e. speech and loud laughter, disturbs the neatly crafted silence of Majid’s household near his ‘invented shrine.’23 He realizes that the bubble of fear that he created in the village is about to burst. Jamila is forbidden to laugh aloud. Her laughter transforms suddenly into profuse tears expressing the plight of a helpless Bengali Muslim woman.

She overcomes and resists the fear of punishment. Jamila senses Majid’s agenda not only in the society that she shares as the macrocosm but also in her and Rahima’s personal lives as the microcosm. While this understanding empowers Jamila in her fight against patriarchy, her self controlled restricted communication [or the lack of it] makes Majid insecure about his own agency.24 The essential unknowability is what qualifies her as the ‘Other’ in the text. Her mind remains absolutely impenetrable to Majid.

She neither submits to Majid’s agency nor changes her way. She does not fit into the patriarchal paradigm of control and hence needs to be either silenced or removed. She has to go through a prolonged process of domestication prescribed by her husband but of no desirable consequences. However, her resistance is muted by her sudden but predictable death bringing back the equilibrium of fear designed by Majid as the representative of Patriarchy.

Waliullah has often portrayed Majid as a modern-hero. He has got the psyche, mental conflict and the existential crisis of a modern man. Though he is a fake religious guru, he earns the reader’s sympathy. He is in Mahabbatpur after he has been long struggling from his childhood with poverty, hunger and insecurity. He never had any home. He has always dreamt of a home, wife and economic stability. But his fate before here never supported him to have a smooth and well-off life.

Like the modern people, he suffers from the existential crisis. The presence of self-consciousness and self-questioning qualities depict Majid as a modern, existentialist character. His dilemma about self-created illusion and a fear of being punished is revealed when he says “there was merely a vagueness, perhaps death and the day of judgment, but all distant and shapeless” (Waliullah 12). Eventually, he declares that he will be pardoned if he continues to spread God’s name though he thinks that Day of Judgment is a shadowy thing.

It shows that he is still confused about his belief. His dilemma does not end here but is reflected in his rhetorical questions:“ But did he, Majeed, really know any more than the rest of them?. . . Could he really say that he knew more than they because he knew that the power of the grave was a lie?” (Waliullah 52). Or “Am I being punished? He asked himself, . . .Did I not lead innocent people to pray to the spirit of an unknown man, a man who might well have been a sinner? My aim was a noble one, but does that justify my having deceived them?” (Waliullah 129) In the process of self-questioning, he often mocks and consoles himself. Sometimes he boosts his morale for the sake of continuing to stretch his roots in Mahabbatpur.

Like a modern man Majid is very lonely. In existential philosophy the individual realizes his aloneness. Despite having two wives and a powerful landowner as a friend, Majid is very lonely indeed. Moreover, he cannot share his secret with anyone, not even with his wives. Majid thinks “We are alone, all of us, every man is alone in this cruel and friendless, intolerant, pitiless world” (Waliullah 59). At the beginning of Part Four of the novel Majid  mentions Khaleque as a ‘friend’ for numerous times.It shows that how Majid is longing for friendly company but to his utter surprise he realizes that Khaleque has never considered him as a friend. It makes him to feel lonely and abandoned than ever in his life. More interestingly, this loneliness establishes Majeed also as a modern character.

Towards the end of the novel Majid is a different man in respects of his social and economic position. He now holds a strong social power among the villagers. People respect him and the leaders of the village also listen to his advice before taking a decision. He has also bought some farmlands and domestic animals. Now, he is financially very sound. He does not have to worry about his foods. He gets religious gifts from the villagers and also has a handsome income from the farm lands.

Throughout the novel Majid seems to suffer from a sense of social insecurity. But it is towards the end of the novel, he becomes too insecured about his position both in the society and also at home. His second wife Jamila does not show him respect the way his first wife used to show. This disturbs him very much. He becomes worried and seeks help from his first wife. Majid is also afraid of losing the  power over the villagers in this particular novel. Majeed is always afraid of his “divine bounty might suddenly end” (Waliullah 42). In his angst, he often thinks that in future he may be questioned by the villagers about his phoniness and even his power could be questioned by someone. To his utter surprise a Pir enters in his domain to shake his reign. In existentialist view this has depicted Majid’s anguish  in its full volume. In consequence, he even wants to unveil his trick to the villagers to show how worthless they are:

‘Ingratitude, Majeed muttered to himself lying there in the dark, intolerable, ingratitude.‟ In a cold rage he decided bitterly that this pompously decorated so-called mazar, the grave of a nobody, was just about what they deserved for their in gratitude. If I should ever decide I‟ve had enough of them, then I‟ll tell them the truth. I‟ll tell them exactly how I‟ve been making fools of them year after year. And then I‟ll tear down the yellow canopy and the red cloth with its silver trimmings, and I‟ll leave the country. (Waliullah 44)

Thus, we see that Majid changes throughout the novel. A the beginning he was a poor, helpless religious person. But towards the end of the novel, he is a powerful religious guru, who has a control over the social, political, educational and spiritual life of the village people. But at te end, he also shows a sense of insecurity that was his characteristic at the beginning of the novel. Throughout the novel, he is also very lonely.

 Read it also: Quartet by Rabindranath Tagore

1 thought on “Tree Without Roots by Syed Waliullah”

Comments are closed.