The Royal Abduls by Ramiza Shamoun Koya, published by Forest Avenue Press, is not, in spite of its title, historical fiction set in India. There aren’t any tea parties under canopy with elephants in the background, or soft footed, dark skinned servants keeping their British masters happy. Instead its a story of modern day America and the search for identity by 2nd and 3rd generation South East Asians in the face of Islamophobia and racism four years after September 11 2001.
The Abduls in question are not royal. They’re Amina, a research scientist, her brother Mo (short for Mohammad) his wife Marcy and their son Omar, and the siblings’ parents who live in Ohio. They are a fairly average upper middle class professional family except for one little difference. The family is originally from India and carry their heritage in their skin colour and their family name.
Which shouldn’t matter, but of course it does, especially after the events which took place four years before the time of this novel. In spite of being as secular as anybody can be, they are still different in the wrongest way possible for the times. When Amina takes a job in Washington DC it’s for the sole purpose of being near her brother. When she arrives she finds the tight family unit she’d remembered has changed.
Primarily, because of her nephew Omar. Confused as to who he is and where he fits in, he’s started affecting an Indian accent and pretending his family are the descendants of royalty. He knows nothing of India or his family’s background and latches onto his aunt. Surely she can fill in the gaps in his knowledge.
Koya does a remarkable job of developing the story line. She also takes the incredible risk and carries it off successfully, of telling the story from the points of view of both Amina and Omar. In some ways they’re far more similar than either realize. They are both lost and struggling to find their identities and way in the world.
While Amina has constantly buried herself in her profession, to the point of preferring field work so she can avoid the human interaction of working in a university setting, through her burgeoning friendship with Omar she begins to develop relationships outside of work, including his Sikh cricket coach.
Unfortunately Omar’s interest in all things India and Islam lead him down some dark paths. Children are curious, but when his curiosity stretches to him using his father’s computer to investigate suspected terrorist recruiting websites the inevitable happens and the FBI visit their home and his father comes under suspicion.
Koya’s characters aren’t victims. In fact they really aren’t much different from any children of immigrants – except they happen to be dark skinned and Muslim when Islamophobia is becoming widespread in America. Always under a cloud of suspicion merely because of the colour of their skin and a religion none of them practice they all seek to find ways to escape this awful reality.
With The Royal Abduls Koya has given us a realistic description of what its like to live aware of the fact you’re under constant suspicion and observation. It is also the story of individuals and how they bear up under this scrutiny. In some places not an easy read, it is still a necessary one for those wishing to understand how badly we treat most visible minorities.