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Author: Mahmud (Page 3 of 4)

Heading towards Los Angeles

Nothing really to say, but here's some photos from the drive down to Los Angeles. 

 101South

Heading south on 101 from the Bay Area 

 101South 2

Zen? It felt so. 

 Morro Rock

I stopped for lunch at Morro Bay. For several summers I used to come down here from Oakland to write for a few days.

 Celia

My traveling companion who accompanied me from Providence to Oakland in 1997 has come along for this ride too. Say hello to Celia.

Farewell to Oakland

A paper cut. A pain between the shoulder blades that felt like I'd been stabbed by an instrument of torture. Too many sad partings with friends and favorite places. Such are the scars with which I drove away from my home in Oakland at 6:27 p.m. on the last day of July.
    Thanks to two band-aids, the paper cuts are history. The back pain worsened from sleeping on an air mattress that I had not fully inflated — blame the exhaustion — but with a rest from driving, a letting go of tense muscles, and a few doses of naprosyn, that too shall be memory.
    The scars of saying goodbye are not so easily healed. The pain was for the moment anaesthetized by the anxiety and bustle of storing or getting rid of accumulation. It hasn't really hit me yet, but I know it will get worse before the edges are dulled and the sorrow becomes the kind of memory that brings a wistful smile.

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At the AWP in Austin

The first week of March I flew to Austin, Texas.
    When I stepped out of the hotel to find something to eat, the sun had  disappeared. My ears were immediately assaulted by a cacophony of bird sounds. The trees swarmed with birds that looked like crows but didn’t sound anything like crows. What birds were these?
    For dinner I chose the closest place I could find, The Boiling Pot on Sixth. It served crawfish, crabs, and shrimp, boiled up Cajun style. When my order was ready, the young waitress, all smiles, tossed it on the sheet of butcher paper that she had earlier rolled out on the table. With a friendly pat on my arm, she said, “You eat with your hands here.” No problem, I’m used to doing that where I come from. Next to me, four Japanese men snapped photos of their meals. I’ve done that too, but my dinner wasn’t photogenic. It tasted great, though.
    I was in Austin for the annual conference of the AWP (known today as the Association of Writers and Writing Programs). When I was in the MFA program at Mills College, I was familiar with the AWP through free copies of their magazine, the Writers Chronicle. But I’d never considered attending their conference.
    This year I was invited by the novelist Sorayya Khan to join a panel of South Asian writers on “Writing War, De-scribing Empire.”  Last year I had reviewed her book “Noor,” the first novel by a Pakistani writer to focus on breaking the silence on the Pakistani war that birthed independent Bangladesh. We came to discover that we shared an interest in writing about war, specifically the war in 1971, for me the defining moment of my coming of age. As it turned out, the same panel would also present a reading the day before at the University of Texas.
    I wasn’t sure what to expect in Austin, but I’m glad I went.

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Remembering Octavia Butler, 1947-2006

Forget inspiration, forget talent, don’t worry about imagination: her advice for a new fiction writer was simple.
     "Persist," she said.
     Around the time I discovered Octavia Butler’s writing advice, I was still new to writing fiction. I was anxious about both inspiration and talent. I worried about imagination, since in my rather complicated life I had picked up a thousand or more ‘real life’ stories, enough to write many, many pages of narrative. I remember telling my first fiction workshop teacher, Elena Rivera, that I wanted to learn how to break out of the grip of real-life experience.
     Twelve years after I typed out my first ‘story,’ I have to say, Octavia was on point. Persistence rewards.

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Make believe

While speaking to a few dozen friends recently, I tried out a confession.  I said that I was not really who I claimed to be; I was not as old as they knew me and that I had stolen the identity of someone older, someone who had gone through a much richer vein of experiences than I.
     It was a joke, and it fell completely flat.  Only a few people knew the references.  None seemed to care.
     I was making fun of two figures from the writing world who had just been in the news.  James Frey had been exposed by The Smoking Gun for having exaggerated many chapters in his life for his memoir A Million Little Pieces.  And J.T. Leroy had been exposed as not the bad boy male writer he claimed to be, but a woman who had apparently done none of what the author had claimed.
     Perhaps we writers get more excited by what other writers do than most people.
     But I understand the impulse to make believe.

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Troubled waters

Here in northern California, winter rainstorms have thoroughly soaked us. To the north of San Francisco, rivers flooded their banks and some areas were drenched with as much as nine inches of rain from a single storm.
   I wasn’t affected much. Thanks to last year’s patching, my ceiling sprung no leaks this time. The neighbor upstairs wasn’t as fortunate.
   It is winter, so the rains are no surprise. But even before the rains arrived, water was on my mind.

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Cassettes and the analog-digital divide

Two of my friends have recently posted podcasts of their writing on the internet, one on The Writers Block at KQED in San Francisco and another at Podbazaar. I am toying with the idea of producing one of my own stories in audio and posting it here.
     With podcasts, I can listen to my friends’ pieces either through my computer or downloading them to an mp3 player. Like audiobooks, podcasts could be good to carry along on a long drive somewhere.
     Clearly, audio is alive and well, the beneficiary of new technology in production and distribution of digital content. Today a writer who thinks they can hold a reader’s attention with their recorded voice, with access to a computer with a microphone, can use freely-available software (like Audacity) to record a piece. She can then easily find a place on the internet to host her story. Voila, a podcast is born. Why, there is even a site that will allow you to record your podcast through your phone.
     Podcasts are being used by professional establishments as well as independent artists and commentators. The internet had already allowed anyone to publish text. Now, it has opened the way for anyone to do ‘radio.’
     On a global scale, however, I am concerned about the analog-digital divide.

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A mythical place called Bangla Motors

Below is the original post on Bangla Motors that I wrote in November 2005. Since then I revised it twice, the first version appearing in an Eid special of Dhaka’s New Age newspaper in 2006 and the more substantial revision published in the Arts and Letters magazine of the Dhaka Tribune on April 6, 2017. The latest version can be found here.

If you go to Dhaka, Bangladesh, you may come across a place called "Bangla Motors." Buses stop there, and rickshaws, CNG’s, and taxis can get you there. It stands at the intersection of Mymensingh and Moghbazaar roads, roughly halfway between the Shonargaon and Sheraton hotels. Do not, however, look for a business by the name of "Bangla Motors." There isn’t one.
    There never was. The name is testimony to the determined way Bangladeshis were eager to wipe out the legacy of Pakistani rule after the country became independent.

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The end for rickshaws in Kolkata?

For a short minute this summer, it looked like the end had finally come for rickshaws in Kolkata.  But the latest news suggests that the 19th century relic has found a new lease of life.
    In the streets of the capital of West Bengal, more than 20,000 men, mostly poverty-stricken migrants from Bihar, pull human beings on a two-wheeled carriage, walking on their feet.  Among themselves, they share the income from 6,000 licensed rickshaws — of course after paying the owners their ounce of flesh.  This is the only part of the world where humans still pull rickshaws with their feet on the ground.  Rickshaws originally came from China, but after the 1949 revolution, that degrading form of labor was done away with.  
    I have heard many times of plans to do away with Kolkata’s rickshaws, but each time, nothing comes of the effort.

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Hurricane from the past, via Google

Today sitting at my computer at home, I learned, from the pages of a book published in 1890, that the "Backergunge cyclone of October 1876" was the most destructive to life in 19th century Bengal.  Considering the scale of the devastation, it was perhaps also one of the worst disasters worldwide.  The hurricane is described as hitting the districts at the mouth of the Meghna River; today those areas are part of the districts of Bhola, Potuakhali, and Noakhali in Bangladesh. Perhaps as many as a quarter million people died as a result of that hurricane.
    The book?  The Handbook of Cyclonic Storms in the Bay of Bengal for the Use of Sailors.  The author?  John Eliot, Meteorological Reporter to the Government of India.  Printed in Calcutta, the capital of the colonial government.
    And how did I happen to read pages from this book?  A new service from Google, called Google print (available at print.google.com).
    I am excited by this new contribution from Google.

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