One hot release at this year’s Boi Mela was the novel Yaba Sundori.
The phrase had only been coined last November with the police campaign against the methamphetamine drug marketed as Yaba. That was our News of the Hour, the Sensation of the Month.
What a sensation that was. It began with a circle of upper-class youth arrested in Banani. Then a midnight raid in Gulshan bagged a drug kingpin. There were rumours of pretty women as suppliers. The aura of sex fringed the whole affair. In one arrest, the seize list included One Viagra Tablet. I hadn’t realized Viagra was illegal. If so, it must be to preserve the monopoly of the thousands of ‘homeo clinics’ in Bangladesh that promise you local medicine for a harder, longer dampotyo jibon.
Then came the Really Big Drama. The ultimate Yaba Sundori hiding out with her lover. And just as they were about to surrender, the RAB netted them and paraded them before the cameras.
She came into our lives as Nikita. A village girl from Brahmanbaria who climbed up by marrying an MP. He gifted her a Banani flat. She acquired internet skills and found her way to an online affair with a probashi in Korea. The marriage collapsed and she rejected the lover too. Her final catch, the hotel MD. He had her skin whitened in Bangkok. Flew her to Japan. Showered her with jewellery.
Thanks to the RAB commander and our informative media, we learned of her taste in lingerie. From Brahmanbaria to Victoria’s Secret — here was our own B’Sharpe. Perfect material for a reincarnated Thackeray.
Would Moinuddin Kajal’s book deliver? Topical novels are tough. But this is Dhaka where authors and translators churn out three, four, seven titles in one year.
Category: books (Page 2 of 2)
One hot release at this year’s Boi Mela was the novel Yaba Sundori.
Yet another Bond movie has come out, this time a remake of Casino Royale. Ian Fleming is long dead, but his creation, the debonair James Bond, Agent 007, keeps popping up in a new face. Bond's grip on the male psyche is tenacious. And why not? He zips to exotic locales and outwits vicious enemies while fingering cool gadgets and bedding impossibly hot women.
But Bangladeshi teenagers are not entirely deprived of heroes with cachet like Bond. In cheap newsprint, for a fraction of the price of a ticket at Basundhara where they screen Casino Royale, Bangla readers can enter the world of our very own super spy. In flesh and blood a pukka Bangali, he scales mountains, harpoons criminals undersea, and brings to justice crime lords from Hong Kong to New York.
He is of course Masud Rana, Agent MR-9.
For forty years he has appeared in novels written by Qazi Anwar Husain and published by his Sheba Prokashoni. The crowds swarming the Sheba stall at the Ekushey Book Fair confirm that Masud Rana still has a loyal following.
Each Rana paperback opens with these lines: "An untameable daredevil spy of Bangladesh Counter Intelligence. On secret missions he travels the globe. Varied is his life. Mysterious and strange are his movements. His heart, a beautiful mix of gentle and tough. Single. He attracts, but refuses to get snared. Wherever he encounters injustice, oppression, and wrong, he fights back. Every step he takes is shadowed by danger, fear, and the risk of death. Come, let us acquaint ourselves with this daring, always hip young man. In a flash, he will lift us out of the monotony of a mundane life to an awesome world of our dreams. You are invited. Thank you."
With the books selling at 32-62 Takas, undoubtedly among the cheapest fiction titles in Bangladesh, Sheba is still churning them out. Their 2007 catalogue lists 372 Rana titles. You can buy used copies at 10-15 Takas at footpath booksellers from Paltan to Nilkhet.
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.
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.
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.