The Night of Bullets, March 25, 1971

It is the 25th of March in Dhaka again, 53 years since the Pakistani military crackdown in 1971. For those of us who went through that time, certain events are seared into our memories. Over the years I’ve tried to write some of them down. Other times I’ve tried rendering that time in fiction. Here are a few of those renderings. These memories run through my mind day in and day out when I read, watch, think of what cruelties are being inflicted by Israel on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

From the short story Orange Line, included in the book Killing the Water: Stories:

He was one of the last few people on the streets. As he walked with hurried steps towards the subway station, the young man heard the crashing noise of an iron grate being yanked across a storefront. Otherwise the night was still. Even the Salvation Army bell ringers had gone home.

            He was uneasy being alone on the streets. It reminded him of another time, in a place far from where he now lived. Late on that other night, he had left home heading for the riverboat terminal where he hoped to catch the midnight motor launch to the south of the country. But the streets had been deserted in a way that suggested everyone else knew something he did not. Unable to find transportation across town, he started to walk. After a few blocks, he changed his mind and turned back. Minutes after he reached his house, cannons and machine guns shattered the quiet of the night as military troop carriers stormed though the city. Anyone caught in the open had been shot. Three days later during a short break in the curfew, he learned that the passengers waiting at the terminal had been among the military’s first victims.

            He pushed aside those memories. That other night was nothing like this. Tonight the plaza was deserted for very ordinary reasons: a heavy snowstorm had been predicted. It would be the second in a row.

Stories we read in 2021 in our short story reading club

In 2021, we read 82 stories, 8 translations. Stories from India, Mauritius, Australia, China, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, France, UK, US, Central America, Ireland, Japan, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Chile, Taiwan, Tasmania, Russia, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada.

Stories we read in 2020 in our short story reading club

The reading club was launched in March 2020, as we went into Covid-19 lockdown. This year we read 59 stories, many written originally in English but also translations from many languages, including Chinese, Arabic, Bengali, Malayalam, French, Polish, Spanish, Korean, and Japanese.

Stories we read in 2022 in our short story reading club

In 2022, we read 73 stories, 62 writers, 9 in translation. Writers from India, Pakistan, Nigeria, U.S., U.K, Ukraine, China, Germany, Russia, Ecuador, Ireland, Egypt, Japan, Australia, Kenya. Stories included: reworked folk tales, science/speculative fiction, noir, literary fiction.

Our online short story reading club completes third year

When Covid-19 isolated us at home in March 2020, some of us worried about how to continue community. I thrive on connection. On Facebook I read that a friend in Delhi was starting an online book club. The time didn’t work for us here in the Bay Area, so I thought we’d start our own. A post on Facebook showed that a number of people interested, most local but when we got going we’ve had members living in D.C. and Thailand.

Our ambition to discuss books, novellas mainly, didn’t pan out. Too short a time to read a book a week. And we wanted to keep a weekly schedule. We went over to short stories, and sometimes, novel excerpts. We rotate choices among our attendees – there’s a range of taste there – and we’ve read mystery and noir, science/speculative fiction, re-imagined folk and fairy tales, and lots of ‘literary fiction.’ We prefer texts available online and sometimes people share scanned stories. We’re grateful to all the magazines and sites out there that generously publish short fiction.

Our stories have spanned the globe and have included many translations from languages around the world.

Some of us are writers and have many writer friends; we’ve read some stories from our friends and people we’ve known. We’ve kept away from reading stories any of us have penned.

Our members have enjoyed most of the stories, though not every single one. Our discussions have always been energetic and often set off additional explorations into authors, other writing by them, different topics and subjects. It is so enriching to see such a range of writing and the brilliance of so many writers.

In 2022, we’ve read 73 stories, 62 writers, 9 in translation. Writers from India, Pakistan, Nigeria, U.S., U.K, Ukraine, China, Germany, Russia, Ecuador, Ireland, Egypt, Japan, Australia, Kenya.

In 2021, 81 stories, including many translations, including from Chinese, Japanese, Marathi, Russian, Spanish, French, German, Hebrew.

In 2020, we read 58 stories.

In separate posts, I will share lists of all the stories we’ve read each year.

In Bangladesh, writing fiction about the liberation war may well become impossible

Bangladesh is about to pass a law making it illegal to ‘misrepresent’ the liberation war of 1971. Will all writers have to tell the same story now? My take on the subject, published in the Dhaka Tribune and reprinted at, June 22, 2016.

All signs suggest that the Parliament will soon pass the Liberation War Denial Crimes Act.

This law will give anyone the right to file a complaint with the police or the courts. While history is defined as settled, the law’s clauses about history are vague, and it goes on to consider it a crime to be “representing the liberation war history inaccurately or with half-truth in the text books or in any other medium”.

Other writers have expressed anxiety about what this means for the freedom to research the complex and polyphonic history of the entire movement for independence. I share those concerns but as a writer of fiction, I also fear for the burden this will impose on creative writers.

The Aerogram Book Club discussion on Uday Prakash’s The Girl with the Golden Parasol

girl.with_.the_.golden.parasolI was asked recently by The Aerogram Book Club to organize a discussion on a translation of a book from South Asia. I proposed Uday Prakash’s The Girl With the Golden Parasol, originally published in Hindi. The book was translated by Jason Grunebaum.

Here’s the conversation between me, Daisy Rockwell, and Kevin Hyde:


Aerogram Book Club on The Girl With the Golden Parasol


Letter from America: FICTION FACTORIES

This was published in the Arts & Letters supplement of the Dhaka Tribune, a new English daily in Bangladesh, on November 3, 2013. You can read the Arts & Letters Supplements here.
I took a journey back in time.

At the local library, I wandered to the children’s section and spotted a neatly stacked row of hardcovers with familiar blue spines: The Hardy Boys. I was transported back to the library on the second story of the old St Joseph High School building in Narinda, Dhaka. I was again eleven, beginning to devour the juvenile books the Brothers had stocked there.

That year the school moved to its current Mohammadpur location, and I continued my frenzied reading of the adventures of the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and Tom Corbett. My classmates and I soon consumed the entire stock. Then we came to grips with puberty and moved on from the chaste world of these boys to sexier material: James Bond and our own Bangladeshi superspy, Masud Rana.

I decided to loiter in my childhood by borrowing two Hardy Boys novels. I added a Nancy Drew, familiar to my young self through my sister who studied at Holy Cross. What would it feel like to read these books again, so many decades later?

Letter from America: NOIR ALGERIA

This was published in the Arts & Letters supplement of the Dhaka Tribune, a new English daily in Bangladesh, on July 7, 2013. You can read the Arts & Letters Supplements here.
I remain preoccupied with Algeria.

This spring when the police battled Jamaat supporters on the streets and war crimes opponents rallied at Shahbagh, a lot of easy talk began to fly around about civil war. Having witnessed 1971, I shuddered at the thought of Bangladesh plunged into another war.

To imagine what such a war might look like, I searched for fiction that would bring me to ground level. Algeria came to mind. In the 1990s, the banning of Islamists triggered a war that led to the entire country living in daily peril, to the deaths of thousands, to many writers and artists choosing exile instead of death.

My search led to a writer I had encountered once before: Yasmina Khadra. Three years ago I journeyed to an artists residency in Montana to work on my novel. I was in a tiny town, 6000 miles high in the mountains, the nearest bookshop thirty miles away. With reading my only entertainment, I treasured the books left behind by past residents. They included The Attack by Khadra where an Arab surgeon in Israel discovers his wife among the victims of a suicide bombing, only to be horrified when he realizes she was the perpetrator.

Letter from America: A DETOUR TO ROME

For a few months now I’ve been publishing a “Letter from America” in the monthly Arts & Letters supplement of the Dhaka Tribune, a new English daily in Bangladesh. I’m reposting them here after they’ve been published. This one was published on May 6, 2013. You can read the Arts & Letters Supplements here.
A few years back I made several road trips across the United States. One afternoon I was leaving a small town in Massachusetts when I stopped at a roadside store. It was run by a Bangali couple who had come on lottery visas. Not finding work elsewhere, they had agreed to manage this store owned by another Bangali. They looked miserable.

Now and then, I hear of Bangladeshis in remote places. In Mali, on the edge of the Sahara. In the Amazon, waiting to cross a border. Meanwhile in countries like the U.S. and even in Japan and Italy, there are now settled communities.

Bangladeshis abroad are also showing up as fictional characters – not just in narratives created by our own émigrés but by outsiders too. In some, they are major characters, as in the Korean film Bandhobi, Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth, or Nell Freudenberger’s The Newlyweds.

Recently I was transported to Rome in a novel originally written in Italian by an immigrant from Algeria. Amara Lakhous’s Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio has a cover with six hand-drawn characters. They include Iqbal Amar Allah from Bangladesh. I’m not sure why Lakhous spelled his name this way; we’d know him as Iqbal Amirullah.