Essays from my own life. Musings on history in Dhaka. Book reviews. And discussions about writing.
Essays and articles:
- Bangladesh: Fighting for free expression in an age of death squads, published at Scroll.in, June 7, 2015
- Bangladesh: Where ‘blogger’ has become a word worthy of death, published at Scroll.in, April 26, 2015 and at Kafila, April 24, 2015.
- Is it a good idea to ban Jamaat-e-Islami?,
published in bdnews24.com, March 6, 2013.
At a time when our eyes are riveted on the present, and that present itself obsessed with the past, at a time when cries are being made that will shape our tomorrow, I would like to plead for time to think about the future that is being demanded.
Shahbagh has called for the banning of the Jamaat-e-Islami. In the press and social media, in parliament and ministerial podiums, we hear echoes of the same call. Meanwhile Jamaat’s men create frenzy on the streets, adding fuel to the cries for a ban. If such a ban is imposed, what happens afterwards? Will the problem of Jamaat disappear with a law?
- Flaneuring around Calcutta,
published in The Daily Star, January 3, 2009.
When I noticed signs for lodging, I knew I was nearing Sealdah. I made my way to the north-south drag, confirming from a shop sign that I was now on Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road, APC Road for short. It used to be called Upper Circular Road. Seven years ago on my first visit to Dhaka after my father died, my brother had handed me a notebook. My father had hired a young man to record pieces of his life story. In one place he had written: “After I passed my BA, I applied for the post of Sub-Inspector at the Calcutta Police. I took six months training at the Alipore police training school. Then I started my working life at the Amherst Street Thana. After this posting I was transferred to Entally Thana. At that time I used to reside at 85 Upper Circular Road.”
He was speaking of 1928. Did this place still exist?
- Brushes with Faith, Sin and the Weird,
published in The Daily Star, May 17, 2008.
I’m in my car, driving. The cell phone pressed against my ear, I’m listening to a funny story about Muslim speed dating in Houston. The next minute, my eyes take over. Just ahead, to my right, is the tallest cross I’ve ever seen, its metal body gleaming in the morning sun.
- Looking Backwards: 1947 and After,
published in The Daily Star, September 8, 2007.
When the white crescent on green flag was hoisted in Dhaka, as the Raj took leave, I was yet to be born. The only family story I have heard of that day is that my Dada — really my Nana, my mother’s father — lit a cigarette.
- Remains of an industrial day,
published in The Daily Star, June 16, 2007.
5:00 a.m. Wipe the shleep out of your eyes; shave and shower. And shove that weary body out the door.
- Waterlogged Dhaka: Will it go the way of Bengal’s old capital Gaur?,
published in Star Weekend Magazine, June 15, 2007.
The city of Gaur, across the border today, was the capital of Bengal from around 1450 to 1565 AD. It is reported to have been one of the largest medieval cities in the Indian subcontinent, a densely populated, prosperous settlement. Today its remains have long been strangled by vegetation.
- A mythical place called Bangla Motors,
published in New Age Eid Special 2006.
If you spend time around Dhaka, you may come across a place called “Bangla Motors.” Do not, however, go there looking for the business by the name of “Bangla Motors” that lent this neighborhood its name. There isn’t one. There never was.
- Will we ever know our fathers?,
published in Star Literature Eid Special Issue, October 2008 and Alhamra Literary Review, Spring 2007.
I can still taste my first sip of coffee.It was sometime in the late 1950s on a river on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.
Read the full story.
In the Arts & Letters supplement to the Dhaka Tribune:
- Letter from America: Fiction Factories on page 6, published on November 3, 2013. Pdf version.
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.
- Letter from America: Duke Ellington Orchestra in Dhaka on page 6, published on October 12, 2013. Pdf version.
Step back fifty years.
Monday evening, 28 October, 1963. Hundreds take their seats at the Race Course in Dhaka, excitement buzzing through the crowd.
On the stage stands an upright bass and a drum set, along with a piano brought over from the Goethe Institute. There is a slight dampness in the air, and a piano tuner has been asked to stand by. After an introduction, more than a dozen musicians from the U.S., mostly black men, take to the stage.
- Letter from America: Library love on page 6, published on September 1, 2013. Pdf version.
One Sunday morning, I opened Prothom Alo’s “Dhakae Thaki” back page. I was intrigued to learn that the Dhaka City Corporation had a network of 23 neighborhood libraries. As I read the article by Millat Hossain and Obaidur Rahman Masum, I wanted to cry.
- Dhaka Mid 50s: Bus Stop on page 12, published in Eid special issue on August 11, 2013. Pdf version.
In Bangladesh, perhaps elsewhere in South Asia as well, there is a simple act of popular democracy through which a bus stop gets named. There is no government dictate involved, nor even the desire of any local personality. It may come to be simply because a bus conductor needs a name when he drops off a passenger at a new location. Or the passenger might supply the name. Once the transaction is complete, rickshawallahs will take it from there and that name becomes imprinted on the transport map in people’s minds until it rolls off the tongue of all who desire to reach that destination.
- Letter from America: Noir Algeria on page 6, published on July 7, 2013. Pdf version.
Many dismiss crime novels as mere thrillers filled with plot twists. But there is no wall separating a mystery from a work of art. Khadra’s Llob novels, like those of other masters of the genre such as Jean-Claude Izzo or Raymond Chandler, are literary creations where puzzle solving is combined with richly evoked settings, memorable characters, and crafted language.
- Letter from America: Detour to Rome on page 6, published on May 6, 2013. Pdf version.
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.