Thursday, December 09, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Sunday, September 05, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Love and longing in Los Angeles
Monday, May 03, 2010
Sunday, March 07, 2010
Name of the book: Killing the Water
Author: Mahmud Rahman
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Price: Rs. 250
War, Migration and Displacement
From being a witness to a bloody war that led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 to being a third world migrant in the United States, Mahmud Rahman has had first-hand experience of what is called “the effects of war, migration and displacement.” This is why he is successful in weaving credibly all those experiences together in the beautiful and illuminating set of stories for his debut collection.
‘Killing The Water’ starts off on an auspicious note. The opening story ‘City Shoes in the Village’, is set in the undivided India of the 1930s, and tells the story of a boy, Altaf, who returns to his impoverished village somewhere in the eastern part of Bengal to see his family after having lived in Calcutta for many years. Altaf is remorseful for shying away from his duties as an eldest son, and the author is able to portray with lucidity the guilt-stricken conscience and dilemma of the protagonist.
The best story in the book is the one titled ‘Kerosene’. Set against the backdrop of the 1971 war and told from a Bangladeshi nationalist’s point of view, it exposes the chilling horrors of war, and shows how even a society as non-violent and mild-mannered as Bangladesh (the erstwhile East Pakistan) can lose its sanity at a time of great socio-political upheaval. In the very first paragraph of this story, women and small children, all post-partition refugees from India, are burnt alive by a Bengali mob. This scene is a powerful reminder of the fact that says that the equations between two social groups can change drastically with change of time and circumstances.
Amid the post-partition euphoria of 1947, the Bengalis of East Pakistan had welcomed Urdu-speaking Muslim migrants from Bihar and UP as their co-religious brethren in the promised homeland for Muslims. But in the late sixties Bengali nationalism reared its head demanding a separate country for Bengalis, owing to wrong-headed political policies of West Pakistan. In those difficult times, non-Bengali Muslims were at the receiving end of the Bangla anger, as they were perceived to be culturally closer to West Pakistan than to Bengali Muslims, and hence were seen as a natural ally to the Western Pakistani establishment. In this changed scenario the binding factor was not the religion of Islam but Bengali language and culture.
Elsewhere in the book there are more stories that deserve to be mentioned here. ‘Orangeline’ is a subtle depiction of the scourge of racism in the United States. In ‘Blue Mondays at the Gearshift Lounge’, a former soldier from Bangladesh tries to build a life in America while grappling with some disturbing memories from his past. In yet another story, titled ‘Yuralda,’ a beautiful love story unfolds in a Dominican Laundromat in Rhode Island as a Sri Lankan man woos a Dominican girl, the eponymous protagonist. In all these stories Rahman succeeds in fleshing out the characters from disparate backgrounds.
Missing Sense of History
The collection suffers on two counts. First, the author is not able to evoke a sense of history in some of the stories. The reader fails to see what is different about the different time periods in which the stories are set. For example, the opening story, though well told, is unable to take back the reader to the India of the 1930s. In addition, a couple of stories like ‘Smoke Signals’ and ‘Man in the Middle’ do not come out well, and are nothing to be written home about.
Despite these shortcomings, there is freshness in Rahman’s voice; and his stories leave an impact.
This is a collection well worth a reader’s time.
Friday, February 26, 2010
Not Everyone is Innocent by Abdullah Khan
Terrorism, according to the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, is the use of violence for political aims or to force a government to act, especially because of the fear it causes among people. What if a democratic government itself indulges in an act of violence against its own citizenry or people elsewhere as the means to some sort of imagined noble end? Is it still called Terrorism, or will we invent some fancy term like war against terror to cloak the immorality of the act?
Another question: how justified is a state to incite or instigate a citizen to commit a crime, when it suspects that person is likely to commit some crime in the future, and then punish him or her for a crime he or she never committed? Is it not in the penal code of every country that an abettor of crime should be treated on a par with the actual perpetuator of that crime? Then what is the status of the state?
Monday, January 25, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Years ago while helping my younger brother with his English assignment, I stumbled upon a story by Eric Arthur Blair, popularly known as George Orwell. After learning that the interesting fable was part of a larger piece of work, I read Animal Farm, and became a lifetime devotee of Orwell. I loved his allegorical depiction of Russia under Stalin, a perfect example of a great revolution going wrong. Surprisingly, he was born in Motihari, my home district town, approximately 170 Kms north of Patna, the capital of the Indian state of Bihar.
Motihari is a typical small north Indian town, relatively poor and devoid of basic infrastructure if compared to similar towns of more developed states like Punjab or Haryana but vibrant nonetheless. For a westerner or a visitor from metros like Delhi or Mumbai, it is a chaotic, mud-infested town, but for local people, including me, it is a city full of life and raw energy. In the evening just stroll along the Gandhi Chowk or travel towards Meena Bazar and you will find the road bursting to the seams with people. Shops are thronged. People would queue up outside the famous Jamuna Hotel to partake Tash-Chewra, the deep fried mutton and flattened rice. The town is also significant from historical and cultural points of view. Besides being Orwell's birthplace, it is also associated with Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji's first experiment of Satyagrah, a philosophy and practice of non-violent resistance, in India was at Motihari, and is known as Champaran Satyagrah. Interestingly, Orwell was also an admirer of Gandhi. The world's tallest Stupa of Buddhism is in Kesaria, 40 Kms from Motihari..............