I share my home with nearly 20 million people. And Dhaka is not just my home, it’s a beloved member of the family who I’ve witnessed transform from a reticent adolescent into a boisterous young adult. If you do not know Dhaka as intimately, you might find her loud and chaotic. But I know the beauty in her chaos.
There is music to the city’s bustle that has progressed with the precision of a symphony, from the soothing adagio of tinkling rickshaw bells and hawker calls, to the interminable raging allegro of man and machine.Stories in The Book of Dhaka pick out ten refrains from this composition. At their core, these stories are of quintessential human relationships and motivations that would have resonance in virtually any part of the world. Just as in most places, poverty and politics shape the lives of all of our protagonists as they struggle to find happiness, to belong or to escape.
Here, Dhaka is the unique instrument, moulded in such a way by history, culture and language that from her heartstrings even the most familiar notes emanate with a characteristically whimsical timbre.
To whet your appetite, here are some brief snapshots of the stories, characters, and histories presented in The Book of Dhaka. Join Syed Manzoorul Islam and I in London (tonight!), Manchester (Saturday) and Ilkley (Sunday) where we will be discussing the process of putting the book together, the city of Dhaka, and how the form of the short story allows it to sing. Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam will also be reading excerpts of his story “The Weapon”. See you there!
Survival in the face of the occupation of the Pakistan Army during the 1971 war of liberation turns both sinister and surreal for the protagonist in Akhteruzzaman Elias’ “The Raincoat.”
An unforgiving city steals a young man’s innocence, ideals, and, ultimately, humanity in Syed Manzoorul Islam’s “The Weapon.”
The brightness and optimism of Dhaka’s annual book fair, the Ekushe Boi Mela, is the ironic backdrop for the end of an urban relationship in Parvez Hossain’s “The Decision.”
Rashida Sultana’s “Mother” depicts the defeat of the maternal figure when battling the impossible odds of crime and existence in one of Dhaka’s countless slums.
The endless circle of predictable middle-class existence turns into real-life absurd drama in Moinul Ahsan Saber’s “The Circle.”
Shaheen Akhtar’s “Home” juxtaposes the intimate lives of the privileged with those of strugglers.
Biprodash Borua’s “The Princess and the Father” explores romance and the search for a father figure for those semi-orphaned by the liberation war.
In Anwara Syed Haq’s “Helal was on His Way to Meet Reshma,” the threat of violence hangs over youthful dreams.
In “The Path of Poribibi,” Salma Bani weaves the past and the present into an unforgettable fantasy of the metropolis.
Wasi Ahmed’s “The Widening Gyre” is a study of street politics, an element so timelessly Dhakaesque that it is almost impossible to identify the period in which the story is set.