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Twinkle, twinkle, little stir

A debut novel about a groovy Bangladesh misses an opportunity, writes Preeti Singh.

books Updated: Sep 11, 2009 22:54 IST
Preeti Singh
Preeti Singh
Hindustan Times
Like A Diamond in the Sky

Like A Diamond in the Sky
Shazia Omar
Penguin-Zubaan
Rs 250


Jinnah is not the only name from across the border that has been creating ripples on the subcontinent’s literary scene. In the last year or so, various first-time authors have enriched the landscape in this part of the world with impressive debuts.

Shazia Omar is the newest kid on the block, who is back to explore her native Bangladesh after a long stint abroad. Like a diamond in the sky — a phrase familiar to some as a track by The Temptations and to others as a line from the earliest nursery rhyme they learnt by rote — is a psychedelic journey through modern-day Dhaka. Here, in a world abandoned by a corrupt and self-seeking government, college kids exist in a Woodstock-type haze, listening to fusion Sufi music, funk, Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan and the rest; shoot drugs and dream of changing the world until their lofty ideals are lost in the craving for another fix.
http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Dhaka-the nightlife.jpg
‘Dhaka...the Nightlife’, a photograph by Adil Bin Siraj which won the Photo Story 3rd Prize at the 2008 International Inter-University Photography Exhibition

Alas! The dish fails to live up to the promise of its ingredients. The prose is bland. Most of the characters — directionless college kids, a Koran-spouting cop and the protagonist’s mercurial love interest — fail to sparkle. It’s almost as if all human proclivities for excess were restricted to a few square miles in Dhaka, which, incidentally, comes across as clichéd and faceless small-town India.

Some slipshod editing adds to the topsy-turvy world of wasted youth, unable to take the ‘reigns’ (sic) of their own life, a mistake that occurs twice in quick succession, like flashes of ‘lightening’ (sic)! Then there’s the unfortunate repetition of analogies and metaphors (for instance, twice in the space of a few pages Omar alludes to a phuchka (read golgappa), in which ‘tamarind sauce covered the chickpeas like lava on a mound of volcanic rubble’, kills your appetite for more.

This was Omar’s chance to give readers a much-sought after insight into urban Bangladesh, to go beyond the oft-repeated information that it’s a miserable, corrupt and ill-fated country of 150 million. There are fleeting glimpses of a potentially lively author. But Omar’s debut ends up as a banal drawing room discussion on what ails the world around us. We’ll just have to wait for her to get things right the next time around.