September 12, 2009 12:02:26 am
Like a Diamond in the Sky
Penguin and Zubaan
Deen is a 21-year-old in Dhaka,with compassionate eyes and heroin in his veins. He has sold his books,pawned his guitar and still needs money for his next fix. AJ,small-time diamond peddler and another smackie,bails him out with cash from small-time crime. They look like brothersDeen,the musician who has frittered his gift,and AJ,a good-looking crook looking to hit pay dirt. They call themselves khor2core,addicts (khor in Bangla) to the core.
Shazia Omars novel Like a Diamond in the Sky plays out in the world of alienated youngsters in the middle and upper middle class society of Bangladesh,a country often reduced to the media shorthand of poverty,floods and conservative Islam. Deen and his friends listen to Dylan,get high on pethidine in an empty plot of university land named Dallas (after the soap opera they watched on BTV) and score smack in squalid bastis on the fringe of the city.
Life outside the cocoon of addiction doesnt seem much to Deen. His country and its people,he finds,is god-forsaken and GOB-forsaken (Government of Bangladesh). No value for life. Especially not in Bangladesh,the sewer of India,the ass wipe of America,the sycophantic beggar child of Islamic fundamentalists.
Turned out of his home by his heart-broken mother,he sits on the bank of the once-mighty Torag river,now a polluted poison pit and muses on the platitudes of middle-class life: Work hard,be good,pie in the sky when you die. Sugar free pie. An eternity of blandness. He has visions of himself fighting the power structures,smashing G8 but gives in gamely to his turquing,craving body. Like Renton,the protagonist of Trainspotting,he could chose not to choose life. And yet,there is beautiful Maria,his crazy diamond,the woman for whom he will redeem himself. But can he?
Indian and Pakistani literature in English has often been concerned with the idea of nationhood. Its a strain that Omar also picks up in this novel,which is packed with vignettes of Bangladeshi life,its poverty and corruption,its powerful underworld and arrogant elite. As a narrative device,Deens ramblings against the ugliness around him enables the author to weave in those concerns into the story. But there are overwritten stretches when we cannot tell apart Deens angst from the authors. When the cardboard character of a religious fanatic,Sergeant Akbar,out to wipe out poor scum like Falani,Deens drug dealer,becomes the impetus of the plot,the novel tips over into social analysis.
Omars prose is sometimes overwritten and forced (her breasts were mounds of tranquillity and at times,gently lyrical. But her prime characters are believable and her portrait of Dhakas urban hellishness is striking.
The narrative of addiction is difficult material for fiction,especially when its a steady slide into despair. Deens staccato attempts at finding a cause that will take him out of his prison dont amount to much. The initial pace of the novel gets sucked into the endless deferral of change in Deens life. But,stuck in his mind,we glimpse both the beauty and the horror. A promising debut.