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Friday, March 05, 2021

Acid trip

A debut novel grapples with the narrative of addiction....

Written by Amrita Dutta |
September 12, 2009 12:02:26 am

Like a Diamond in the Sky

Shazia Omar

Penguin and Zubaan

Pages: 252

Rs 250

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 brothers—Deen,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 Omar’s 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 doesn’t 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. It’s 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,Deen’s 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 Deen’s angst from the author’s. When the cardboard character of a religious fanatic,Sergeant Akbar,out to wipe out poor “scum” like Falani,Deen’s drug dealer,becomes the impetus of the plot,the novel tips over into social analysis.

Omar’s 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 Dhaka’s urban hellishness is striking.

The narrative of addiction is difficult material for fiction,especially when it’s a steady slide into despair. Deen’s staccato attempts at finding a cause that will take him out of his prison don’t amount to much. The initial pace of the novel gets sucked into the endless deferral of change in Deen’s life. But,stuck in his mind,we glimpse both the beauty and the horror. A promising debut.

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