Book Review: Dark Diamond by Shazia Omar

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Dark Diamond is Shazia Omar’s third novel, a narration of Mughal Bengal. If you are a fan of pre-colonial historical fiction as I am, then this book would be a treat. Set in the 1680s, it tells the story of Shayista ‘Bagh’ Khan, the subahdar of Bengal and a general of the Mughal Empire. An unappreciated character in Bengal history (overshadowed by the last Nawab of Bengal – Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah), Omar paints a vivid picture of the figure.

The book is set in Mughal Dacca (now Dhaka, the city where I live yayy!!) a land of worldly pleasures and mystical magic. The superintendent of the region is Shayista Khan, the uncle of Emperor Aurangzeb, who is a fierce yet just ruler of the kingdom. The plot takes you through an epic journey as Shayista struggles to uphold the glory of his land from both internal and external forces – the religious fanatics who place themselves in the path of development (an issue we are still fighting today), Magh Raja of the Arakan Empire (present day Burma, a clever nod to our neighbour that has been a major issue in the last few decades) and of course, the East Indian Company, that plundered and looted the Sub Continent for centuries. In the middle of all this, is the crown jewel – the cursed Kalinoor, the Black Kohinoor diamond, which plays a significant part in the story that I will not discuss and give away spoilers.

The plot takes you across the mighty Buriganga River, battles with European pirates, the elegant muslin, the mystical pir-fakirs – in short, a Dacca which for some reason, does not make its way into mainstream literature. For this, I thank you personally Ms. Omar. Do not be fooled thinking it’s a hardcore fiction filled with boring historical events, because it isn’t. It is a well-researched book that recounts and showcases the tales of the great Shayista Khan, a forgotten hero of Bengal – who was a father, a warrior and a patriot.

The book ends with a note that in my opinion, signifies what Bengal truly represents – a colorful Deccan with diverse characters, where human ties are an integral part of everyday life.

 

My rating – ★★★★☆

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Talking about Islam: Social media and popular discourse

Check this out brilliant piece by my friend!

ergo

Recently, I got involved in a heated argument about Islam and the Muslim world on Facebook, that quickly turned vicious and ended up lasting for several hours. To say I “got involved” would be a little dishonest – I did start it, one way or another, and I shouldn’t be surprised at the response. Since I began teaching I have tried very hard to avoid engaging with religious issues directly unless it was strictly relevant to my class, and so far I have managed to survive. Everyone is also well aware of how bitter and pointless talking about religion on social media can become – the standard policy is to either avoid it, or to engage with a novel’s worth of disclaimers added on. My post yesterday did neither. The results were predictable.

Since then, many have told me, directly or otherwise, that these posts and the havoc they create…

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Book Review: Give it Back by Danielle Esplin

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

I wish to thank Ms. Danielle Esplin for offering and sending me a beautiful paperback copy of her debut novel in exchange for an unbiased review.All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

First of all I would like to congratulate and thank Ms. Esplin for giving me a copy of her debut novel. I have interacted with her personally and I could not help but picture Ella, the protagonist of “Give it Back” as Danielle herself (although Danielle claims she isn’t as crazy as Ella; I fully agree).

I had no idea what the book was about even though I had read the short description in Goodreads. I am glad I didn’t because it took me through an roller coaster ride of suspense. Although a bit slow in the beginning, half way through it picked up pace.

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The story is narrated from three perspectives: Lorraine, Ella and Lexy’s, set in the present and past. So initially the reader might have difficulty switching to and fro. However, this approach was important, as it contributed to the storyline and fed information to the reader in a manner, that would keep him/her at the edge of their seats.

In a nutshell, “Give it Back” is a story of two sisters, their families and an au pair-how their world turns upside down, leading to a very unexpected ending. I am a huge fan of thrillers/detective novel and I had my own theories of how the novel would end, however, none of the theories were correct.

The Positives: I loved how Esplin twisted the plot and connected all the dots, ultimately leading to the climax. The writing was crisp, set in modern times, so the set up was very comfortable and relate-able. Although a bit slow in the beginning, the last 50-pages had me glued. It is fast paced, so it won’t drag on. Not your sit-back-after-lunch book, more like a stay-awake-all-night thriller.

The Negatives: Lack of character development. The plot revolves around multiple characters, new characters are inducted to the plot early in the book, however, it was very tough to decide who is related to whom. I got confused many times between Craig and Robert, because Robert was not given a proper introduction. I won’t elaborate further because I don’t want to give spoilers. Apart from the lack of character development, I did not find any major shortcomings.

My rating – ★★★☆☆

If you want to read the book, you can find Ms. Esplin on Goodreads/Instagram and ask for a copy.

 

Looking forward to your second novel, Danielle!

What You Are Inside Only Matters Because of What It Makes You Do

Couple of minutes back, I got a call from an unknown number, asking me for my name and location (which is not something unusual from the part of the world I come from since we tend to mix up digits and end up calling strangers, or for the simple fact many of us seem to give change their number and give away their old SIM cards as relief goods). Anyway back to my narration. So the caller asked for my name, so I naturally asked his since he was the one calling. He gave his name and where he works, and although it took me a bit of time to recall, but I remembered that I once faced some problems using my debit card at an ATM booth, and the guard took my number. I got my card back, and many months went by, and yet the guy bothered to call me simply because ‘my number was saved in his phone with no name’ and he thought that ‘maybe it was important’.

 

Now this might be seem like just a nice gesture, something that happens once in a while and makes us realize, ‘Hey! There are good people out there!’ But it got me thinking. Every once in a while, we all say ‘I am a nice person. Why is this happening to me?’ This is happening because the rain is supposed to fall. Just because you are nice doesn’t mean it will spare you and you won’t get drenched. Either adapt to it or stop complaining. The world is only interested to know what you have to offer. Some of us are good photographers, some are good at fixing mechanical appliances….your presence is only worth what you can offer to others. We all have an assigned function.

 

So do something, anything new you want to try out. Learn how to cook. Can’t afford cooking lessons? Use Google and Youtube! Millions of children dying in Africa due to starvation?? Go to the nearest orphanage and spend an hour or two with the children. It might not be a huge achievement for you, but it will help someone else, one way or the other. Thinking about it and not doing anything isn’t worth half a rat’s ass. Image

 

Christian Bale once said “It’s not who I am outside, but what I do defines me. So if you don’t agree with me, at least listen to Batman (No no no, not Affleck).

 

There is nothing called, ‘I will be there in spirit’.  Just be there.

What a person has to lose

They often say one must not fall in the abyss as he walks by the edge. How a person becomes exactly the same thing that he fights against.

Be loving, care for others. Don’t let the world change the good parts inside you. You might be hurt at times. But don’t let that change the great person you are.

Always remember that you are an individual. And you will always have to look out for yourself, because no one else will.

Give, give someone something or change their lives in such a way, that they will never be able to repay you. However, they will be grateful, even if they don’t talk to you.

And last of all, love your close ones. Take care not to make too many attachments. The more you care, the more you have to lose, and the more you hurt yourself. Love yourself.

Because you are a beautiful human being.

Musings

You know at times,
You give up on certain things in life.
At times,
You just start accepting whatever it offers
You find yourself thinking
That it really isn’t worth all the sleepless nights
Or the frequent day dreams
You try to make yourself believe
Hold onto whatever faith there is left
Try to be strong
Tell yourself “It’s all good”
Even when you know it’s not

And then it comes back
Like a cruel joke
To remind you that
‘‘I’m still here”
And you are not as strong as you think you are
You never were, nor will be

Then, you feel something break
And a little part of you dies, again

My Joes

Some of my friends give me a look of surprise and exasperation when they witness me ‘blowing’ my money on toys. “Tk1000 (around $12) on just a small toy?? And you don’t even play with them these days” – that’s the standard reaction I usually get.

So what IS actually the utility I get from these toys? Although there are many reasons, but I would explain the most important one – because it is a part of my childhood. They are one of the few things that I can still recall as a child, along with my mother singing me songs.

Back in the early 90’s, my dad occasionally used to buy me Funskool G.I.Joes on my way home from school. They cost around Tk. 30-40 (which is 1/10 the price we pay these days), and by the time I was 6yrs old, I had a troop of around 60 Joes. They were like my own personal army……ready to serve me.

This brings me to two sad incidents which still saddens me, even today. The first one was back in 1993, during my trip to Cox Bazar. I had made a sand castle and had perched Quicklegs and Storm Shadow on it. It suddenly started raining, and unconsciously, I ran to my mother leaving my Joes behind. A huge wave came crashing down on my castle, washing away all the sand, including two of my first Joes……even after 19years have passed since the incident, I can’t help but feel sad about them. And the saddest part is, even after years of searching, I couldn’t find those two specific pieces.

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The second incident was actually a long period of time that included my younger brother, when he was growing up, and took the liberty of ripping out the limbs of my Joes, piece by piece. I will never forgive him for that…and someday when he works, I will ask for compensation. But the good news is, I was able to dig out 12 survivors from the carnage and thus resumed my collection. A happy ending.

So all in all, my toys reminds me of the good old days when school ended at 12 and then the rest of the day was dedicated to naps and watching cartoon shows or playing with my brother. Plus they are still very very cool. 🙂

Waiting for the rain and You

I woke up this morning and looked out of the window. It was cloudy outside….seemed like it could rain any moment.

The weather remained unchanged the whole day. It was as if the weather was playing a game of rock paper scissors with us, and ironically winning each turn.

I didn’t get to hear your voice the whole day.

But whenever I looked out, I realized somewhere out there…..you were looking at the same sky, and thinking about me as well.

Like I am thinking about you

[12, 2012] Batman: The Man Who Laughs

As you might have noticed already, I used the title of the comic book itself instead of making up a new one for the blog post. And the reason behind it is, the title itself IS THAT GOOD!

I consider myself a huge Batman fan, and though I have a lot of single issues, Trade Paper Backs (TPBs) are something that I haven’t got many, one of the main reasons is that I usually have that much coin in my pocket.

The Man Who Laughs is one book that I have been planning to buy for a very long time. But with mixed reviews in different sites, I began to ponder my decision. So here’s a bit of advise: ‘NEVER GO FOR CRITICS AND THEN DECIDE WHAT TO READ AND WHAT NOT’

Luckily the other day I met Kamal Bhai of Warfaze, who said, ‘A collection without this comic book is incomplete’. 2days later I was the owner of the book, and 5days later, I have finished reading it.

And I have one word for it, ‘It’s AWESOME’.
Ok sorry those were two words.

This book shows Batman as we know him to be, and his first encounter with the Joker. The Prince of Gotham, who has taken the mantle of the caped crusader after the brutal murder of his parents satisfies himself by cleaning the filth of the city – rapist, murderers, drug peddlers, thugs. He realizes that the city is a constant generator of crime, but always comes to the aid of Gotham and Officer James Gordon. He takes on everything that’s thrown at him because he understands the criminal mind. But the problem is, the Joker is not just any thug.

The Joker has been portrayed by many actors in past and recent times. Some showed the Joker as something short of a clown, with acid stored in a flower, ready to be used as a weapon, while others showed him as the sick psychopath he really is – the Heath Ledger Joker for instance, which to me, is and will be the best Joker there ever was and will be. And the best part is, The Man Who Laughs Joker is exactly the one which Mr. Ledger portrayed in the movie, ‘Batman: The Dark Knight’.

Crazy, unpredictable, unreasonable with no sense of regret, a person who causes terror just for the sake of it, without any objective of profit. Simply a man, who believes the world should suffer. No one stood up for him when he was wronged, so they should share his fate as well. An ideology that makes him an unique, yet dangerous individual. As Alfred puts it, ‘A man who just wants to see the world burn’.

I won’t be going into the details of the book, but if you are a Batman fan, this book is a must read.

[11, 2012] You

You constantly tell me to ‘unlike’ you. It’s not as if, one day I woke up, and told myself, ‘OK. From today, I am in love with you’. It sort of happened one day.

At first, I just liked you a little bit. Then I started liking you a little bit more, everyday.

I miss you when we don’t talk.

I know you always wonder, ‘How can a person miss another so much?’ But truth be told, I really don’t know the answer myself.

Tonight I will go to bed early. Because sleep is the only time when I don’t think of you.

And maybe tomorrow morning, when I wake up, I will fall in love with you again.

Photo Courtesy: Amlin Iqbal Eshita [http://www.flickr.com/photos/amlin-eshita/with/6850611442/]
Do check out Eshita’s Photostream 🙂