Of Pains and Panics
A man for all seasons pens his pains and panics only to be read with pleasure...
Asafuddowlah is a renaissance man in this country. A talented, singer, a gifted civil servant and only as of late, I came to realise that he was also a capable writer. And when my friend Takir had handed me his Of Pains and Panics, expecting a sensible review of the book, I was unable to conceal my curiosity. However, needs be mentioned the book first hit the stalls nine years ago, but better late than never - I decided to review it since I was unable to stumble on a full-fledged proper review of the book. The blurb of the book lists a series of no less than eight admirable recommendations ranging from former civil servants, former ministers, university teacher to a newspaper editor.
I, however, marked that most of the aficionados of Asafuddowlah had actually failed to pierce through the extraordinary sides of the writer. That said - praising a good writer by using adjectives like creative, knowledgeable, and brilliant have become clichéd more than half a century ago. This reviewer seeks for what makes a writer different from others. I wasn't much surprised because of the writer's remarkable command over a foreign language. The facts that Asafuddowlah is a knowledge seeker, edifying personality and an avid reader - all becomes crystal clear and reasonable from his writings.
Nevertheless, having read his pieces on different subjects varying from religion, philosophy, politics, and media to geopolitics gave me a different understanding of him. He is actually a bold and discerning commentator, a disciplined follower of local and international current affairs, passionate devotee of art, culture and music. All said - he should have never become a civil servant but a writer. I will come to that point a little later, but first I will try to give a birds-eye-view of what Of Pains and Panics about.
Divided in four parts the book, in point of fact, covers numerable subjects. Rather amusingly, not even one appears a bore because of the writer's lucid and simplistic approach. On some note - Asafuddowlah's style and techniques for making comparisons and using rhetoric is strikingly similar to the short writings of the late Khushwant Singh - definitely with much less erotica. Given the nature of arrangement of his articles, the reader can pick the pieces at will - based on his or her personal preference.
Nevertheless, a recollection of memoires, nostalgia and bold personal commentaries followed by an inner depth of spiritual understanding is not all what I had anticipated from the author. As an avid reader of fiction, non - fiction and novels my personal expectation was more. And that's why the writer Asafuddowlah is talented linguistically in penning his opinions, but not essentially creative.
This reviewer's longing was for a separate section about his personal stories, especially his romances, disobedience, grievances in the civil service to whatever issues. Also the title, Of Pains and Panics is an articulate one, but perhaps not the most appropriate one.
It is not because, since so many of the pieces in the book are based on facts and intellectual and far-sighted thinking - but because the reflections of pains and panics are not widespread. For instance, the first 23 pieces under the first part to a limited degree reflects the writer's disappointment on the lack of moral and spiritual teachings of Islam. Panics and pains are both evident in each and every single piece. Now if a general reader shifts to the second part titled Peaks and Valleys and under its Music, Art and Society sections, at the maximum there is a tone of sadness with which this reviewer agrees but lesser than either a pain or a panic.
What I truly admired of Asafuddowlah's book is actually elaborated on the third part comprising of education, law, economics and city life - health, administration and history, politics to sport chapters. The true scenario and recommendations he had pointed out nine and plus years ago remains the same in today's Bangladesh. On this part the writer appears a sharp observer and a trouble-shooter.
One last remark about the book: every piece is surely a pleasing read, but could have been much revealing had the writer go a little beyond, and compose a fiction.
Strictly a personal remark, Asafuddowlah is a perfectionist, in terms of composing his articles based on authentic sources, original feelings, and simplistic style, but the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh was never, and is still not any of the proper countries for writing and launching a book written in English.
When it comes to English readership, Bangladesh not only has a limited readership but the publishing industry is sadly more than half a century towards the back. A personal comment, the book would have been much more efficiently promoted and marketed, if it was India or the UK. Also what's missing is the book's international circulation.
The bottom-line, however, Of Pains and Panics is an informative and enjoyable read. Rather miserably, due to the country's poor publishing sector, it's a difficult find. Furthermore, the book is devoid of photographs and illustrations. The writer's personal anecdotes and memoirs should have been complemented with some family photos.
The reviewer is in charge of the editorial section, The Daily Observer