Shakkhi Chilo Shirostran
When poetic narration meets history....
I guess most of the readers like I, discovered Shuhan Rizwan through his blogs. His short stories and thought pieces were hot cakes in the prime days of Bangla blogs when most of the bloggers were focused on literary works rather than writing random feel good mundane pieces. What fascinated me most about Shuhan's early writings were his incredible ability to describe mundane activities through poetic narration, within a backdrop of surrealistic landscapes. I was intrigued, like many others when he announced his first novel, and a serious one at that, which promised to provide a portrayal of a highly influential but overshadowed historical figure of Bangladesh's history. The history, the mystery, the political undertone added with Shuhan's writing charisma, who wouldn't be curious?
Let's just talk about some complaints first, before we get to the praising part. The first half of the book, Shakkhi Chilo Shirostran, will seem a bit incoherent to most readers, as the writer sacrificed disbursing more insight onto our protagonist (Tajuddin Ahmad) and what was happening with his life and around him, than revisiting historical moments that don't concern our protagonist directly. Most of these historical moments we experience are by firsthand accounts of lesser characters. Some are fictional characters and some are historical characters that are important to the history no doubt but mostly unrelated to the main characters. I'd like the same historical moments to be seen through the eyes and perspective of Tajuddin and/or people around him at that time. This type of narration breaks the chain of thought and emotion surrounding the building up of the protagonist and loses focus for the reader.
The chapters in the first half that focuses on Tajuddin can be roughly divided into two categories, Tajuddin of present (1971 is the present for the book) and Tajuddin of the past (his upbringing) told from the perspectives of people around him. The latter category chapters were a little bit formulaic for my liking. It goes as this, a third person experiences or talks about an act by Tajuddin and the chapter ends with the narrator reflecting upon how great Tajuddin is. I think the writer should've left out the reflection part and trusted his readers to figure out the ruminations for them. It seemed a bit patronizing.
The first half had some major historical characters and days, bits and pieces from their daily lives in 1971 which was fascinating to read, don't get me wrong. But as a reader I would more like to read about historical characters that stayed around Tajuddin. Like his wife Zohra Tajuddin or Syed Nazrul Islam, rather than characters unrelated to Tajuddin's affairs.
The complaints I stated about the first half of Shakkhi Chilo Shirostran seemed immediately answered as the writer delved towards the second half with force and focus.The second half of the book focuses totally on our main character, his day to day life, his struggles. A reader can sprint from the middle of the book to the finish line in a breath as the writer builds up the drama, the mysteries and the tension taut like a bowstring over the last chapters. Especially readers who are unaware of the actual history will definitely have their hearts beating fast, brows sweating, cursing under their breaths and manically shuffling through the pages as they learn more about what unfolds next in this amazing leader's life.
You would want to skip through to the end, to see what happens next but you can't. Shuhan's beautiful phrasing of thoughts, his melodious melancholic descriptions oozes delicacy through his words which will strike beautiful chords in your mind's eardrums, you can't escape it. Some lines are so poetic, that even though you are in a hurry to learn the predicament of the protagonist, you will read it again and again and then maybe jot it down hastily on a napkin to be used in a future facebook status before moving on. And you will definitely do a double take when you eventually learn that this is the writer's first attempt at a novel and first published book.
As a mere average reader, I don't dare dissect the technicality of Shuhan's writings. So I will not walk on that path. But the cliff-hangers, the climaxes to each plight, each dilemma is crafted in a supreme way that will keep you hanging until you fall for the writer, and keep asking for more. The dialogue and conversations between historical characters are painted so exquisitely that even though they are fictional, you would want to believe that's how it went down. Your mind will paint that part of history using the borrowed colours from Shuhan's writings. Though I must admit, the writer carefully avoided more than a fair share of politically controversial parts of the history but you can't have it all, I guess.
Historical fictions are always a pick for me, should be for anyone who is either a history buff or a fiction fan. You learn the history by delving into the body and mind of the characters themselves and see them and yourself in a different light. You reflect on history in a different way, it changes you. To me, that is how a good historical fiction works. And Shakkhi Chilo Shrostran is a good historical fiction, it changed me. Tip of my hat to Shuhan Rizwan, hope he outdoes himself with every other book he writes.