Harsh realities of life
Manmeet Sodhi

Like a Diamond in the Sky
By Shazia Omar.
Penguin Zubaan.
Pages 252. Rs 295.

SHAZIA OMAR’s debut novel Like a Diamond in the Sky is a riveting tale of love, loss, crime, spirituality and longing for a mouthful of sky. Set in modern Dhaka where morality takes on a new definition with all its squalor, its noisy streets, despair, hopes and aspirations. She draws the reader into contemporary Bangladesh and its peculiar yet universal problems.

This fluent fast-moving narrative is about 21-year-old Deen, a junkie who is trapped in the darkest hell of drug addiction. His search of stimulating freedom leaves him alienated and disillusioned. Disowned by his family, he escapes into momentary reassurance of drugs and sexual escapade. He is unable to breakout of his destructive pattern. As a result, his soul is subjected to inner pain that hurts so much.

The novel provides extraordinary insight into the lives of a handful of intriguing characters, their highs and lows and their search for happiness. Maria, a beautiful young girl is the only alive and vibrant being who instils in Deen a taste of love and happiness. But this mysterious girl is chemically imbalanced and a suicidal psycho. AJ, who is Deen’s partner in crime, works for mafia. Other interesting characters are drug peddler Falani, seductive nauch girl, Sergent Akbar who is torn between his desire to be pious and his lust, Raj Gopal, the Don of the underworld Dhaka. The writer effectively captures in them collective anguish of the youth as they struggle to survive in the harsh realities of life.

With her distinctive style, Shazia Omar addresses the urgent, political and pungent questions concerning capitalism, power structures and closed Islamic society. The story also touches upon international diamond smuggling but—luckily—the writer does not get embroiled in the larger picture. Her focus remains on the desperate youth caught in the complex web of socio-political realities and therein lays the strength of the book.

What stands most in the novel is her smooth assimilation of Bangla slang into the flow of narrative. Though there is no glossary to decode these vernacular words, their rhythmic incorporation obliterates all considerations. At times the narrative slacks, especially social commentaries, but the novelist knows how to flesh out a story.

This captivating novel has a cinematic appeal. The enduring impression of the book is its naturalness of her description of the physical—be it a look, the body or the sexual act—is a unique feature of this new voice. On the whole, the book does make a good read.