Book Title: I See The Face
Author: Shahidul Zahir
Perhaps Chan Miya of Ghost Lane had been nourished by monkey’s milk as an infant… or perhaps Khoimon simply made it up…
Perhaps the sensitivity of these monkeys of Dhaka city came to equal that of humans, perhaps not entirely equal to that of humans — because, perhaps the idea of human sensitivity itself is a myth…
Navigating through a maze of ‘perhaps’ and either-or kind of situations, as one comes face to face with Chan Miya of Ghost Lane, one can’t help but ask, ‘Do I see the real face?’ The answer is… perhaps yes, perhaps not! What one sees here may not be the absolute truth.
That’s the beauty of Bangladeshi writer Shahidul Zahir’s writing. The life cycle of this bright poor boy who abandons his studies midway and becomes a car thief does not follow the established arc of storytelling — beginning, middle and end. Here, the past and the present meet all too frequently; and a large group of people who provide the network for the story to progress remain independent entities with their own arc.
As the narrative effortlessly jumps from one character to another, one timeline to another, the other inhabitants of Ghost Lane present themselves — Khoimon, Mrs Zobeida Rahman, Mamun, Fakhrul Ahmad Ledu, Julie Florence Moyna Miya and others, along with a bunch of monkeys. Yes, the monkeys are quite central to the plot. They are present right from the beginning to building up of the climax!
Zahir’s writing demands complete attention. Just as the reader begins to understand the storyline, he introduces another character, creates another situation, giving the tale its proverbial twist!
Like most of Zahir’s writings, the War of Liberation in 1971 finds its outlet in ‘I See the Face’, too. The horror comes in bits and pieces… “When the Pakistani army began killing Bengalis, her (Khoimon) belly turned like a bundle, the soles of her feet swollen, and like a distraught pregnant cat, she shuffled around inside their house like a shadow…”
However, the grim socio-political reality of Bangladesh is not completely bereft of humour. He comments, “The commander of razakars (East Pakistani paramilitary force), Abdul Goni — commanders of razakars always have the name Abdul Goni… went on a tour of the moholla...”
Zahir’s characters are nuanced and places where the events unfold are all too real, right down to the moholla and house number. Even Silverdale KG School, the first school Zahir attended, finds a prominent place in the narrative.
Kudos to V Ramaswamy, who has translated the book from Bengali, for introducing the distinctive Shahidul Zahiriya style of writing to the rest of the world. And he has been successful in retaining the original flavour as the tone of his expression complements Zahir’s pithy observations.
Even as the characters flow in and out of frames, even as timelines get entangled, his choice of words helps the reader breeze through it. His generous use of original sentences, transliterated into Roman script and duly explained, is a treat for those who are familiar with Bangla.