Literary review from The Hindu. Excerpted with the permission of Penguin Books India from The Good Muslim; Tahmima Anam; Hamish Hamilton Rs. 499.
After the war come the challenges of peace. TAHMIMA ANAM'S The Good Muslim – to be released May 15 – follows the travails of Maya Haque and her family in Bangladesh. Exclusive excerpts...
"On Independence Day, Maya switched on the television and saw the Dictator laying wreaths at Shaheed Minar, the Martyrs' Memorial. He had a small dark head and wide shoulders fringed by military decorations. Last month he had tried to change the name of the country to the Islamic Republic of Bangladesh. And before that, he had bought a pair of matching Rolls-Royces, one for himself, another for his mistress.
Now, on the anniversary of the day the Pakistan Army ran its tanks over Dhaka, he was making a speech about the war. Eager to befriend the old enemy, he said nothing about the killings. He praised the importance of regional unity. All Muslims are Brothers, he repeated. She couldn't bear to listen. She switched off the television and found her mother in the kitchen, frying parathas. Sufia was lifting up discs of dough and patting them tenderly between butter-lined hands.
At dusk, Maya walked from Elephant Road to Shaheed Minar in her bare feet. She stepped on newspapers and plastic bags, feeling the rough grit of sand moving pleasantly between her toes, the warmth of the tarmac slowing her down until she was barely moving, tiptoeing her way forward. A light breeze caught her under the chin, and she held the straps of her shoes between her fingers and nodded, smiling, to the small groups of people on the road beside her.
All through the movement, they had walked barefoot from Elephant Road to Shaheed Minar in red-and-white saris, greeting one another with the national salutation, Joy Bangla. Victory to Bengal...
She caught the eye of a long-haired man in a woollen shawl. The man shook his head, as though he knew what she was thinking, telling her not to mind so much....
The memorial was illuminated by candles. The wide steps led up to three narrow concrete structures, each rising up, then bending forward, as if to provide shelter for the visitors. An enormous paper sun, painted red, was suspended from behind. The wind picked up, bending the tiny candle flames, pushing the willow tree until its leaves shook and fell forward.
Shaheed Minar was the first thing the Pakistan Army destroyed in the war. It was also the first thing to be rebuilt, taller and wider, but Maya wished they had left it broken, because now, shiny and freshly painted, it bore no signs of the struggle.
She sat down on the top step, the flowers in her lap, and watched while people made their offerings. Kneeling in front of the pillars, heads bowed. No one spoke. She saw a man weeping quietly in a corner of the arch. He brought his hand to his cheek, wiping roughly. Then he turned and looked directly at her. He stood for a moment, leaning his head forward as if to make her out in the dying light. She rose, the flowers dropping from her lap. He was beside her in an instant.
‘Joy – is that you?'
He picked up the flowers and held them out to her, and she was jolted by the memory of him, now almost a decade old. Joy. Younger brother of Sohail's best friend. He had spent most of the war at the bungalow, an errand boy for the guerrillas, ferrying supplies back and forth from the border. He had lost a brother, a father and a piece of his right hand to the war. And he had given her a nickname once; she tried to remember it now.
They looked at each other for a long time. He was taller than she remembered. He moved towards her and, without knowing it, she took a step back. ‘I thought you were in America,' she said, recalling the last time they had met, when he told her he was moving to New York. She had taken it personally, his abandoning the country so soon after its birth."