Read all posts in Mahmud Rahman’s investigation here.
Until about ten years ago, whenever I visited Bangladesh, a journey “home” every three to five years, I would make my way to a small bookshop in Dhaka’s New Market. Zeenat Book Supply was one of the few places that carried English titles from India. There were better shops for books in Bangla, and subcontinental writing in English I could find in the U.S. What I sought at Zeenat was books in translation. These would sometimes be wrapped in plastic, other times coated with dust, the edges dirt-brown. Here I would find fiction that had originally been written in languages I didn’t know: Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam.
When I had the good fortune to visit Calcutta, I would discover more.
What discoveries I returned with! Raag Darbari, Shrilal Shukla’s biting small-town satire. Karukku, Bama’s brave memoir as a Dalit Christian. Desert Shadows by Anand that took me into the corrupt world of an Indian prison.
Unless a used copy lands somewhere by chance, such books are not found in U.S. bookstores. Unless you were teaching Indian literature or someone who keeps up on South Asian writing outside English, you would probably not know about these titles.
From August through December 2012, I was almost physically unable to read books. Picking up a book, I found myself incapable of the sustained concentration necessary to make sense of phrases, sentences, paragraphs. I would read the same thing over and over again, my mind wandering into blankness. It felt, in a very real way, as though my eyes were slipping off the page. Reading books had always been a means of sustaining myself, and so forgetting how to read was very much like forgetting how to eat.
I would be lying if I said it wasn’t frightening. The qualitative aspect of this bizarre reading aphasia (for lack of a better term) was a persistent feeling of restlessness when I was trying to engage with a book—as though my brain would rather be doing something, anything, else.
This condition mostly persisted until late April of last year, when I moved from the countryside of Pennsylvania—where I’d lived within a stone’s throw of dilapidated barns and old orchards—to Oakland, California. I had hoped that the warmer weather, the change in time zone, and my new proximity to an actual city would shake something loose in my head.
Within a few weeks of my arrival, I’d found and finished Mahmud Rahman’s Killing the Water, a collection of short stories that moves from Bangladesh to Boston to Detroit and finally to Oakland. READ MORE…