Sunday, November 25, 2012


I recently bought a copy of Lifelines, an anthology of short stories in English by Bangladeshi women. It is edited by Farah Ghuznavi and published by Zubaan, New Delhi.

Lifelines contains fifteen short stories of varied topic and length by Shabnam Nadiya, Sabrina Ahmad, Srabanti Ali, Sharbari Ahmed, Farah Ghuznavi, Abeer Hoque, Tisa Muhaddes, S. Bari, Munize Manzur, Lori S. Khan, Shazia Omar, Iffat Nawaz, Rubaiyat Khan, Sadaf Siddiqi and Alizeh Ahmed.

The book surprises, delights, provokes or saddens in every page. The protagonists - whether living here or overseas as non-resident Bangladeshis - inhabit a world with love and longing and loss and fulfillment, arranged marriages, coming of age, household maids and their wayward masters, spousal abuse, and male-female double standards.

I found all the stories, which have a uniquely Bangladeshi flavor and character, to be excellent. Here are a few that stayed in my mind:

The well-paced epistolary story "Bookends," by Munize Manzur has an older man looking for the lost love of his youth, while in "Mehendi Dreams," Lori Khan takes an unblinking look at the standards of beauty in this society with its fascination for fairness.

Sadaf Siddiqi's life-affirming "Daydreams" deals with premarital love in the village and its consequences and in "Wax Doll," Abeer Hoque examines the clash of traditional and modern mores among the well-to-do.

"Teacher Shortage," Shabnam Nadiya's story is a searing condemnation of physical abuse, while Ghuznavi's "Getting There" examines the tugs of family responsibilities on a successful single woman. Shazia Omar's "Table for Three" is a satisfying short story in the classical mold.

If you believe, as I do, that Bangladesh stands on the cusp of big change, then these stories form a  deft characterization of the lives of her people as they face this change.

The book is available in Dhaka at Aranya, Bookworm and other bookstores carrying English books. My warm congratulations to the editor, authors for this significant accomplishment. Zubaan has done well to publish this selection.