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A Different Sita / এ ডিফারেন্ট সীতা
A Different Sita By:Niaz Zaman Book Type: Literature
  বইটি কিনতে ফোন করুন
Book Code 16489
Publisher University Press / ইউনিভার্সিটি প্রেস লিমিটেড
Book Type Literature [+]
Published February, 2011
ISBN 9879848715055
Language English
Binding Hardcover
Price Tk. 475.00
বইটি বাংলায় দেখুন
Available in Stock

This book has been sold #2 copies.

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Tale told by an unusual heroine
Shahid Alam, like many others, relives a war

A Different Sita, Niaz Zaman,
War really does strange things to otherwise ordinary human beings. In 1971, the Bengalis of East Pakistan were caught up in a bitter armed struggle to rid itself of West Pakistani hegemony to realize the sovereign independent nation-state of Bangladesh. The rest is history. Snippets of that history are recounted in accurate details in Niaz Zaman's novel A Different Sita. But it is a fictional story that is interspersed with actual political events that led up to the burst of hostilities that the West Pakistani military visited on the Bengali nation on 25 March 1971. Almost the entire novel is restricted to the close to nine months of the conflict that formally ended with the surrender of Lt. Gen. AAK Niazi to Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora on 16 December of that year.

A Prologue from the protagonist, Shabina, where she looks back to the past allows the reader to understand some of the unresolved issues that could creep up in his/her mind if s/he had gone through the entire book without having touched the introduction. One of the more tantalizing is laid out in, “...I write it down for you two so that you know what happened during those months of the war. And why one of you has brown eyes and the other grey.” She then proceeds to begin at the beginning, which is a visit to the Shaheed Minar with her husband and two young sons in 1971 for observing Ekushey February. The story then takes on a life of its own, as it weaves together the life of Shabina and her family, one that is comfortably middle class, being thrust, without asking for it, into the maelstrom created by a political betrayal committed by a group of West Pakistani politicians and army generals against the legitimate political achievement of the Bengalis, followed by a genocidal crackdown on the people of East Pakistan on 25 March, which generated armed resistance from the Bengalis, and eventually led to the emergence of Bangladesh as a free, sovereign, and independent nation-state on 16 December 1971.

While the novel covers the nine-month period of intense struggle, it is not about guerilla activities or skirmishes or battles per se. They are occasionally mentioned to make a point or two in the context of the story. The story is about the travails of Shabina, who had been living a normal Bengali middle class life before 25 March threw it out of kilter. Her husband and she were politically conscious, were aware of the political, economic, and cultural depravations suffered by the Bengalis at the hands of the West Pakistani political, military and business elites, were aggrieved at the biased treatment, and observed Bengali traditions and rituals, but they were no activists who would take to the streets to protest.

However, once the military crackdown was set in motion, her husband, Haider, toyed with the idea of taking up arms against the Pakistanis, but eventually settled on hiding an arms cache collected by his friend inside hastily-constructed window boxes. Then passed a short period of anxiety, monotony, fear, and endless waiting, all rolled into one. This situation changed dramatically when the military found out that Haider's elder brother had crossed over into India to join the armed resistance being formed there. Shortly thereafter, Haider helped in, first, surreptitiously sheltering his sister-in-law and his nieces in his apartment, and then finding the right people to take them across the border to join his brother. At this point the reader is taken through a gamut of suspicion, intrigue, gossip, selfishness and camaraderie from various quarters directed at Haider's family. Haider's brother's defection brought the military's hostile attention towards himself. One night he was taken away by the army. What followed is described in poignant detail, as Shabina's initial stupefaction at his arrest and the brutal behaviour displayed by the army personnel carrying it out gave way to helplessness, eventually turning to anger and a determination to find her husband and bring him home. She enlisted the help of Haider's school friend Saeed, a major in the Pakistan army, who had been posted to East Pakistan on the eve of the crackdown. He delivers. Haider comes back home, obviously traumatized by his weeks in captivity, but he never revealed that experience to his wife.

An intriguing character, a kababwallah who used to live in the same neighbourhood as Shabina's father and his family is introduced in the story from its very outset, and he plays a crucial role in Shabina's travails as she is forced to juggle family life with anxiety about her husband's well-being. She moves to another house from which her husband is arrested a second time on suspicion of aiding freedom fighters. This time she despairs and promises to herself to go to any length to rescue him. Again, for a second time, she succeeds, but has to pay, as well as extract, a heavy price to do that. The reader will be treated to some fascinating reading as s/he goes through this part. S/he will get the relevance of Shabina's interpretation of Ramayana's story that she told her little boys: “(Rama) and Sita and his two sons lived happily ever after in Ayodhya. I had changed the ending. Sita and her two sons did not live happily ever after in Ayodhya with Rama. Sita had to walk through fire to prove her chastity.” The story's denouement is at once moving and ironic.

Niaz Zaman makes a delightful Dhakaia out of the kababwallah's inimitable Dhakaia rendition of Urdu: “Jo accha samajtis dedijo.” As Shabina admits to her husband: “I doubt if people from Delhi and Lucknow would recognize it as Urdu.” Zaman has him speaking in that fashion throughout the novel. It is evocative for the Dhaka-born and dwellers of those days. Just as these are: Race Course (now Suhrawardy Uddyan), Gulistan and Naaz (cinema halls now long demolished), Bham building (also history). Similarly, her recounting of Shantinagar being only “a few minutes' rickshaw ride away from Jinnah Avenue and Gulistan” would likely appear a fairy tale in these days of nightmarish traffic! She also draws attention to another change, this time to Bangladesh's flag: “Little bottle-green flags with a red sun in the centre and a golden map of East Pakistan were made in hundreds all over Dacca....”

There are shrewd political and individual observations. Through Shabina she ventures: “...Bhutto...we were sure was behind the postponement (of the National Assembly). Yahya was too drunk most of the time to know what was happening.” And, from Haider's mouth: “But the Pakistanis are not like the British (raj). Whatever their faults, the British believed in the rule of law. Ten years after independence, Pakistan saw martial law.” There are others, some embodying hard truths. Then there is this singular turn of phrase: “I thought I could get the durwan to jobai koro the chicken.” In addition, I might be reading too much into this piece or maybe not deeply enough, but I find it rather mystifying: “(Bengali) village women wore neither blouse nor sari.”

The reader might find a preponderance of food talk throughout the book. Just as much s/he will find minute details of a mother's care being given to her young children. One cannot rationally argue with this piece of advice: “...first all of us must have a wash --- specially our hands which are full of germs.” Niaz Zaman has crafted a story of an average woman of comfortable means going through harrowing days in stifling Dhaka made abnormal by military occupation, which eventually transforms her into a different Sita.

Shahid Alam, novelist, playwright, actor, is Head, Media and Communication Department, Independent University Bangladesh (IUB)
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