Apropos nothing, let me talk about alternate history — you know, those fantastic tales where this or that even had or had not happened, leading to a very, or not so very, different history.
As the regular readers would know, there are at least two such series, perhaps three, running in this blog where Bengal, or India, had never been partitioned, or where partition had meant a different kind of Pakistan. There was even a post about had there been a battle in Plassey. But when it comes to the subcontinent, the big alternative history subject is about Mughal Empire continuing on beyond the 17th century. Since the Empire exhausted itself during Aurangzeb’s reign, perhaps had his brother Dara Shikoh had been the emperor, things might have been different?
The Ekushey Book Fair, 1988. I was in Class 8. What I really wanted was a 4-volume set of old Masud Rana novels. Of course I didn’t have the courage to ask my mother, who bought a book on paleoanthropology — I think it was Amal Dasgupta’s Manusher Thikana, but a quarter century later, I can’t really be sure.
I was disappointed at first, but it didn’t take long to get enthused about the story of human evolution. I finished that book in days. I wanted to get English books on the subject from the British Council library. This took a few weeks because the campus got violent around 21 February.
And then, as is usually the case with these things, my interest waned.
I have very fond memories of reading the Misir Ali novel Devi as a junior high student in the late 1980s. Well, I should say I had. I remember being, let’s say unsettled, reading it then. I re-read it recently, and found it to be totally dull.
Now, it’s completely unfathomable to me why some things — Sheikh Mujib’s role in history, or Argentina vs Brazil in football – generate such strong reactions among Bangladeshis. Humayun Ahmed falls in that category. And I have no opinion on him. But I was disappointed by Devi recently, which on re-reading turns out be rather boring, with Misir Ali not being a particularly memorable character.