A review of Shazia Omar’s ‘Like a Diamond in the Sky’
Everyone knows someone who has struggled with addiction. Many have perhaps struggled through it themselves. Some people get out of it, some never do. Shazia Omar’s novel Like a Diamond in the Sky welcomes readers to the megacity Dhaka at the turn of the century, with an insider’s look into the panorama of the city from the perspective of a hopelessly addicted university student. It is the most accurate representation of life in Dhaka in print. For people who live here, they will be able to clearly see the dramatic action take place in the city streets that are vividly evoked. These are the roads we traverse on a daily basis, from the busy alleyways of Dhanmondi to the posh streets of Gulshan to the apartments in Uttara and the neglected slums of Tongi. Readers are taken on a journey through the megacity of Dhaka, with solid insights into social issues plaguing its heart—addiction, class issues, corruption and violence.
The central conflict in the novel is dependency, most viscerally addiction. Deen is a hopeless romantic and a hopelessly addicted university student who has graduated from smoking cannabis with his friends to a debilitating heroin addiction that has taken over every aspect of his life. Deen sees university as a production line for creating perfect citizens, something that is impossible for him because of his lifestyle choices surrounded by his band of sociopathic drug addicts and criminals. His only hope for a better future is his relationship with his girlfriend Maria, who, though free of a dependency on drugs, is dependent on Deen for her happiness and sanity.
The language is imbued with music, from Pink Floyd to the Doors to local folk rockers like Bangla (Anusheh actually features as a character in the periphery) to hit pop song numbers or nursery rhymes we learn as innocent children. These songs will surely be etched in the minds of readers, just like the adventures and mishaps of the characters. Music is nothing if not junkie poetry.
Many stark realities are brought to light, like the growing generation gap. If young people are to ask their teachers or parents about things like drug, sex or violence, the latter will not feel comfortable in having that conversation. The youth are left to learn about sex and drugs from Hollywood movies and porn videos, institutions that romanticize delinquency and misogyny. In such a conservative society, the idea of harm reduction for addicts is laughable, when the multitudes of destitute people are offered no safety net from a life of poverty. The idea of social advancement or mobility is also impossible. Dealers and users are treated unfairly by the police, who do not hesitate to resort to any kind of brutality to extract information from them, instead of going after the suppliers who are protected by money that gives them impunity.
All in all, if you are up for reading a novel that takes you into the bowels of Dhaka's dark alleys, Shazia's novel is the book you should pick up.
Nahyan Ameen studies at IUB and enjoys reading and writing.
(Like a Diamond in the Sky is available at Gourmet Bazar and Jatra. It can be ordered online for delivery from Bookworm)