The World in My Hands, K Anis Ahmed’s debut novel, is a dark satirical story about a deputy editor in a military-backed emergency in Bangladesh.
Launched in December last year, the book revolves around Hissam Haseeb, the deputy editor of The Daily Pandua — described as “a man of letters with a pungent wit, and deep-seated heresies; and also a possessor of ambitions as huge and hidden as his anxieties.” He likes to read self-help and improvement books like, Only the Paranoid Survive and the Power of Yes. He wants so much in life but something always holds him back until he is presented with the opportunity to make it big — the military-backed emergency.
With Bangladesh and the military in the background, the book boasts a fictional setting about two friends — Haseeb and his college friend, Kaiser, one of Palitpur’s wealthiest property developers. He also happens to be the man who married the woman of Haseeb’s dreams. Their bond is bitterly tested when they are caught on the opposite sides of the crisis unfolding in their country.
The whirlpool begins on an ordinary night when Haseeb orders shashlik for dinner. He had been avoiding a meeting with the editor and wondered when the old man would leave or die so he could finally get his promotion. As his dinner arrives, one of his reporters comes in with breaking news about a list released by the intelligence services on businessmen and politicians who were about to be arrested. As Haseeb sits and thinks of a headline to go with the story — contemplating options pro or against the powerful, the world around him changes.
The book will soon be available at The Last Word.
Calling Haseeb successful is perhaps a stretch but it is certain that his life is full of risks. As the military takes over, Haseeb has to alter his life and keep fighting before he reaches a breaking-point.
The relationship between Haseeb and Kaiser reflects what is going on in the country — the tense atmosphere, hostility, confusion and a glimmer of hope. The way Ahmed writes makes his rage at the military-backed emergency palpable for the reader — especially for a South Asian audience. The characters in the book are well-rounded as they grow into themselves and as a reader you learn to fall in love with their flaws. One of the best parts about the book is its pace — its fast with a lot of unexpected knee-jerking moments.
Ahmed’s debut novel looks at how growth and prosperity can survive instability and violence in the third world. Ahmed lives up to expectation, given that the author turned quite a few heads, back in 2012, with his short stories titled Goodnight, Mr Kissinger, which also revolved around Bangladesh.
In addition to The World in My Hands and Goodnight, Mr Kissinger, Ahmed is also the publisher of the Dhaka Tribune and Bengal Lights, a literary journal. His first published story, Forty Steps, appeared in the Minnesota Review in 2000 and was up for a Pushcart Prize.
In an interview Ahmed gave earlier this month, he said the topic of his next novel would be lighter, “a comedy about foodies in New York.”
The author lives in Dhaka with his wife and son.
Tooba Masood is a senior subeditor on the Peshawar desk of The Express Tribune. She tweets @tabahitooba
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 2nd, 2014.