By Sunil Gangopadhyay
This novel is determined in nineteenth centruy Bengal opposed to the backdrop of the Bengal Renaissance and the 1857 rebellion. This translation from Bengali weaves heritage and fiction right into a hugely readable cloth.
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He brought me upright, then locked arms with me and signaled the man on my right to do the same. Thus steadied, I kept shooting, and felt a moment of silent gratitude. I knew I'd been lucky in making the acquaintance of Akhtar. In our first conversation we'd discovered something in common: both of us were teachers. "Then we are colleagues, so to speak," had been his judgment. Since then he'd treated me as his special charge. " Two custodians in black tunics brought out the battle-standard of Abbas.
Pilgrimage to Mecca. Almsgiving. I smiled, nodded, reminded myself of the Egyptian proverb that states al-Sabr gameel: Patience is a beautiful thing. In our second conversation the topic moved nearer my goal. Seyyed Abbas talked about the practice of matam. This term can refer in general to acts of lamentation for the deceased, but in Shia Islam matam denotes specifically gestures of ritual mourning in honor of the Karbala martyrs. Matam can range from simple repetitive chest-beating to self-flagellation with razors, chains, and knives.
Husain himself was killed, his household taken captive. The train of prisoners, including Husain's sisters Zaynab and Umm Kulthum, was marched through the desert to Damascus. Here Yazid is said to have gloated over the severed head of his rival, which had been brought from the battlefield for the caliph to dishonor with blows from a cane. Here too, within the very palace of Yazid, Zaynab held the first majlis (plural: majalis), or lamentation assembly, to mourn for her brother. During this period of imprisonment Husain's fouryear-old daughter Sakina died.