Monday, May 2, 2011

Alone In The Breach--A Nation's Story Told Through One Life

Seldom, autobiography of an individual, who is not a truly public persona with a large following, transcends its narrow horizon of interest, and enters the world arena. Alone In The Breach by Muhammad Shamsul Haque Chishty is one such book that does.

Granted, Chishty is not really an obscure face in Bangladesh. He rose through the ranks of Bangladesh Civil Service, and was widely known for his dedication and utter honesty at high official level. For a country that had acquired the dubious distinction as the most corrupt nation for five years in a row, it is only natural that its civil service department would have a fair share of corruption. Yet, having spent a lifetime in the service of people, Chishty is among a handful of officers whose name is not in the mud.

The original book is written in Bangla. It was translated by his son Muhammad Rezaul Kaiser Chishty, and published in Bangladesh. The book has world-wide distribution—its US distributor is Muktadhara, in Jackson Heights, NYC.

Chishty wrote about his life, the people in his life, the time of his life, and the writ became a valuable document of life in Bangladesh for a period spanning several generations—it captured the living history of a nation in the move.

Bangladesh is crisscrossed by innumerable rivers, and those rivers are mighty. With incessant monsoon rains they swell up and flood their banks with vengeance, snatch lands and everything on it. Millions of people lose their lifetime possessions and become destitute overnight. The people nevertheless, are even more determined than the mighty rivers, more resolute, from the brink of death they snatch the joy of life—that is the story of Bangladeshi villagers who live on the river banks. Losing everything, they literally pull themselves up with their shoestrings, just as Chishty himself did, and rose to the highest possible level at government cadre services.

Chishty's book is as unassuming as his life is, a shiny exception to the class that he belongs to as a member of a prized group of civil servants who see themselves as part of a privileged master class.

His story begins with the tale of his early childhood life in his native village, when he had the comfort of a middle class life. However, before long, he was propelled to a struggle for survival once his father died, and his ancestral home was swallowed by mighty river Padma. From that moment the book transcends individual life, and emulates lives of millions of other Bangladeshis, striving for mere existence. From that point the book is no longer the story of a lone ranger; it is the story of people with similar background and aspirations.

Chishty entwines his personal life with the history of a nation so well that it becomes breathtakingly interesting. When I first picked up the book, I only wanted to glimpse through it for a later reading, but the book had such a spell on me that before I realized, I was hooked to it.

Starting from a nondescript village, Chishty's journey takes the readers to the urban life of Dhaka, then traverses through the ancient civilization of Mohenjo-Daro in Pakistan, and finally to the then-world capital, London. He delineates an unforgettable mosaic with rich tapestry and expands it like classical Indian music, reaching its tempo in the world of diplomacy, and high international politics.

Alone In The Breach is a book that every person of Bangladeshi origin must read, to know his/her own history. This is a book that would tell generations to come, the stories of their fathers, and their father's fathers, their lives, their dreams, their struggles, and their success, that defines the country called Bangladesh.

First Published on Technorati.