At Red Shift Book Cafe on October 23, Bloomsbury India announced Shazia Omar’s latest publication, Dark Diamond, a fast paced, historical adventure story, set in 1685 Bengal.
Dark Diamond is the story of Lord Shaista Khan, Mughal Viceroy of Bengal, who in 1685 is the most powerful man in the world. Under Lord Khan’s rule Bengal has flourished. It is the cosmopolitan centre of culture and commerce, bursting with cotton, silk and magnificent spices. Yet such a veritable treasure chest does not go unnoticed and many unscrupulous eyes are watching Bengal’s rich shores, looking for a chance to plunder its wealth and beauty. Not only must Lord Khan keep these forces at bay, he must also neutralise the curse of his most beloved possession, the dark diamond, Kalinoor, evil sister diamond of the famous Kohinoor, the diamond that now adorns the British Crown Jewels.
The book is crammed with historical facts woven into a canvas of magic realism and is sure to give the reader a few nights of fun.
I wanted to write a book that recollects Bengal at its finest and portrays a hero whom we can adore, one who fought for the freedom of thought and expression
The event started with an introduction and welcome note from Sal Imam, the owner of Red Shift Cafe, then moved on to a slide show by Shazia Omar, where she spoke a little about her new book, what inspired her to write it and the journey itself, from when she started writing it to some of the challenges and hurdles she faced in order to complete it. She began by introducing some of her key characters in the novel, and talking about the cultural and political setting of the story. The first slide was of a painting of Noorjahan and Jahangir sitting opposite each other, which Shazia used to explain the background and relevance of her key characters and their relation to the power-play and intrigues of the seventeenth century Mughal court: “Noorjahan’s brother, Asif Khan, was one of the key players in establishing Shahjahan as the next emperor because Shahjahan was married to his daughter Arjumand. And Arjuman’s brother is Shaista Khan, who is the key protagonist in my story.”
She then moved on to another slide of a portrait of Emperor Aurangzeb: “Aurangzeb was the emperor during the time that this story takes place, which is 1685. What was beautiful about the Mughal culture was that it was very open and floral an all about cultural expression and Aurangzeb came along with a very different set of beliefs. His very traditional Islamic beliefs was in clash with Shayista Khan, who was a Sufi and had come from a Persian lineage. But when Aurangzeb became emperor, in which Shaista Khan had a role to play, which I’ve brought out in the story, Khan is left with an emperor who’s values he no longer believes in, and he is in conflict over whether to keep supporting his nephew (Aurangzeb), and this was one of the challenges I tried to explore in the story.”
In talking about why she decided to make Shaista Khan her protagonist, Shazia explains that while she was doing her research, she noticed that there wasn’t a lot documented on him. “He led Bengal for twenty years into this amazing space where it was one of the most popular and wealthy cultural centres of the world and yet all the history books really say about him is that he lost pathetically to Shivaji, so then you question why is history not supporting Bengal’s heroes and that one of the reasons why I wanted to explore a little more on him.”
The event then moved on to a conversation session between Professor Firdous Azim, Chair of the English and Humanities Department of BRAC University, and Shazia, where they discussed Shazia’s journey as a writer and a member of the literary community of Dhaka.
When asked by Firdous why she chose to write about Mughal Bengal, Shazia said, “I wanted to write a book that recollects Bengal at its finest and portrays a hero whom we can adore, one who fought for the freedom of thought and expression.”
The evening ended on a high, with an enactment of a scene from her book.
“Dark Diamond offers us a brown hero,” said Saad Z. Hossain, adding that school children studying Bangla history should read this book.
Writer and historian William Dalrymple who has described the book as “A rollicking, rip-roaring, swash-buckling romp in Mughal Bengal.”
Dark Diamond is Shazia’s third book. She has also written Intentional Smile: A Girl’s Guide to Positive Living (Bloomsbury, co-authored by Merrill Khan, illustrated by Lara Salam), and Like a Diamond in the Sky (Penguin/Zubaan).
Shazia’s books may be ordered in Bangladesh from Bookworm. www.facebook/BookwormBangladesh