The World in My Hands
Art of Pandering
'World in My Hands' by Dr. K. Anis Ahmed, is based in a country named Pandua (not the town in West Bengal), which could be any country in the world today, specially a country in South Asia, or even Asia or Africa. In his first novel, Ahmed has seen man who had roamed the earth for several millennia. 'The Daily Pandua' we read about in the novel could be a daily newspaper in any country, today.
"The Panduan land was shifting, as it had done countless times before, as powerful rivers casually turned new corners and wiped out entire communities and settlements, river banks and paddy fields, schools and roads. An equally momentous change was about to sweep across the political landscape. It was hard to know if one should stay put on one's presumed-to-be-safe perch, or take one's chances and float like a dinghy on the swelling waters." That is how Ahmed tells the whole story in a few lines. Pandua is threatened by the vagaries of the mighty rivers, while other countries could face other natural unexpected disasters from earthquakes, tsunamis, or landslides, but man's behaviour would be the same.
Man's life has been a gamble, ever since he succumbed to greed, greed for wealth and power. There was hardly any difference between a man who bets on horses, ridden by other people, and men who bet on politicians or business ventures. Yet there was hope for mankind, when business and political decision makers still showed humane considerations, by refusing to remove the editor who is lying in a coma, but let the deputy editor run the newspaper.
We see the rise and fall of Kaiser Karim, from being the son of a provincial teacher, to "throwing gastronomic spectacles of a molecular nature, catered by flown-in star chefs", to eating "a thick roti and thin dhal, the colour of muddy rain water". From his own luxurious bathroom, "sitting on a captain's chair by the large, ancient, lion-footed brass bathtub, a place for meditation", to emptying himself into a jerrycan in the corner of the detention room. A man who took risks with his overconfidence, "Caution is for clerks and widows". Kaiser also believes that it is a "terrible, terrible thing power was in the hands of dunces", because till the end he does not realize that he too had enjoyed such power, which was equally terrible.
Hissam Habeeb, who loved to read and reread 'I, Claudius', who fell even before he could rise to the heights he yearned for, a man who read management guides, think-tank circulars, self-help books and pornography, but built a bonfire out of them in the end, "the most useless kind of books I've ever read." Also a man who could not win the only woman he really loved, and failed the only woman who really loved him.
Among the women of Pandua, I see Natasha as a true descendent of the Mitochondrial Eve, a woman who lifts herself from being first a daughter and then a wife, steps out of the Lakshman rekha, to take over not only her own life, but that of her son, and also her husband's business empire, without expecting anyone to hold her hand. Duniya is still trapped within the Lakshman rekha, though she is not aware of it, a young, very energetic woman, trapped between the materialist world of the west and her ancestral traditional life in the east.
'The World in My Hands' tells us how man has always manipulated fellow man's greed and ambition, holding out the proverbial carrot. Even educated, intelligent human beings, who could see the stick behind the carrot, still yearn for the carrot, and plead with those who hold the carrot, "Do what ever it takes" as long as they can reach their goals. And such men feel their guilt, when "what ever it takes" has been done, and it is too late to undo it. Then they would try to make amends by making sacrifices, to no avail.
"You good people want your meat, but you want someone else to do the slaughter." That is what we are all doing, though we do not wish to admit it. Instead of trying to be useful to all life on earth, we are trying to use everyone and every resource on earth for our own personal gain and satisfaction. Kinship, friendship, social connections, loyalty to once country or place of work all have become empty words.
When the graffiti, "Daily Pandering - Regime's Lapdog" comes up, on the gate of the newspaper office, it gives a new meaning to 'pander', from what it used to be when the Oxford dictionary used the example, "newspapers are pandering to people's baser instincts".
Anis Ahmed has been recognized as an emerging young writer from Bangladesh writing in English. I would like to call him a writer from South Asia first, then a writer from Asia and ultimately a promising writer in the world. Writers should never be identified by meaningless labels created through barriers erected by man himself. Since the only way for us in South Asia to cross our language barriers is by writing in English, the only language which we all share in common, Ahmed has shared this novel in English. That is how I was able to read it. Even though Tahmina Anam had called it "darkly funny", with due respect for her, I could not find it so funny, and would like to call it "darkly illuminating".
In order to share this literary creation with all other South Asians, we should try to translate it into as many other languages as possible, perhaps under the 'Dhaka Translation Centre'.