“Shutrodhor” by Zahid Newaz: a journey through our time

Shutrodhor (Abishkar Publication, 2021) begins with the disappearance of Anwar Ali. The sky blue shirt he wore the day he disappeared ends up at Rosario Automatic Dry Cleaners, linking dry cleaner owner Rosie to Anwar Ali’s son Saikat Hassan. The story that begins with a mystifying air, evoking endless possibilities, ends with a harrowing reality that we find ourselves oddly accustomed to.

Rosie almost has a similar story to tell. Her husband had suddenly disappeared one day almost 30 years ago. She remembers the pain and difficulties she had to go through raising her only son. The fight was indeed colossal for her, so much so that she hardly had time to look for her husband, even less to find the people who played a role in his disappearance.

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After all these years, when she meets Saikat, a son searching for his father who disappeared in much the same way, she instantly feels connected to his grief and refuses to stay away any longer. She decides to do whatever she can to help Saikat find her father.

The search for Anwar Ali becomes a journey to uncover the truth. The truth that peels like an onion, revealing with each layer the political reality of our time. At one point, Rosie recalls her son commenting on how capitalism takes people away from their roots and provides them with new roots. Rosie, the mother who walks the earth on her own terms, defies the pressure to move and clings to her grief, her old home and her old memories.

Hironpur, where Anwar Ali lived, becomes a microcosm of the country we live in, the country which, at 50, is going through a precarious period.

Anwar Ali wrote constantly about the issues that tormented people; he wrote against the powers that be because he was sure it was his democratic right. He was a one man army. When Rosie goes looking for her, Saikat expresses concern about the repercussions of ruffling the feathers of politicians; in response, she rather nonchalantly tells him that they surely can’t kill them. For a reader living in this era, Rosie’s answer may seem a little too implausible. Or maybe not, maybe a little courage is all it takes to defy and defy rampant acts of irregularity and injustice.

Although the book’s pane says it’s the story of a surreal country, Zahid Newaz’s novel is grounded in reality. When Márquez was talking to journalists in Western countries after the release of the English translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude, it bothered him a little – and he found it amusing too – that they took the book for completely magical. As Salman Rushdie later said in a tribute to Márquez, the reality in this part of the world doesn’t work that way. Sometimes using metaphors and magic is the only way to tell our stories. But that doesn’t make it any less real, and on the contrary, the story becomes more vivid.

Towards the end, Rosie asks another companion who accompanies her on this journey: “Would we continue like this? and the answer comes, “Yes, for now.” After that, she sees an endless procession of sky-blue shirts floating through the air.

At the end of the book, I also said, yes, for now.

Sumaya Mashrufa is a writer and she hopes to tell the stories of people who live by force inside her head. In her spare time, she takes photos creating a visual diary of that time.

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