The book “The Inheritors” by Nadeem Zaman explores what it means to live in a world where power and privilege can afford to sustain relationships veneered by half-truths.
Nisar Chowdhury returns to Dhaka, the city of his forefathers, from Chicago, feeling estranged to both. The city that awaits him, however, is not the one that lives in his memory. It is a place now replete with its own share of tales from new islands of splendour.
Nisar must come to terms with his father’s decision to sell their patrimony – remnants of their link to this country. He meets people who have morphed along with the city, while unravelling the ways of Dhaka’s new world – wading through a haze of deceit, guile, friendship and love.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
On a humid, overcast September day promising rain, I walked out of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, and instinctively looked for Mr Ehsan. Then I remembered he’d said he wouldn’t be able to meet me at the airport due to other obligations. So, I had contacted someone else, someone I was much more eager to see.
A small, wiry man, white-haired with a bright orange hennaed beard, beelined over to me through the throngs. With him were four young men dressed in khaki uniforms who began grabbing my luggage off the carts and loading them into the silver minivan waiting at the curb that I was hoping I was not the reason for being there, so obnoxiously did it take up the space of three vehicles and left a line of cars in an already congested situation in a further clog.
‘Just like your father you look,’ he said, and drew me in. Rais Ali was a family institution. Rais Kaka, as I called him, held me in a tight embrace. Soon his shoulders were shaking. ‘What took you so long? And when will your father and mother let me see them one more time before I go?’ He gave his eyes one swipe each with his palm and led me to the minivan. One of the four young men climbed into the driver’s seat and the others settled in around us, with Rais Kaka and I centred in the middle row, and we started pushing through the mass of humanity that sprawled endlessly in every direction.
It took about half an hour to navigate the crush of human traffic and exit the airport, and then another fifteen or twenty minutes to circle the roundabout just outside and start heading south. Rais Kaka asked me many times during the ride if I was completely struck by the difference between Dhaka now and the Dhaka I remembered. I wasn’t. My memories were confined to my cocooned existence back then. Our house, the homes of my grandparents and relatives and friends, school, and Dhaka Club were all I knew of the city.
The driver proved a madman, weaving in and out between vehicles like he was riding a crotch rocket instead of a small bus, and by the time we arrived at the house I’d gone through several rounds of nausea. Rais Kaka commandeered the team of servants and my luggage was swept out of the minivan and disappeared inside.
I followed Rais Kaka to my old bedroom. I might as well have been walking through the home of a stranger, or as was the case, one that I was preparing to sell. The old bedroom, therefore, held no special meaning. In thirteen years, I don’t think I slept in that room a total of thirteen days. I was tearfully afraid of the dark, and my parents allowed me to sleep in their room, a habit that I broke myself of within six months of moving to the US, mortified that I’d be ridiculed if it ever became known. I never gave much thought to why that was not a factor in Bangladesh, probably because Bangladesh was familiar, America not, and in the brutal new days of settling in and getting my reluctant immigrant’s footing, I felt I had to grow up.
‘You have the whole house, Baba,’ Rais Kaka said, throwing open thick curtains that blocked out almost all light. ‘But I thought you might prefer your childhood room. I used to sit with you right there, you don’t remember, when your parents had guests and you didn’t want to be alone.’
‘We wasted a lot of your life with our petty demands, didn’t we?’ I said.
‘Baba, never,’ he said.
Walking by the window my attention was caught by what I saw across our once massive backyard, now reduced to a patch of ground barely large enough for a sandbox, no longer lush green grass but hard-paved cement. Rais Kaka came and stood next to me.
‘I thought it was half that size,’ I said. ‘The photos Mr Ehsan sent weren’t the best.’
Rais Kaka let out a breath and we stared out the window in silence. Tears were rolling down his face.
‘If your father was here today,’ he said but couldn’t finish. He broke out of the spell and went to the door and yelled for food to be served immediately.
‘We’ll eat together,’ I said. ‘I’ll take a shower and put on clean clothes. Then you and I can sit and talk properly.’
‘Baba, I wish I could, but I have to go back to work,’ he said. ‘I took the morning off for you, but my boss wants me there as soon as I’m done here. Do you need anything else?’
‘I can ask those hundred other people if I do,’ I said. ‘They all work here, for us?’
‘No,’ said Rais Kaka. ‘Mr Ehsan arranged for them for you, just for today. You have the cook Jatin, the caretaker Almas, and you have me, once a week, on my day off on Fridays.’ He turned to leave, then drew me in and held me. ‘Forgive a foolish old man, Baba.’
After Rais Kaka left, I stood looking out the window at the apartment building, its name brandished on the side of the roof twenty floors up in large neon-green letters: Eternal Complex; a name that fit the temperament my father would be in for the rest of his life over the loss of his family lands.
This was the new Dhaka. More accurately, the Dhaka that was new to me. Buildings like this had colonized every sliver of land their developers could conquer, and a new breed of its upwardly mobile denizens, as well as the scions of old-money families, wanted their city to reflect their desires and compete with the world for their wealth.
Dark, heavy clouds moved in over Eternal Complex. Thunder rumbled. The first dots of rain flecked the window, and a gust of wind hurtled by like a gang of fleeing thieves. Then came the downpour, sudden, vicious, obscuring, and didn’t let up for the rest of the afternoon, evening, and night. Just as I started to turn away, a light came on at the top floor, filling the long window that wrapped around the apartment in the colour of a fiery orange sunset.
Excerpted with permission from The Inheritors, Nadeem Zaman, Hachette India. Read more about the book here and buy it here.