Reviewed by Gita Viswanath

Djinn City

 

Title: Djinn City
Author: Saad Z. Hossain
Publisher: Aleph, 2017
Pages: 447
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Saad Hossain conjures up a fantastical world of djinn in his second novel, Djinn City. As an allegory of contemporary times, the novel, peopled by strangely named characters such as Indelbed and Sikkim, psychotic men, overbearing women and drunken louts, creates a world of business conglomerates, deceit and revenge, crime and passion and existential crises. This is a world that oscillates between the human and the djinn worlds in which djinn play havoc by causing earthquakes, tsunamis and fires.

The novel opens with the motherless child Indelbed, the quintessential poor cousin in a family of diplomats, subjected to ridicule and negligence alongside denial of access to school education. His cousin Rais, the diplomat’s son, is the only one sympathetic to Indelbed. His father Kaikobad, who lives in a permanent state of inebriation, is later revealed to be an emissary to the djinn world. Kaikobad goes into coma induced through the machinations of the evil Matteras, a psychotic djinn with enormous powers. He is endowed with impressive auctoritas – a term that indicates the massive influence a djinn has on djinndom. Indelbed, a cross between a djinn mother and human father has to be sent away as he could be the next victim of the evil djinn. From then on, the novel races through complexly twisted plots narrated with elements of the bizarre, the grotesque and with dark humour.

The book ends with a Great War fought to reclaim the glory of Gangaridai in a narrative of heightened pace and descriptions of deadly weapons, airships, submarines and nuclear warheads, all of which reveals the author’s sharp understanding of technical details. At the centre of the war is Gangaridai, the seat of an ancient civilization now in a state of ruin, its population decimated in the Great War. Unlike epic wars that claim to be fought on sublime moral grounds with victory of good over evil as a given, this war ends with the retrieval of more mundane but important things for survival in the modern world. ‘This was enough to take back power, it was everything,’ (emphasis original) says the omniscient third person narrator.

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By Farah Ghuznavi

Saad Hi Res 3

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I enjoy playing god with my characters. I like building worlds that are not quite real, but reflect parts of reality for different people. There are a lot of hypothetical situations you can explore when you’re writing fiction, and even more when you’re writing fantasy and sci-fi. But mostly, I like telling a good story, I like making up characters, I enjoy the idea that I’m creating something that other people might appreciate.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I’m editing my second novel, which is tentatively called Djinn City. It’s about djinns living in Dhaka, causing mayhem, and the subset of humans who interact with them. I’m not taking the folk tale approach to djinns, but I’m building up their culture, their history, their character from the ground up.

This is a Bengal centric novel. In genre fiction, the centre of the world, the kind of focal point of history and the future is always some place like London, or New York, white places with Eurocentric cultures. This is normal, since almost all genre writers in English are of European descent. In my novel, Bengal is the centre of history and magic and the future, everywhere else exists in peripheral darkness.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I got nothing. Writing aesthetic is for prize winners. I’m a genre guy. The most I can hope for is to rip off George RR Martin twenty years from now and get on HBO. If HBO still exists in 2036.

By Farah Ghuznavi

shazia

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Writing is my favourite form of self-torture.  Playing with words is pleasurable, fantasizing plotlines from foreplay to climax is enjoyable, but then… getting the words to convey the plot, now there’s the hair-yanking, teeth-grinding, eye-gouging challenge.  Still, the creative process is exhilarating, and in the end it allows me to share thoughts and ideas with others.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I have published two books this summer with Bloomsbury India. Dark Diamond is a historical fantasy set in 1685 about the Mughal Viceroy of Bengal, Subedar Shayista Khan, who built the Lal Bagh Fort.  I was looking for a time in history that Bengalis could be proud of and a hero who could inspire our youth.  I wanted to look beyond 1971, to remind our youth of our rich, secular, pluralistic past. On another note, I wanted to portray the outer, inner and secret meanings of Islam that come under threat when radical power structures are in place.

Intentional Smile: A Girl’s Guide to Positive Living is a mind, body, spirit book about staying happy and healthy.  It is based on my experience as a yoga instructor and a social psychologist, and a working mother who has struggled with chronic depression.  My co-author, Merrill Khan, is a school counsellor and a life coach.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

In my first novel, Like a Diamond in the Sky, my protagonist was a young junkie who loved rock ‘n roll. Inspired by the Beatniks and folk musicians of America, I tried to simplify and pare down my sentences and paragraphs as much as possible.

The protagonist of Dark Diamond, on the other hand, is a Sufi warrior and swashbuckling hero.  I allowed my writing to be inspired by Sufi poets, but also kept characters like Indiana Jones in mind.