Growing up in Dhaka in the eighties, at a time when English novels – if not Shakespeare, Dickens or Kipling – were gold dust, my small collection of books made me a literary boy about town. Not an accolade to be proud of. I’m talking about a town where books equated to boredom: the loner’s saviour, the nerd’s respite from memorising textbooks. Every now and then I would request my father to buy us more books from his trips abroad. He would nod in agreement but without much assurance. He appeared quite content with the weekend supplements he would religiously devour. Until one day when Sohail, my brother, and I felt a mixture of astonishment, excitement and reverence because our father had brought home a special book. It was wrapped in linen and he diligently placed it on top of our bookshelf. It was the Holy Qur’an in English and Sohail slapped my wrist when I tried to touch it: ‘Oi you think you’re clean, eh? Ablution first.’
I never challenged my brother – he was my senior by two years. ‘Respecting elders… part and parcel of being a good boy,’ my mother would always remind me before she passed away in a tragic car accident five years ago. Five years ago, I was only eleven and Sohail thirteen, but he would show immense maturity and grace, especially when softly wiping the rolling tears off my cheeks. ‘Boys don’t cry,’ he would whisper, carefully hiding his own misty eyes.