For lovers of traveling and history
Shamsul Alam's From Love Lane to the World: Tales of Travel & More (Sea Sands, 2021) is a selection of his magazine and newspaper articles, based on his many travels over the years. This book takes readers on a journey through those places visited, along with their fascinating histories. Each chapter is an article dedicated to a place of Alam's travels—Italy, Mexico, Spain, Peru, Russia, and Tunisia, to name a few. He also dedicates a few chapters to Bangladesh, specifically Chattogram and Cumilla, places he has strong associations with.
The title of the book led me to expect a memoir of the writer's travels. But while the book is speckled with some personal anecdotes, it is the histories behind the locations that get the spotlight. Most of the chapters start with a brief account of the author's visit to a place before directly taking us to the stories behind them.
Born in Love Lane, Chattogram, and schooled in Cumilla, Shamsul Alam studied law in Dhaka University and in universities in England, including at Cambridge. By his own admission, Alam never planned on being a writer, yet his voice here is fluent, with a wry sense of humor. He does not go into long leaden essays, nor does he meander with pointless details. He rather livens up his storytelling by injecting opinions and insights of his own about the storied events. He does digress at times but with a discerning sense of self-awareness. It is this self-awareness that makes him freely acknowledge in the prologue that this book does not aim to be life-changing, nor is it an attempt at fame, but rather a medium for self-expression.
From Love Lane is filled with little hidden gems from history—the various names of Chattogram in the past and the speculative backgrounds behind them; the gold chain that could have changed the history of both the Mughal and the Ottoman empires; and Lenin's long-standing connection with the British Library. "As the aircraft circled on, I recalled that prior to the conquest by the Muslims, Chattogram, lying on the disputed frontier between the Hinduism of Bengal and Buddhism of Myanmar, formed a source of almost chronic feud between the rulers of Tripura and Arakan", Alam writes. But it is the small interjections of his own stories that make the book stand out. For instance, the chapter based on his college days as a student of Cumilla's Victoria College is a personal favourite. It is filled with nostalgia and stories of coming of age with his friends, ending with a brief account of their current whereabouts today, in their "sunset years".
The writer does not deliver the stories of his personal travels with words of embellishment or sentiment. Even the account of his wife, researcher and chemist Dr Shirin Alam, being diagnosed with a terminal disease during one of their travels, an illness that eventually took her life, is stripped of any emotion, and yet laden with meaning. The delivery is impactful and it almost catches you off-guard. This forthrightness and self-restraint in Shamsul Alam's writing are what make it truly an impressive read.
The book does suffer from the major flaw of weak publication and editing, which at times takes away from the pleasure of reading. It is laced not only with spelling and punctuation errors, but also inconsistent typography. It is a pity, because the writing deserves better editing. However, although distracting at times, these flaws are not substantial enough to completely derail one's enjoyment of the book. Above all, it is a well-researched and well-written book that will be one to seek out for travel and history enthusiasts.
Shamsul Alam's From Love Lane to the World: Tales of Travel & More (Sea Sands, 2021) is available at Bookworm Bangladesh.
Towrin Zaman is a researcher who loves reading anything and everything.