Oh, for the comfort of the real monsoon

In the storms, it took me 24 hours to get from London to Cornwall. It never occurred to me that Brit

In Bangladesh, every monsoon day includes a downpour. It usually arrives some time in the afternoon, between a late lunch and an afternoon tea, and is the perfect time to curl up with a book and listen to the thunder cracking overhead. On these afternoons, I am usually torn between enjoying the very particular sensation of being indoors while the weather happens outside, and the nagging worry that a flood will arrive, with all its ensuing human misery.

But on Friday morning, I had no such ambivalence while I watched the violent rainstorm outside my window in north London. It only lasted a few hours - a mere sneeze of a shower, so it never occurred to me that later that afternoon, when I tried to board a train to Cornwall, my journey would be delayed - no, smeared - by this very storm.

In the end, it took 24 hours to get to the Port Eliot Lit Fest, where I was scheduled to give a reading. After four trips to Paddington, two back-and-forths on the Bakerloo Line to Waterloo, I finally set off on Saturday morning, wedged in the aisle of a train to Bristol. From where I stood, peering over the tops of the heads of those lucky people who'd managed to get a seat, I noted that every single person who was reading was busy devouring the latest Harry Potter - whether an unparalleled collective experience, or an act of mass conformism, I cannot say.

All was well once I arrived on site. The Port Eliot Lit Fest, now in its fifth year, takes place in the grounds of an enormous stately home in St Germans. On Saturday afternoon, I despatched my duty at an event titled "The Immigrants". I shared a stage with Kamila Shamsie and Hisham Matar, and, as we chatted beforehand, we decided we were uncomfortable with the term "immigrant". Hisham suggested we think of ourselves as imports rather than immigrants. By this definition, he said, an illegal immigrant would be renamed a "bootleg import" - perhaps I should suggest this to our new Home Secretary.

Who will buy The World?

I was going to tell a story about the time I had to take the Life in the UK Test - which I managed to pass only after spending all night taking practice papers on an internet site called BritishExam.com. But instead, I decided to write a short story about Bangladeshi migrant labour in the Middle East.

The story takes place in a real location called The World, which is a series of private islands being built off the coast of Dubai. The islands have been constructed in the shape of the world, and people can buy the countries; for instance, Richard Branson is rumoured to have bought England. I've recently become rather obsessed with The World. But more than the humour implicit in these obscene acts of consumption, the untold stories of those who are dredging these islands out of the ocean have captured my imagination.

Other events also alluded to the theme of untold stories. On Sunday morning, the sun shining in this one small patch of the country, Kamila read the moving story of a playwright caught between his conscience and his fear of the looming military dictatorship in Pakistan.

Coup - or no coup

In Bangladesh, no one is sure whether a coup has occurred. Some have been hopeful that the military-backed caretaker government will only stay in power for as long as a fair election can take place; others, worried by the mass arrests and the flouting of due process, believe this is just the beginning of a Musharraf-style takeover. The crucial difference here is that, in Bangladesh, the Islamic right are in full support of the new regime - this is possibly due to the fact that none of them are among the ones in jail.

The same cannot be said for the leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Hasina, who was recently dragged off to jail under charges of corruption and extortion, raising the question of whether the government is interested in fair elections, or a field cleared of any real challenge to its authority. In the meantime, the waters are rising in Tewkesbury, not Dhaka, a volatile climate presaging a much greater threat to our security than tanks or terrorism.

Tahmima Anam's novel "A Golden Age" is published by John Murray (£10.99 paperback)

This article first appeared in the 30 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Brown v Cameron. Game over?