February 15, 2007

Mohsin Hamid

Most of you guys, readers of Addafication, will have a sense of the term "Exile Complex."

It is a feeling of nostalgia for a home far away. The nostalgia is often wrapped around imaginations of a city - its smells, sights, sounds, and friends it contains.

The city remains geographically far but conversationally very near. It is evoked in the movies we like to watch. Perhaps more so in the music we listen to, and the older we get, the more we realize the encroaching influences of our old selves, old homes, and old cities, in our lives.

This past summer, I greatly enjoyed Baul music. But when I was thirteen, if you had snuk in a Baul or Lalon tape in my replete collection of the Seattle Grunge Scene, chances are, I'd be a bit annoyed with you. Things have changed. As have tastes.

All this then fall under the "Exile complex"

Also, in some ways, it is because of this very Exile complex, that we South Asians, Bengali, Indian, Pakistani or what have you, enjoy reading post-colonial literature so much.

Post-colonial literature?

I am sure Wiki has a definition, but just think of the kinds of literature Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth write.

They are about the former colonies and one of the objectives in these literatures is to show the effects of the long colonial hangover that exists in former colonies.
And the way in which people from the colonies, mostly Brown folks like you and me, negotiate modernity, westernization, et all, while trying to retain aspects of our cultural and religious pasts.

That said, post colonial lit can get a little tiresome. Some greatest hits aside, a lot of the new stuff that comes out keep re-inventing the wheel. Soon, all plots and characters start to look the same.

But a breath of fresh air, in the midst of such re-inventions, is Mohsin Hamid.

In fact, Mr. Hamid may even be my hero.

Brought up in Lahore, educated at Princeton and Harvard, Hamid worked for McKinsey and eventually wrote his first novel, "Moth Smoke," which became rather huge. The story: Darashikoh, a banker in Lahore manages to lose his job and fall in love with his best friend's wife at the same time. A life of drugs and crime await him and soon absorb him into its fold.

Lots of depth here though.

The story is an allegory of both the trial of Mughal prince Darashikoh by his brother (17th century), the infamous Mughal ruler Aurangzeb. Also allegorized is the state of Pakistan of the late 1990s when the country went nuclear.

So am eagerly awaiting Hamid's new novel, titled, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (forthcoming, Arpil 2007).

From Kirkus Reviews:

Changez (our hero) describes in eloquent detail his arrival in America as a
scholarship student at Princeton, his academic success and lucrative employment
at Underwood Samson, a “valuation firm” that analyzes its clients’businesses and
counsels improvement via trimming expenses and abandoning inefficient
practices—i.e., going back to “fundamentals.”
Changez’s success story is crowned
by his semi-romantic friendship with beautiful, rich classmate Erica, to whom he
draws close during a summer vacation in Greece shared by several fellow

But the idyll is marred by Erica’s distracted love for a former boyfriend
who died young and by the events of 9/11, which simultaneously make all
“foreigners” objects of suspicion... and exits the country that had promised so
much, becoming himself the bearded, vaguely menacing “stranger” who accompanies
his increasingly worried listener to the latter’s hotel...A superb cautionary
tale, and a grim reminder of the continuing cost of ethnic profiling,
miscommunication and confrontation.

If you find Mr. Hamid's work and thoughts as interesting as I do, check out an interview with Tehelka. An excerpt:

Tehelka: How has Pakistan negotiated modernity?

Hamid: In remarkably
complex ways. You have everything in Pakistan — mini zones of talibanisation,
fashion shows with girls wearing next to nothing in Lahore, parties in Karachi
where people are doing cocaine and Ecstasy, villages where people don’t have
education or electricity. It’s a huge collage.

The thing people often forget about Pakistan is that it’s enormous. It’s the sixth biggest country in the world. China, India, US, Indonesia, Brazil, then Pakistan. It’s only when you
compare it with something even more galactically vast like India that it seems
anything but huge. So there’s a huge diversity in the way people are dealing
with modernity — from complete hedonistic embrace to religious reactionism.

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