Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mohsin Hamid, changing Pakistan's Image

Mohsin Hamid

Written By: Ahsen Malik

In a time when Pakistan’s image is associated with illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, one cannot thank enough for writers like Mohsin Hamid. There is no doubt that he has changed the image of Pakistan and has given it new dimensions for Western readers. All of his three books are set in Lahore and completely shock the Western reader when he learns that Pakistan too is not so different. (Even though being a third world country.)

‘Places do things to you’, he writes in an essay for New York Times. Places really influence what and how you write. And Hamid, being a Lahori cherishes this idea. Lahore is one of those busy and culturally rich cities whose branches are drenched in royal grandeur. The citizens beside the dying Ravi river are as diverse as human nature; cunning, smart, lazy, content and agitated. They are known for their non-stop talking habits too. And we see a Lahori character talking non-stop for 184 pages in his novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It is no doubt a fine collection to the books written about the 9/11 tragedy. Hamid doesn’t try to explain how much of a controversy it has been neither does he allows the reader to perceive anything.

He writes in a second person narrative, constantly addressing the reader, hinting how to read and manipulate the novel. His tone is spot on and you never really know that is there any real danger lurking or it’s just the masterfully controlled irony and suspense… Hamid tackles the Pakistani social issues in his other novel Moth Smoke.

He tracks the transition of feudalism based on birth to the feudalism based on wealth. He also discusses personal struggles and volition. He takes on a search to find the portrait of the young contemporary people of Pakistan and somehow puts his suggestions for the trail. The other amusing elements like drama, romance and suspense are still there making the book a complete treat. Moth Smoke won a Betty Trask Award, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book, and was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. If you really want to see a writer in all his might with one heck of a story to tell than you should check Hamid’s third book. Written in a style of a self-help book, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a story about a boy who want to make immense wealth. The book sometimes reminds you of the creator of The Great Gatsby, Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald.

It starts off parodying a business self-help book and becomes a story of powerful reverie on life in a time of soul-shaking change. We encounter the political, social and religious transition of Pakistan and the class and gender inequalities. The novel ends with one of the most powerful and moving sentence I have ever come across (and I have come across a hell lot of sentences, trust me) and it will move you too and be with you for ages to come

See, the thing is that literature is something that has been overlooked in Pakistan for a while now. But sincere efforts like the city-specific annual literature festivals and writers like Mohsin Hamid are the beacons for the Pakistani literary scene.

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