Mohsin Hamid's recent book is an explosion of ideas, interpretations and offers scope for unending debates
This Spring, keep a little corner for Mohsin Hamid, a management consultant who became an author by design, now into his third book How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia. About half-a-decade ago, he had the world at his feet with The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a book that aroused expectations so profound and wide that he could as well have defied an armada. It found the readers keen, no, zealous. And in no time, Mohsin had carved out a following that transcended religion, region, and indeed, language. The book was translated into more than 30 languages. And like a good film, many found themselves visiting Mohsin’s book more than once. Just as the author would have liked. Mohsin had once, famously quipped, “I’d rather people read my book twice than only half-way through.”
Mohsin left many questions answered. It was a fine strategy, a tool used to evoke response. With his dramatic monologue, he was like a teacher who encouraged his pupils to think for themselves. Now, is the time for encore, well actually, no an encore, but another refined work by Mohsin. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, as it turns out, is well-flanked. On either side lay books that have evoked meaningful praises and set in motion a process of fresh delineation of thoughts and words.
Around seven years before The Reluctant Fundamentalist came Moth Smoke, which gave us a portrait of life in Pakistan. So well-layered and nuanced was the work that Nadine Gordimer hailed it for “the power of imagination and skill to orchestrate personal and public themes”. Moth Smoke was adapted to television. And may just make it to the silver screen too, like The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
Now comes How To…, a book released earlier this month; and promoted as “a novel about a thoroughly likable, thoroughly troubled striver in the messiest, most chaotic ring of global economy”. Mohsin, the master of understatement that he is, presents a very different picture. Writing in the opening chapter, he begins, “Look, unless you’re writing one, a self-help book is an oxymoron. You read a self-help book so someone who isn’t yourself can help you, that someone being the author. This is true of the whole self-help genre. It’s true of how-to books, for example.” Then, in a classical Mohsin way, he unobtrusively contradicts that in the next paragraph, leaving you thinking. “None of the foregoing means self-help books are useless. On the contrary they can be useful indeed. But it does mean that the idea of self in the land of self-help is a slippery one. And slippery can be good.” Oh, really! Really. The way Mohsin builds his narrative, layers his plot is intriguing, his skills second to no inquisitor. He says what is required, barely so. He leaves a lot unsaid. And in that lies an explosion of ideas, interpretations, scope of unending debates, even sermons. He describes the book rather succinctly. “This book is a self-help book. Its objective, as it says on the cover, is to show you how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. And to do that it has to find you, huddled, shivering, on the packed earth under your mother’s cot one cold, dewy morning. Your anguish is the anguish of a boy whose chocolate has been thrown away, whose remote controls are out of batteries, whose scooter is busted, whose new sneakers have been stolen.” Mohsin may not say so, but haven’t we all faced such a fate, such dilemma?
Then a little later, he makes a profound statement most simply. “In the city, ten thousand makes you a poor man.” No sermons, no diatribes. He just feels the pulse. And we as readers feel his passion. In Mohsin’s ability to link up our fate, our experiences with the author’s words lies the success of How To… It is aeons removed from the world of Count Your Chickens… or You Can Win. But from the fare on offer, Mohsin can count his chickens. They are well-hatched. And win he certainly can. He does different things. And does them differently too. It would please somebody answering to the name of Shiv Khera!