Sometimes the best thing going in favor of an author is the fact that he gave us a sneak preview of his sheer brilliance in the form of hist first book (The Moth Smoke) and an even more riveting second book (The Reluctant Fundamentalist). Sometimes it is an innovative style of narrating a story, that no one would dare to imitate, lest one diminish oneself in one’s readers’ eyes. Sometimes it is both.
Mohsin Hamid’s latest book is another experiment with the second person narrative. His first book gave ‘you’ the seat of the judge, who was to decide upon the guilt of the parties in his narration. In the second, ‘you’ became the American having a tete-a-tete with Changez in the markets of Old Anarkali. In his latest book on ‘How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia’, Mr. Hamid has plunged ‘you’ in to a self-help book where you are the lead star of his story!
You start out from humble beginnings. You are a sick little kid lying under your mother’s bed in a tiny village. You move into the city with the rest of your family where your father works as a cook in people’s homes. You go through education. And against the advice of the self-help book, you go ahead and fall for the pretty girl. You get involved with a bunch of idealists in college. And although you never really complete college for various reasons, you manage to figure out the tricks of the trade from a master. Soon you move on to start a business of making potable water that sells under the name of an established brand and pick things up from there. You get your hands dirty, butter up a bureaucrat, and move on to become even bigger. And when greed comes to you in the form of a brother-in-law, you listen to him and borrow loans to become bigger still. By this time, you have a wife and a son, but your love for the pretty girl prevents you from ever truly loving your own wife. And that is something that you never really stop doing; loving the pretty girl!
The book is vague enough to leave a lot to the reader’s mind. It could be set in Pakistan where the author hails from. Or, it could be based in India. As an Indian, I like to believe that it is set in India. However, if there was one thing going for Hamid in this book, it was the fact that, it could be just about anyone from ‘Rising Asia’ that he was alluding to in his book. If you come from a tiny obscure village, you can start from the first chapter. If your beginnings are not filled with abject poverty, you can fast forward a few pages, so on and so forth.
However, I have one thing against this self-help book. It is solely a male perspective. A Self-help book designed for a man in rising Asia who wants to get filthy rich! The book almost seems to have that unstated addition; ‘If you are a woman in rising Asia, who is planning on getting filthy rich, abandon all hope. Now! Rising Asia is no place for a woman who wants to stand on her own feet, and stand tall. Unless, you are a pretty girl who does not mind using your looks and sleeping around, to gain your freedom and independence and maybe, even make it big! But if you are just the average woman who believes that she is going to make it on her own; make a small ripple in the pond before fading away, wake up from that fairy tale! If you live in the village, prepare to be married before you finish school and more importantly, prepare to turn yourself into a child-bearing machine that ages before her time and withers away into oblivion…’
But then again, maybe that was one of the many messages Mohsin Hamid strived to drive home!