FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Another way to look at Pakistan
Updated:May 5, 2015
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
By Atul K Thakur
 
Discontent and Its Civilisations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York and London Author: Mohsin Hamid Publisher: Riverhead Books; Pgs: 240
 
Mohsin Hamid’s novels have shown his perfect mastery over complex themes like life, art, politics and the war on terror. This naturally makes him one of the most formidable chroniclers of Pakistan where real life situations are not devoid of the softness of art and music and, of course, bitterness from politics and terror. Mohsin is among those new entrants of writers in South Asia whose acclaim reaches far beyond borders and attains the capacity to critique discontent as well as its civilisations.
 
This book, a collection of his essays and reviews from the past 15 years, primarily establishes how Pakistan “plays a recurring role as villain in the horror sub-industry within the news business”. The idea of the book came into shape in 2010 when he was asked by Granta to contribute to a piece titled ‘How to write about Pakistan’. The inspiration furthered when Mohsin started living in Lahore more like a permanent resident rather than an absentee one.
 
Mohsin, the author of remarkable novels such as Moth Smoke (2000) and The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), left Lahore to stay in the western side of the world at the young age of 18. He attended Princeton, not only to become a McKinsey consultant and be known as the affluent bearer of “post-colonialism”, which was a supreme state of being before 9/11 but to later identify himself as a “nomad”, who could effortlessly see and narrate the erosion of civilisational attributes and modern aspirations.
 
As widely noticed and recognised, his writings are timeless and of-the-moment as well. He chooses to write on seemingly ordinary themes that, in essence, have universal significance. This could be said about intricate issues pertaining to love, language, ambition, power, corruption, religion, family and identity, among others. He makes a distinction in his narratives and that becomes evident reading different essays in this book. This is the hallmark of his writing and helps readers engage with his grasp of revealing the subtlety of “self, others and a common front”.
Thus, even having lived in different settings during his formative years, his sensibility is not limited back home where he has now the nostalgia of simpler days. He did not live those moments but he could feel past times. This is simply not something that is found commonly among the tribes indulging in writing heavier scripts on heavy issues.
 
Hamid admits his living in Pakistan as “self-exile from the United States”. This comes out while delving in “the great American novels”. He goes further to comment upon the legacies of Pakistan’s colonial past and bearings with the parochialism in its social-cultural existence. On this and dealing with other themes, Discontent and Its Civilisations presents enough ground to be called an engaging read.
 
So far, Mohsin has been known for his celebrated novels and this book of essays is his maiden attempt outside of long fictional scripts. The book gathers 30 pieces, many of them earlier published in publications like The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Guardian and Granta. A writer of deep perspectives, Mohsin has set a vibrant tone in his essays written at different points of his life through his observations on the post-9/11 years.
 
Hamid is quite at ease taking on board different topics. In The Reluctant Fundamentalist, he forwarded the story of a Pakistani expat in the US and how he copes with changed perceptions following the terror attack of 9/11. In parallel, the same character also comes to terms with his values, orientations and other emotions vis-à-vis being a resident of the eastern land, situated far away from the ground of unprecedented actions. But, unlike his novels, his collection of essays is not about only one broad issue. The essays are divided into three categories: life, art and politics. In fact, the brilliantly chosen title of the book is drawn from an essay that advocates “not for the clash but the confluence of cultures”.
 
The crux that comes out signifies the hope in Mohsin’s homeland that otherwise is badly riddled with troubles in its underbelly and outer fabric. But the hope stays, as discontent too can have its civilisations. The world outside does not know Pakistan through the same angle. Hence, the book has enough vitality to change the course of the debate on Pakistan.
 
As of now, the narratives on Pakistan are more problem-centric and do not go very far in pushing forward that experimental line to unravel the distinct potential of inquiry on a land that has a living civilisational culture in its fold, besides all celebrated discontents.
 
In a sort of representative essay called ‘Why they get Pakistan wrong’, the author reminds us of the fact that “the country’s annual death toll from terrorist attacks rose from 164 in 2003 to 3,318 in 2009”, a level exceeding the number of US citizens killed on September 11. In another essay called ‘Why drones don’t help’, he denounces the policies responsible for making the country a playground of terror and the “counter-terror exercise” of the west and local elites serving in the bureaucracy, the armed forces and politics.
 
As always, Mohsin Hamid is readable without forced effort. Discontent and Its Civilizations is another valuable addition to his body of work.
 
(The writer is a New Delhi based journalist and writer. He can be reached at summertickets@gmail.com)
 
The Daily Times, May 5, 2015
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image India’s Vice President Mohammed Hamid Ansari visited Armenia recently to celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
 
read-more
The US has slammed Pakistan for failing to crackdown on terror groups operating from "safe havens" inside its territory, and said the Nawaz Sharif government did not take any action against the LeT and JeM, which continue to operate openly.
 
read-more
In dispatching its  PLA (Peoples Liberation Army)  marines to Djibuti in the Horn of Africa on Wednesday (July 12 ) by amphibious ships, from the southern port of Zhanjiang, China has taken a significant step in enhancing its  trans-border military footprint.
 
read-more
It is becoming increasingly obvious that China is experiencing a sort of superiority obsession, imagining it can dominate and conquer the world. Several Chinese acts in the recent past indicate such an attitude. Asian nations, which are now apprehensive about China’s aggressive postures, are unclear how matters will shape up.
 
read-more
It is appalling to see how the struggle for self-determination in Kashmir has been reduced to bitter recriminations between Pakistan and India.
 
read-more
As Aadhaar becomes the norm in India, and gets skewered for the involuntary nature of its imposition, our northern neighbours, as is their wont, want to do a number that will make this appear benign.
 
read-more
South Asia is situated in a strategically important location and has always been bone of a contention for control by major powers.
 
read-more
It was just at the end of spring that the unquiet American President was talking big about being the man who can seal the deal on Israeli-Palestinian peace.
 
read-more
S.T. Lee Distinguished Lecture of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore on "India, ASEAN and Changing Geopolitics”
 
read-more
Column-image

Interview with Hudson Institute’s Aparna Pande, whose book From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy, was released on June 17.

 
Column-image

This is the continuing amazing spiritual journey of a Muslim man from Kerala who plunged into Vedic religion after a chance encounter with a Hindu mystic under a jackfruit tree in the backyard of his house when he was just nine. It is a story w...

 
Column-image

History is told by the victors but in our modern age, even contemporary events get - or are given - a slant, where some contributors soon get eclipsed from the narrative or their images tarnished.

 
Column-image

Humans have long had a fear of malignant supernatural beings but there may be times when even the latter cannot compare with the sheer evil and destructiveness mortals may be capable of. But then seeking to enable the end of the world due to it...

 
Column-image

Title: Reporting Pakistan; Author: Meena Menon; Publisher: Viking/Penguin Random House; Pages: 340; Price: Rs 599

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive