Short­cut to Suc­cess

Southasia - - CONTENTS - Atiya Ab­bas free­lances for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions and writes ex­ten­sively on ef­fects of mass me­dia.

Five years af­ter The Re­luc­tant Fun­da­men­tal­ist was pub­lished, Mohsin Hamid re­turns with his lat­est of­fer­ing, ‘How to get Filthy Rich in Ris­ing Asia,’ a funny ti­tle that had many young hope­fuls ask­ing: “So is it like a guide that tells you how to get filthy rich?”

Hamid is an author that many have a love-hate re­la­tion­ship with. As Tazeen Javed, who blogs at A Re­luc­tant Mind, writes, “I found his first book rather or­di­nary. Hamid was de­scrip­tive in Moth Smoke and his pro­tag­o­nist was odi­ous, ob­ses­sive and had no re­deem­ing qual­i­ties. He be­came in­tro­spec­tive in The Re­luc­tant Fun­da­men­tal­ist; the tone was im­proved greatly and the mono­logue in which the novella was writ­ten dom­i­nated the reader in such a way that it re­quired great ef­fort to see be­yond the pro­tag­o­nist’s point of view. With ‘How to Get Filthy Rich in Ris­ing Asia’ Hamid pre­sented his read­ers with prose that is beau­ti­ful, lyri­cal and pro­found.”

The pro­tag­o­nist is a young man whose rise and fall in Asia is doc­u­mented through th­ese steps. He could be you or me; in­deed this novel is ev­ery­one’s story about sur­vival, be it in the vil­lage or city, in busi­ness, in love or in life.

Hamid’s writ­ing is en­tirely in sec­ond per­son, a de­vice that is rem­i­nis­cent of the nar­ra­tor, Changez, in The Re­luc­tant Fun­da­men­tal­ist. Through this no-name Every­man, Hamid casts a cam­era’s eye in the small and the large, from the “meaty gully with the slen­der trickle of wa­ter” to “the era of cities, bound by its air­port and fi­bre­op­tic ca­bles to ev­ery great metropolis.” The pro­tag­o­nist starts a bot­tling wa­ter busi­ness, built upon a foun­da­tion of fraud and lies, much like ev­ery other busi­ness in the metropolis. De­spite his suc­cess, the Every­man yearns for the pretty girl he met when he was a teenager and even though he mar­ries an­other woman, has a son from her and even­tu­ally di­vorces her, he fol­lows the pretty girl’s ca­reer from mod­el­ling to cook­ing show host to the owner of a fur­ni­ture bou­tique. The long­ing for a lost love is ex­tremely poignant as mar­riages of con­ve­nience are ram­pant in this un­named city where cast, creed and sta­tus come into play while choos­ing a life part­ner.

Just like the book is struc­tured in twelve steps while try­ing to make sense of the chaos of story-telling and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the writer and reader; Hamid’s writ­ing is struc­tured in com­plex sen­tences and para­graph-length run-ons. This struc­tured chaos is ap­peal­ing but could have used tighter edit­ing as the nar­ra­tive suf­fers from clunky long sen­tences that have to be read twice to un­der­stand them.

The book is self-aware about its sta­tus as a ‘guide’ and tells the reader that this “self-help” tome might just pro­vide the an­swers one is look­ing for. It mocks it­self as a book and yet is sen­si­tive about its char­ac­ters and the reader’s emo­tions.

Hamid’s prose is beau­ti­ful and takes the reader on a jour­ney from the pu­trid depths to the sky­scrapers of the city. The author charts his char­ac­ters’ jour­neys with sen­si­tiv­ity and love. It makes the reader re­al­ize that here we are in this gi­gan­tic city, try­ing to sur­vive amidst pain, de­struc­tion and lone­li­ness. We con­tinue to get up in the morn­ing and try to make each day mean­ing­ful.

One of my favourite chap­ters was “Avoid ide­al­ists.” As our no-name pro­tag­o­nist en­ters univer­sity, he be­friends peo­ple from the stu­dent wing of a po­lit­i­cal party on whom he has to rely on to keep his room in the hos-

tel. “What’s true of self-help books is equally and in­evitably, true of peo­ple. Just as self-help books spout­ing ide­al­ism are best avoided, peo­ple do­ing so should be given wide berths too. Th­ese ide­al­ists tend to con­gre­gate around uni­ver­si­ties. There they find an amenable en­vi­ron­ment of young, im­pres­sion­able, mal­con­tented and am­bi­tious in­di­vid­u­als, in­di­vid­u­als who, were they leg­ends of yore in­stead of still-pim­ply and poor-per­sonal-hy­giene sport­ing men and women in con­tem­po­rary Asia, would be dash­ing off to slay dragons and tri­umph over ge­nies, in­di­vid­u­als, in other words, who give cor­po­real form to the term sucker,” writes Hamid.

As some­one who went to a pub­lic univer­sity, all of the above rings true. Univer­sity was a space that cul­ti­vated ide­al­ists, look­ing for young, en­er­getic youth who are ea­ger to be­lieve in any­thing and will jump on any band­wag- on to feel part of a cause. And then they turn into twisted, de­formed ver­sions of them­selves be­cause join­ing a po­lit­i­cal party did not re­ally turn out as they had planned. It is in­deed a sad sight, this loss of youth for ideals not worth believ­ing in.

Per­haps the best thing that Hamid does is not ro­man­ti­cize Karachi or La­hore like he has done in his pre­vi­ous books – a com­mon ten­dency among most Pak­istani English au­thors. In­stead he talks about the city as a mytho­log­i­cal space “which in­trudes in the form of power and gas out­ages, traf­fic noises and air­borne par­tic­u­lates that cause you to wake wheez­ing in your bed. It can be glimpsed around cur­tains and through iron grilles. Tele­vi­sion and ra­dio also bring in some news of it, usu­ally fright­en­ing, but then that has al­ways been the case.” We are a part of the city and the city en­croaches upon our dreams in our at­tempts to make them a re­al­ity.

With How to Get Filthy Rich in Ris­ing Asia, Hamid has found a per­fect bal­ance of an en­gag­ing nar­ra­tive and char­ac­ters that one can gen­uinely care for. Through­out the book, read­ers will find them­selves draw­ing par­al­lels with the char­ac­ters’ real life coun­ter­parts. That is the ge­nius of this work, that though the char­ac­ters are un­named you will find some­one who you can re­late to. The sec­ond-per­son nar­ra­tive blurs the lines be­tween the writer and reader, and there are times when you feel that the book and you are sim­ply in con­ver­sa­tion. For achiev­ing such a mo­men­tary il­lu­sion, Hamid deserves an ac­co­lade. How to get Filthy Rich is def­i­nitely one of the bet­ter books to have come out in 2013.

Re­viewed By Atiya Ab­bas

Ti­tle: How to Get Filthy Rich in Ris­ing Asia Author: Mohsin Hamid Pub­lisher: River­head Books (March 2013) Pages: 228, Hard­back Price: PKR 2859 ISBN: 9781594487293

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