Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
I enjoyed watching the suspenseful and engaging film of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I was hesitant to read the book because I suspected that it would not be too familiar and therefore not captivating enough. I am very pleased to be proven wrong.
The book captivated me from the first to the last page. The perfectly paced soliloquy is a testament to Mohsin Hamid’s skill and diligence as a writer.
The book is set at a tea shop in an open air marketplace in the old town of Lahore. We sit with Changez and his mysterious, muscle-bound, short-haired, satellite phone carrying, gun in holster wearing, American companion for about 6 hours. They drink chai and eat a delicious meal of char-grilled kebab with fresh unleavened bread that made my mouth water. Changez talks without pause for the entire 6 hours; revealing to his companion intimate details about his life in USA as a brilliant student at Princeton and then working for a small but prestigious valuation company (studying the fundamentals of businesses in search of improvements in efficiency), but also about his love for a young woman from New York. He moved to the USA from Pakistan and moved to New York for his new job in September 2001.
I won’t say more about the book because it could spoil your enjoyment. I thought that it was great book. Hamid delivered sometimes scathing insights into the way that the USA interferes in violent ways in other countries.
America was engaged only in posturing. As a society, you were unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you. You retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority. And you acted out these beliefs on the stage of the world, so that the entire planet was rocked by the repercussions of your tantrums…
A common strand appeared to unite these conflicts (the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and then Iraq), and that was the advancement of a small coterie’s concept of American interests in the guise of the fight against terrorism, which was defined to refer only to the organized and politically motivated killing of civilians by killers not wearing the uniforms of soldiers.
This book brought memories to me – of sipping strong shai (Arabic for tea) at a tea stall in the souq (traditional open air markets) in Manama, Bahrain; of conversations with a former colleague from the northwest of Pakistan (he told me about the Taliban in his village who blackmailed the villagers); of conversations with a former colleague from Lahore (where this book is set); of eating delicious meals of char-grilled kebab with urbane Arabs; and of conversations with liberal and less-liberal Arabs when I worked in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, where the bin Ladens were a famous and wealthy family.
By now you are likely to be aware that we are a car-free household. We have travelled to a lot of countries as a family and I’ve spent time in 36 countries on 5 continents. We prefer to walk around old towns rather than stay in modern cities. This passage captures that nicely:
You will have noticed that the newer districts of Lahore are poorly suited to the needs of those who must walk. In their spaciousness – with their public parks and wide, tree-lined boulevards – they enforce an ancient hierarchy that comes to us from the countryside: the superiority of the mounted man over the man on foot. But here, where we sit … the congested, maze-like heart of this city – Lahore is more democratically urban. Indeed, in these places it is the man with four wheels who is forced to dismount and become part of the crowd.