Saturday, April 13, 2013

Mohsin Hamid Spins Rags to Riches Tale Set in Rising Pakistan

It's a story of a sickly little village boy's rise in Pakistan from abject rural poverty to great urban wealth as a young man who falls in love with "the pretty girl", an equally ambitious fellow slum-dweller in the city. 

Billed as a "how-to" book, Mohsin Hamid's “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” draws upon trends like increasing urbanization, rising middle-class consumption, growing entrepreneurship and widespread scams to weave a fascinating tale set in Hamid's hometown of Lahore. It's also a boy-meets-girl love story that takes many twists and turns and ends with the two lovers finally living together in their twilight years.

Along the way, Hamid, himself part of a ambitious new generation of Pakistani writers making it big on the global stage, touches upon the principal character's brushes with religious conservatives, unscrupulous politicians, corrupt bureaucrats and criminal gangs.  Hamid shows how the protagonist successfully navigates through it all until he himself falls victim to fraud perpetrated by his young lieutenant.

Although the book does not explicitly name the places, the descriptions suggest that it's set mostly in Lahore, Hamid's home town, and Karachi which is described as "city by the sea".

The protagonist is a third-born poor kid transplanted by his father along with his mother and siblings from his village to the city. The order of his birth permits him to go to school while his older siblings forgo schooling to work and help the family make ends meet in the city.

The protagonist drops out of the university that he was admitted to and goes from being a DVD rental delivery boy to a successful entrepreneur with a thriving bottled water business. Later, he has an arranged marriage which produces a son but he continues to think of “the pretty girl” from the slum who is trying to climb higher as a fashion model in the "city by the sea".

As the protagonist grows old, he finds himself alone, divorced from his wife, and separated from his son studying in the US. The story ends with him finding "the pretty girl", the love of his life, till death does them apart.

Hamid's latest novel is hard to put down once you start reading it. It is meant to be read cover-to-cover in one sitting.  His prior internationally-acclaimed and equally attention-grabbing works  include Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The Reluctant Fundamentalist made the New York Times Best Seller List. It was also short-listed for Man Booker Prize.  It has been made into a movie slated for release in the United States next month.

Here's a trailer of The Reluctant Fundamentalist:

TRAILER - The Reluctant Fundamentalist from PartyLiciouS Entertainment on Vimeo.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Do South Asian Slums Offer Hope?

Karachi Literature Festival

Urbanization in Pakistan  Highest in South Asia

Pakistan Fashion Week

Upwardly Mobile Pakistan's Appetite For International Brands

Life Goes On in Pakistan

Resilient Pakistan

Pakistan's Top Fashion Models

Music Drives Coke Sales in Pakistan

Pakistani Cover Girls

Veena Malik Challenges Pakistan's Orthodoxy 

PakAlumni-Pakistani Social Network 

Huma Abedin Weinergate

Pakistan Media Revolution


Anonymous said...

Haq sb, haven't read the book yet, but sounds like Mohsin Hameed's own life story. I remember watching his interview where he mentioned how he first started reading Punjabi in his village, then in college he started with Urdu and in Army he started reading English.


Ras said...

For his Drama "Disgraced" Pakistani-American Ayad Akhtar wins a Pulitzer:

Riaz Haq said...

Zamir: "Haq sb, haven't read the book yet, but sounds like Mohsin Hameed's own life story. I remember watching his interview where he mentioned how he first started reading Punjabi in his village, then in college he started with Urdu and in Army he started reading English."

I think you are confusing Mohsin Hamid with Muhammad Hanif whose book "A Case of Exploding Mangoes" has received international acclaim.

As a child, Mohsin Hamid lived in the US when his father was studying for his PhD at Stanford. Later he moved to Lahore to finish High School there. Then came back to the US as an adult to attend Princeton and Harvard.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt of an earlier post I wrote on arts and literature growth in Pakistan:

Granta has highlighted the extraordinary work of many Pakistani artists, poets, writers, painters, photographers and musicians inspired by life in their native land.

For example, the magazine cover carries a picture of a piece of truck art by a prolific truck painter Islam Gull of Bhutta village in Karachi. Gull was born in Peshawar and moved to Karachi 22 years ago. He has been practicing his craft on buses and trucks since the age of 13, and now teaches his unique craft to young apprentices. Commissioned with the assistance of British Council in Karachi, Gull produced two chipboard panels photographed for the magazine cover.

Granta issue has articles, poems, paintings, photographs and frescoes about various aspects of life in Pakistan. It carries work by writers like Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Daniyal Mueenuddin (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders), Kamila Shamsie (Burnt Shadows), Mohammad Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) and Nadeem Aslam (The Wasted Vigil) who have been making waves in literary circles and winning prizes in London and New York.

In a piece titled "Mangho Pir", Fatima Bhutto highlights the plight of the Sheedi community, a disadvantaged ethnic minority of African origin who live around the shrine of their sufi saint Mangho Pir on the outskirts of Karachi.

In another piece "Pop Idols", Kamila Shamsie traces the history of Pakistani pop music as she experienced it living in Karachi, and explains how the music scene has changed with Pakistan's changing politics.

A piece "Jinnah's Portrait" by New York Times' Jane Perlez describes the wide variety of Quaid-e-Azam's portraits showing him dressed in outfits that give him either "the aura of a religious man" or show him as a "young man with full head of dark hair, an Edwardian white shirt, black jacket and tie, alert dark eyes". Perlez believes the choice of the founding father's potrait hung in the offices of various Pakistani officials and politicians reveals how they see Jinnah's vision for Pakistan.

While Granta's focus on art and literature has produced a fairly good publication depicting multi-dimensional life in Pakistan, there are apects that it has not covered. For example, Pakistan has a growing fashion industry which puts on fashion shows in major cities on a regular basis. The biggest of these is Pakistan Fashion Week held in Karachi in February. Over 30 Pakistani designers - including Sonya Battla, Rizwan Beyg, and Maheen Khan - showed a variety of casual and formal outfits as well as western wear, jackets, and accessories.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a WSJ interview of Mira Nair about The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the movie:

What led you, an Indian artist, to make this film about Pakistan?

Without my knowing it, this world had nourished me culturally. My father grew up in pre-partition Lahore, so I was raised Lahori in India, speaking Urdu, knowing Faiz's poetry, listening to Iqbal Bano's songs. As a child of modern India, I'd made a moving journey to Pakistan in 2004, when I was invited to speak because my films are popular there. We were treated like rock stars. The warmth, the refinement, the expression of the arts—music, painting—was dazzling. I'd stepped into a familiar culture and was inspired to make a tale of contemporary Pakistan. Six months later, Mohsin's book gave me the opportunity to show a Pakistan you never see in newspapers. Its dialogue with America was appealing because we don't see issues from two sides; it's always a monologue, never a conversation.

The novel is structured as a recollective monologue. You've added characters and changed the end. Was that for cinema purposes?

We haven't altered the spirit of the novel. The film is indebted to the tightrope that the protagonist walks in the novel. We don't know who Changez is. That propelled the screenwriting: What kind of fundamentalist is he? I wanted the Pakistani family to be real human characters. I changed the brother into a sister because "Muslim" movies are about men, but in Pakistan women are the heartbeat of every gathering. They're bawdy, strong, opinionated, beautiful. So I wanted a female—and made her a Bond-chick in Pakistan TV's longest-running comedy. We added a third act: In the novel, Changez returns to Pakistan. I wanted to know what he'd be doing there such that an American wants to talk to him. That makes the film timely, not dated. The world's changed: Osama was killed—before our eyes—and the CIA's Raymond Davis went shooting in Pakistani streets. These were uncanny happenings.

There are three screenwriters credited. Why so many?

I wanted a dialogue, an unpredictable meeting of equals, between Changez and Bobby, the American. Calling Hollywood A-listers, I was amazed by their ignorance [of Pakistan] and arrogance, so I picked Mohsin and Ami Boghani to write the first draft. We three did the second draft, about Pakistani life, in Lahore. Then I found Bill Wheeler to tie the skeins together. The four of us huddled together and mapped it out collaboratively before Bill rewrote it. Bill was humble about what he didn't know and very good at what he knew.

Were there logistical problems in filming in three continents?

That's the beauty of production. We shot "Istanbul" in one 18-hour day in an old Delhi orphanage. Only the exteriors were shot in Turkey. The Lahore scenes were shot over 20 days in Old Delhi—the tea house built in a 16th-century structure—with four days in Lahore's streets. New York interiors were shot in Atlanta, which gives a 40% tax rebate, with only four days in New York. We hired 150 Filipinos, put them in hard hats and made a Philippine factory in hi-tech Noida, outside Delhi. I didn't want to sacrifice the globalization—the film's about the divided self in this era: Who are you? Where are you from? Where are you going? Where will you matter? These are the questions today. I didn't want to reduce that scope. I worked with my old team, hired local crews, shot digitally. Knowing how to cut costs comes with experience.

The film contrasts Wall Street's corporate culture with the old-world refinement of middle-class Pakistanis......

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a PakistanToday story on Pakistan Academy of Letters:

The Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) has published translation of several literary works in English and other international languages to promote Urdu and other regional languages.

The 340 pages text includes translation of literary writings in Urdu, Punjabi, Potohari, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, Brahvi, and Khowari. The publication also includes work of Pakistani writers in English. Noon Meem Rashid’s poem “Hasan Kooza Gar” is translated into English, Arabic, French, Turkish, and Chinese.

The publication was unveiled by PAL Chairman Abdul Hameed in an event held at PAL’s Writer’s House.

This anthology represents various genres including prose, poetry, article, column and poetry. The publication is divided into sections based on the languages. The separators are designed by renowned artist Jamal Shah while the book jacket is designed by another art giant Dr Ajaz Anwar.

While talking to the Pakistan Today, PAL Director General Zaheer-ud-Din Malik said, “It is one of PAL’s main responsibilities to translate Pakistani literature into international languages.” We want to hand out this publication to ambassadors and foreign missions for helping them explore the real face of Pakistani society, he added. Malik said the only 500 copies of the publication were printed due to lack of resources but it would help us promote our mission.

PAL has also been unable to complete the Faiz Ahmed Faiz Auditorium due to lack of funds. The auditorium was due to be inaugurated on Faiz’s 100th birthday in February 2011.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Toronto Globe & Mail on Karachi's stock market:

The seaside metropolis of Karachi is Pakistan’s largest city, its commercial hub and a city plagued by violence. Adding to the already volatile mix is the Pakistan Taliban, which is now firmly embedded in Karachi. But amidst the mayhem, businesses are thriving and capital markets are soaring.

In old Karachi, behind metal gates, barriers and security checks is a low-rise office block from which Canadian Nadeem Naqvi steers the country’s largest stock market: the Karachi Stock Exchange, with a market capitalization of $41.5-billion.

Mr. Naqvi moved to Pakistan in 2005 and took on the managing director job in 2011 with a mandate to modernize the exchange.

The KSE has a market capitalization of $41.5-billion – a tenth of the size of the Bombay stock market. Last year, it ranked among the top emerging markets in Asia.

With historic democratic elections scheduled for May 11, Mr. Naqvi spoke to The Globe and Mail about his optimism about Karachi and Pakistan.

What has it been like steering the exchange – it must be a roller coaster?

In one word: exhilarating. Not without sleepless nights, I can assure you. … On the political front there have been ups and downs, although I was lucky enough to be in an era when we had uninterrupted democratic set-up – the quality of that democratic set-up as a point aside. But that was a first for Pakistan. And now we are in the process of the first democratic transfer of power from one democratic set-up to the next … We have faced direct backlash as a result of Pakistan’s role in terms of war on terror and the backlash Pakistanis have to face every day. But within that dire dynamics you have seen a stock market that has performed incredibly well last year. It was up 50 per cent in local currency terms – the KSE100 Index – and it was up 36 per cent in U.S. dollar terms making it one of the top three best performing emerging markets in Asia last year.....

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Mira Nair talking with Bollywood Life:

...Based on the novel of the same name by Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid, the film tells the story of two conflicting ideologies – the “fundamentalism” of the capitalists and that of the terrorists – through a young Pakistani man chasing his American dream.

“The film not only gave me the opportunity to make that modern tale on Pakistan, but it was also in its bones a dialogue with America,” said Nair in a phone interview from New York. “There is so little of conversation between this part of the world and that part of the world and especially post 9/11 that conversation has become a monologue,” she said. She saw in The Reluctant Fundamentalist a “chance to create a bridge, create a dialogue,” she said.

Nair said she has tried “to make a film that questions who is the other or who do we make to feel like the other and make something that’s not reductionist”, where one is either a good guy or a bad guy and things are black or white. In a complicated world “we are many things. Not just one thing – not just Indian or American or just this or that, but we are a combination of so many identities especially in this globalising world,” she said.

And that’s what the film tries to approximate through the characters of protagonist Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed) and Bobby (Liev Schreiber), an American journalist, whom he tells about his experiences in the US at a teahouse in Lahore, “and the worlds they live in”.

“I think our film is about the mutual suspicions that these two worlds have for each other,” Nair said. “And in understanding why this suspicion exists, as we try to explain or reveal in our film. That could be illuminating in terms of understanding how such a shift can happen in an individual…to bring men to an act of terror this way as we see in Boston,” Nair said.

“I have to be optimistic,” she said, but her film was just “an early step because we are still paying the price of reaction, that quick reach of reactions that I have seen happen in the country post 9/11.”

Delhi, which is a twin city to Lahore, doubled for the Pakistani city for filming the teahouse, the university and all the interiors. A second unit filmed the streets of Lahore and the exteriors for four days without the actors. “No, we didn’t have that terror problem even creating Lahore in Delhi,” the director said.

“The first bolt of inspiration” that Nair had to make a film on Pakistan was in 2004 when she first visited Lahore, where her father had studied, and was “dazzled by the kind of largesse of warmth and spirit and love” she received. “The creative sparks that I saw there – the music, the paintings – in every way it was full of an artistic expression that I certainly never associated with or knew about with what we read about Pakistan in newspapers,” Nair said.

Reading Mohsin’s “wonderful novel” in manuscript form 18 months later, she realised that like the writer “I have lived half my life in New York City and half my life in the sub-continent and I knew both worlds within and somewhat without.”

When Nair finally set out to make The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin joked if she was making Monsoon Terrorist “because I love music, I love naach, gaana, tamasha,” said the maker of films like Monsoon Wedding, Mississippi Masala and The Namesake.

In fact, “Music is a huge part of my breathing universe and the modern music in Pakistan is just unbelievably inspiring” in its rendition of old traditional sources like the qawwali and the ghazal, she said.

And the poems of the sub-continent’s revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz “were a huge cornerstone of why I made the film in the first place,” said Nair who has used three of his poems - Bol, ki lab azaad hain tere, Mori arz suno and Dil jalane ki baat....

Riaz Haq said...

Initially, most poor migrants who arrive in Karachi start with low-paying jobs and live in slums. Over time, many move up to middle class with better jobs and housing and their children do even better with greater opportunities offered by Karachi.

To illustrate this, let me give you the example of ANP's Senator Shahi Syed who drove a rickshaw and lived in slum when he first came to Karachi. Now, he lives in Mardan House, palatial home in Defense Society.

A recent book "Getting Filthy Rich in Rising Asia" is a similar rags to riches tale set in Lahore.

Read my other post titled "Do South Asian Slums Offer Hope" to understand better what I'm talking about.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Daily Times report on Islamabad Literature Festival:

..The ILF, organised by the Oxford University Press, opened on Tuesday. The two-day festival with 70 speakers and more than 35 sessions/events is being held at a local hotel. Approximately 6,000 participants visited the festival on the first day. Oxford University Press Managing Director Ameena Saiyid welcomed the guests. In her speech, she observed that a common system or syllabus was not the solution, as teachers’ training, improving curriculum and providing children with better quality books would encourage the reading habit.

ILF co-founder Asif Farrukhi said that literature remains the medium to express society’s feelings and status. Quoting writer Intizar Husain, he said, “This is the time of signs.” Intizar Husain said that the last century started by promising a bright future, but it turned into a century of two world wars, fascism and now intolerance too had spread to Asia.

Kamila Shamsie, winner of Granta magazine’s Best of Young Writers’ Award for her contribution as a novelist, paid tribute to Intizar Husain and his novel ‘Basti’. “In Pakistan, it is taught that history is confluence of religion. Actually, history is confluence of geography. We deny our thousands of years of historical background,” she lamented.

In another thought-provoking session on his book ‘Pakistan on the brink’ Ahmed Rashid said that he still felt that Pakistan could be salvaged “if our foreign and national security policies are changed diametrically”.

“We have to stop thinking that we have the right to decide the faith of Afghanistan and stop relying on jihadi groups to achieve the foreign policy objectives. We have failed to take advantage of our geo-political position to build our economy. We need ceasefire in Afghanistan to help bring peace to Pakistan,” he observed.

The session was moderated by Daily Times Editor Rashid Rehman, who raised incisive questions. In the session titled ‘Pakistani English Poetry is Alive and Well: New Directions, New Voices’, Ilona Yusuf, Athar Tahir, Harris Khalique and Muneeza Shamsie were of the view that English poetry was being written in Pakistan and had considerable audience. There was consensus among the participants that there should be some publication or means of promotion of Pakistani English poetry.

In other sessions, Abdullah Hussain and Ahmed Shah captivated the audience in their readings and conversations; Amjad Shahzad, Zubair Hasrat, Arif Tabassum and Muhib Wazir discussed ‘New Voices in Pushto Poetry’ with Raj Wali Khattak and Ahmad Fouad; in ‘Shah Hussain and Sufi Classical Poetry in Punjabi’, Harris Khalique had an interesting discussion with Sarwat Mohiuddin; on the sensitive issue of ‘Politics of Child Labour’, Samar Minallah Khan, Anees Jillani, Taimur Rahman with Baela Jamil raised important issues regarding child labour and under-aged servants; and Muneeza Shamsie with Ahmed Rashid elaborated on ‘Pakistani English Novels in the New Millennium’.

In the session on ‘Dynastic politics’, to question by the Moderator Babar Ayaz that why political dynasties are scorned by middle classes, while dynasties in other professions like lawyers, writers and doctors are approved, eminent historian Hamida Khuro said that political dynasties were disliked because in democracy people like to have meritocracy and politicians have power to affect the lives of the people....\05\01\story_1-5-2013_pg11_1

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Aljazeera report titled "Pakistai economy grows in spite of state":

Lahore, Pakistan - Zia Hyder Naqi started his first business when he was eight years old, turning old newspapers into paper bags in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. He didn’t earn much, but the 1.5 Pakistani Rupees ($0.02) he made every day was enough to buy him his lunch, and a sense of satisfaction at having made something.

Today, 40 years later, Naqi is the managing director at a plastics manufacturing firm that employs 430 people, and earned $14.2m in revenue last year.

Synthetic Products and Enterprises Ltd (SPEL) is one of the largest firms of its kind in the country, and makes everything from plastic cups to the inner sides of car doors for firms such as Toyota, Honda and Suzuki, and everything in between.

Business has been good for SPEL, Naqi says, but that's not because the government is providing a conducive climate for economic growth.

"Let's start by saying that we work in spite of the government and not because of the government," Naqi told Al Jazeera. "It really means that we have to struggle. We compete against the best in the world."

Power cuts

Pakistan suffers from a raft of economic problems - spiraling inflation and unemployment, a chronic energy crisis, a lack of implementation of existing policies and an unstable investment environment, owing to the country’s tense security situation.

Primary among those difficulties, Naqi says, is the issue of power cuts - or load-shedding, as it is referred to in Pakistan.

"Our reliability is affected when we have load-shedding, because we don't know when power will arrive and go. So we have to create back-ups, which means that the cost of operations goes up. It affects morale, it affects our work, it affects our delivery, it affects our customers. [It affects] the cost at which we deliver, and how competitive or uncompetitive we become to the customer," he says, estimating that the cost of putting in those back-up system raises the overall cost of his products by as much as 10 percent.

Last year, Naqi’s firm spent an extra $1.2m on putting back-up generators into place, fuelling them and paying for their general upkeep, as opposed to taking electricity off the grid. Moreover, he says, that $1.2m is a sunk cost, as it is not being invested into productive processes. The result: it’s harder for Pakistan’s products to compete in the international market, as the cost of producing electricity pushes firms into a loop of spiraling costs and being unable to further invest in new technologies.

Pakistan’s electricity woes, analysts say, are a result of industrial growth outstripping the pace of growth in generation, and a woefully maintained distribution system that results in line losses of around 20 percent At its peak last summer, the country’s electricity shortfall was a staggering 8,500MW - about 40 percent of the country’s total generation capacity (not counting transmission losses)
Meanwhile, far from the think tanks and policy committees, the entrepreneurial spirit of the eight-year-old Naqi is still alive and well. Over the last month, dozens of shops have sprung up all over Lahore, selling elections campaign-related merchandise - everything from pins and badges (for about $0.40 each) to gigantic flags ($2.44), from T-shirts ($3.05) to stuffed soft toys in the shape of party election symbols.

"With the amount of money that I’m making right now," says Muhammad Imran, 30, the owner of one such shop, "we could have built a whole bridge!"

Riaz Haq said...

There are many misguided Pakistani writers who parrot nonsense about Pak population growth.

Larger population is in fact a blessing for Pakistan in terms of greater human capital and higher demographic dividend.

Pakistan has the world’s sixth largest population, seventh largest diaspora and the ninth largest labor force. With rapidly declining fertility and aging populations in the industrialized world, Pakistan's growing talent pool is likely to play a much bigger role to satisfy global demand for workers in the 21st century and contribute to the well-being of Pakistan as well as other parts of the world.

Dramatic declines in fertility are not necessarily good for society. In a book titled "The Empty Cradle", the author Philip Longman warns that the declining birth rates around the world will cause many social and economic problems. As a consequence of declining fertility, by 2050 the population of Europe will have fallen to what it was in 1950. Mr. Longman says this is happening all around the world: Women are having fewer children. It's happening in Brazil, it's happening in China, India and Japan. It's even happening in the Middle East. Wherever there is rapid urbanization, education for women and visions of urban affluence, birthrates are falling. Having and raising children is seen as an expense and a burden.

"So we have a "free rider" problem. You don't need to have children to provide for your old age -- but the pension systems need them." Says Longman, referring to the coming Social Security crunch as the number of retired people rises faster than the number of workers.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a brief bio of Intizar Husain, the first Pakistani Urdu writer whose book has been short-listed for the UK's Man Booker prize:

Intizar Husain was born in India before partition in Uttar Pradesh, on December 21st 1925. He emigrated to Pakistan in 1947 and lives in Lahore.

He gained a master’s degree in Urdu and another in English literature. The author of short stories and novels, he worked for the Urdu daily, Imroze. He worked for the Urdu daily Mashriq for many years and now writes a weekly column for the Karachi-based English language newspaper, Dawn.

A chronicler of change, Husain has written five novels and published seven collections of short stories. Only one of his novels is translated into English and there are five volumes of his short stories published in English translations.

Naya Gar (The New House) paints a picture of Pakistan during the ten-year dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq. Agay Sumandar Hai (Beyond is the Sea) contrasts the spiralling urban violence of contemporary Karachi with a vision of the lost Islamic realm of al-Andalus, in modern Spain.

Basti, his 1979 novel, which traces the psychic history of Pakistan through the life of one man, Zakir, has just been republished as one of the New York Review of Books Classics. Keki Daruwalla, writing in The Hindu in 2003, said “Intizar Husain’s stories often tread that twilight zone between fable and parable. And the narrative is spun on an oriental loom.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt of PakistanToday review of Reluctant Fundamentalist, the movie:

Changez Khan, played brilliantly and earnestly by Riz Ahmed, is a college professor in Lahore, suspected by the CIA of having ties to a local terrorist organisation and its involvement in the kidnapping of an American professor. We find a defiant Changez sitting in a tea house across from Bobby Lincoln, a sweaty and red-faced American journalist played by Liev Schreiber, questioning him about his possible involvement in the kidnapping
Driving into flashback, we learn that Changez was not always the fiery college professor teaching revolution in Pakistan. He was raised in a family headed by his father, an Urdu poet with dwindling fortunes, and thus had to work hard to eventually find his way to Princeton.
The film unfurls in a non-linear manner and a narrative that is interlaced with a series of incidents that are at times stale and predictable and at times quite real and intimate. The script does not delve as deeply into his psyche as might be hoped, but operates superficially on the situational complexities of the plot.
Changez emerges as a straight-talking Ivy League go-getter who loves the US, and its "level playing fields,” and impresses his way into a job at a Wall Street valuation firm run by Jim Cross, a smooth corporate tough guy played with a sly urbanity by Kiefer Sutherland, who appears as less of a character and more of a symbol of American capitalism.
At the firm, Changez’s stock rises as a brilliant analyst, with a keen eye for ruthlessly cutting the fat in businesses and increasing their profitability. And with it come the luxuries of a life in New York and a six-figure income.
He meets and falls in love with Erica, a bohemian photographer mourning a dead lover. Their courtship is one of the highlights of both the novel and the movie, and Kate Hudson brings believability to her character, despite her significantly diminished role. Nair's Changez though, becomes both a replacement and an exotic accessory in Erica’s life, “the ultimate downtown status symbol,” he later realises, which is a tragic departure from Hamid's novel, where she plays as much of a defining role as the events of 9/11 in changing his life's trajectory. It isn't an accident that Erica is “America” missing one syllable. In a startling scene, Changez allows a smile to cross his face as the 9/11 attacks unfold before him on television. “David had struck Goliath,” he says.
Changez finds himself as an outsider despite his Wall Street cred. He is predictably searched at an airport in silent humiliation and the post 9/11 xenophobia starts to seep in to his life. He starts to grow a beard in apparent rebellion. And while the scenes are filmed well, they feel a touch tired clich├ęd after 11 years since the event. And thus begins Changez’s battle for identify. After 9/11 people around the world had to choose sides, rekindling George W. Bush’s appalling, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” but as Changez says, "I didn't pick a side — it was picked for me."

See more at:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an ET story on Burger King planned franchises in Pakistan:

As anticipated for long, Burger King is finally coming to Pakistan, most likely in mid-2014, as MCR Pakistan, the franchisee of Pizza Hut in Pakistan, has entered into a master franchise agreement with Burger King Worldwide Inc, The Express Tribune has learnt.
While BK and MCR didn’t disclose the details of the agreement, sources familiar with the matter said that the bidding took place in Dubai a few weeks ago. Three parties, including a Dubai-based investor, participated in the bidding, which went in favour of the MCR Group.
There is not much skilled staff in the market, which may require engaging foreign trainers and the company hasn’t yet identified locations. According to the Dawn ad, BK’s first outlet will be opened in Karachi.

Related ET story on fast food:

The fast food boom in Pakistan is a really practical example. It was well-received by the local community and now enjoys healthy growth and stellar profitability despite fierce competition.
Introduction of multinational food franchises, initiated in the 1990s, was in the midst of non-existent local fast food restaurants. Today, the trend is spreading fast and the industry experts believe this to be just the beginning for the flourishing industry.
Some reasons for the spectacular rise of the industry are that Pakistani middle-class has welcomed the cuisine due to variety of bargain deals, products, atmosphere, attitude and strict hygiene standards, not to mention more disposable income.
“It is true that the middle-class is now the priority for many franchisers. At lease for us (McDonalds) the middle-class is the real target as they spend more on fast food of their disposable income,” said Sohail Malik, country manager of McDonalds Pakistan, while speaking to The Express Tribune. “With the introduction of plenty of choices available in the industry, the masses have gained awareness and this awareness is the key to healthy competition, he added.
Marketing is the other key for franchises to grow their respective businesses. Previously amid insignificant competition, the restaurants did not really latch on to the importance of marketing, but it is completely inverse in the present scenario as competition has grown and major international brands such as Hardees Incorporated, Fatburger and Kentucky Fried Chicken already operate in the country.
“Tough competition also proves to be a blessing for the consumers because of the choices and great bargain and promotional deals available,” said Bilal Hanif, a fast food enthusiast.
As far as the growth of the industry is concerned, according to McDonalds Pakistan’s country director, this is just the beginning...

Riaz Haq said...

Malala inspires girls school enrollment surge in KP, reports Bloomberg:

MINGORA, Pakistan — The Pakistani Taliban's attempts to deter girls from seeking an education, epitomized by the shooting of 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the face last year, are backfiring as school enrollments surge in her home region.

While Yousafzai missed out last week on the Nobel Peace Prize, her plight is helping change attitudes in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which lies at the center of a Taliban insurgency. The four-month-old provincial government boosted education spending by about 30 percent and began an enrollment drive that has added 200,000 children, including 75,000 girls.

Yousafzai's story "is certainly helping us to promote education in the tribal belt," Muhammad Atif Khan, the province's education minister, said by phone. "Education is a matter of death and life. We can't solve terrorism issues without educating people."

Taliban militants targeted Yousafzai in retaliation over her campaign for girls to be given equal rights to schooling in a country where only 40 percent of adult women can read and write. Though the Nobel award went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Yousafzai was showered with accolades in a week in which she published her memoir: she won the European Union's top human rights prize and met President Barack Obama at the Oval Office.

The shooting occurred a year ago as Yousafzai traveled home on a school bus in Mingora, a trading hub of 1.8 million people where a majority of women still cover their faces and girls aren't comfortable answering questions from reporters. The bullet struck above her left eye, grazing her brain. She was flown for emergency surgery to Britain, where she lives today.

The increased media attention on Swat since the shooting is pressuring government officials to improve educational standards and encouraging locals to send their kids to school.

Three days ago in Mingora, as local channels flashed the news that Yousafzai didn't win the peace prize, high school student Shehzad Qamar credited her for prompting the government to build more institutions of higher learning.

"She has done what we couldn't have achieved in 100 years," Qamar said. "She gave this town an identity."..
"Taliban wanted to silence me," Yousafzai said in an interview with the BBC last week. "Malala was heard only in Pakistan, but now she is heard at the every corner of the world."

Sadiqa Ameen, a 15-year-old school girl in Swat, said she wanted to read Yousafzai's book, titled "I am Malala." The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, has threatened to kill Yousafzai and target shops selling her book, the Dawn newspaper reported, citing spokesman Shahidullah Shahid.

"This is probably the first ever book written by a Swati girl," said Ameen, who lives near Yousafzai's school. "I am sure her story will be something we all know and have gone through during the Taliban rule."

Musfira Khan Karim, 11, prayed for Yousafzai's success in the Nobel competition with her 400 schoolmates in Mingora.

"I want her back here among us," Karim said in her school's playground. "I want to know more about her. I want to meet her."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an NPR Radio report on a book based on a real life story of Pakistan family by a Pakistani-American Haroon Ullah:

Middle class life in Pakistan isn’t that different from middle class life in the United States, says Haroon Ullah. Or at least, he hopes you’ll come away with that message after reading his new book, “The Bargain at the Bazaar: A family’s day of reckoning in Lahore.”

The book follows the Reza family and their three sons as they attempt to maintain normalcy in an increasingly tense environment.

Ullah says he met the family at a dinner party in Pakistan 10 years ago.

“They are very blue collar and yet they’re able to, as a family, find a way to move on amidst the sort of tragedy that they often times experience.”

The Rezas shared their story with Ullah over many evening meetings over mangos, what Ullah calls “the best ice breaker in the world.”

The oldest Reza son followed in his father’s footsteps to run the family shop at the local bazaar. The youngest son went to school to become a lawyer. But it was the middle son who would most worry his mother and father when he joined a militant Islamist group.

“The parents would tell me, 'Did we do something wrong? Did we fail as parents?'” says Ullah. “They want better for their kids than they had for themselves. They’re willing to sacrifice everything.”

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a New York Books Review piece on recent Lahore Literature Festival:

Rarely has an event framed around books and ideas felt so urgent. A few weekends ago, a group of writers, artists, and editors gathered in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab heartland, to defend the written word. People turned up from every part of the country to hear them—Karachi and Islamabad, but also Balochistan and the remote tribal regions along the Afghan frontier. Sometimes filling the aisles and stairways of the three venues where the gathering was held, they listened to debates on everything from the future of the novel to the future of Pakistan.

In an age in which international literary festivals have become commonplace, there is very little ordinary about the Lahore LitFest, starting with the location. “PK! What are you doing there?” a US immigration official wondered, when I set out from New York. My barber asked me if I had a bullet-proof vest. Even in the Middle East, in places that have plenty of tension of their own, a Pakistani destination seems to raise red flags. “It would be a shame if you got yourself kidnapped,” an Arab journalist who covers political unrest told me, during a visit to the Arabian Peninsula two days before my journey on to Lahore.

To anyone who has actually been there, such reactions may seem grossly unfair. With a sizable liberal elite, a strong tradition in publishing and the arts, and an old city filled with extraordinary Mughal architecture, Lahore arguably has more in common with the leading cities of India and Europe than with the dark image of Pakistan shown almost daily in the news. The city’s best-known institutions of learning are not jihadist-grooming madrasas but humanistic and secular; consider the National College of Arts, the country’s premier art and design school, which began under British rule in the nineteenth century, with Rudyard Kipling’s father as its first principal.
And then there was Ardeshir Cowesjee (1926–2012), the legendary Karachi columnist who might more accurately have been described as a one-man shadow government. A wealthy businessman from the Zoroastrian religious minority, Cowesjee fearlessly exposed the corruption and mismanagement of Pakistan’s political class in a weekly column that not infrequently brought him death threats. As Karachi descended into violence and gang warfare in recent years, he continuously attacked the dirty real estate dealings, incompetent governance, decaying municipal services, and rising intolerance that were driving it. During a lively debate about his legacy, the power went out, and the panelists kept talking until someone lit the stage with an iPhone.
Even so, the theme of the discussion was “War on Culture,” a worldwide drama in which many Pakistanis view the US as arch malefactor. (I took part in the panel, along with Ahmed Rashid, the novelist Vikram Seth, and the Indian heritage expert Naman Ahuja.) When a gentleman who identified himself as hailing from South Waziristan protested that the US could never rectify the cultural destruction it had caused in the Middle East, the house erupted in applause. Taking the microphone, the ambassador, now sitting in the front row, stood up to respond. The crowd went quiet. He conceded the mistakes made by the previous US administration; he said that he and the current administration were committed to doing more to defend Pakistan’s heritage. It brought some applause of its own. Thus ended the festival, with Waziristan and Washington coming to some kind of temporary truce.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a NY Times Op Ed by Bina Shah on Karachi Literature Festival:

KARACHI, Pakistan — On the banks of the luminous China Creek, overlooking old mangrove swamps and the shipping cranes at the port, more than 50,000 people flocked to this year’s Karachi Literature Festival, held annually in February when the flowers bloom, the weather is temperate and the city feels alive with possibility.

The festival, featuring panel discussions, book promotions, debates, music and theatrical performances, has established itself as a safe space to discuss not just literature and the arts but also politics, history and society at a time when plurality of opinion is not always welcome in Pakistan.

A new Sindh Festival, also held in February, offered another approach to Pakistan’s rich cultural heritage. This extravaganza was a brainchild of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s patron-in-chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari; it included a concert, art show, film festival, fashion show and horse-and-cattle show. Its aim was to showcase Pakistan’s “softer image,” in the distinctly political hope that by stimulating cultural pride, Pakistanis, especially the young, could be persuaded to reject militancy and religious extremism.

Two wars are being fought in Pakistan: a military one against the violence of religious extremists, and a psychological and emotional one to resist a more insidious change in society itself — the growth of intolerance, a drift toward the right and a decline in room for cultural, religious, ethnic or social diversity. This shrinkage of public space, or Talibanization, as the social scientist Ayesha Siddiqa puts it, is not violence itself, but creates support for “ideas which eventually feed violence.”

Talibanization has spread virally, thanks to right-wing talk shows, newspaper columns and social media. It silences debate about the role of religion, branding anyone who advocates secular democracy an atheist. For example, it whipped up a campaign against the autobiography of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage campaigner for education for girls who was severely wounded in an assassination attempt; earlier this year, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial government banned the book from private school curriculums. The proponents of Talibanization denigrate women’s rights activists as “NGO workers in tight jeans” and harass young men and women at universities who try to spend time together.
Some 60,000 schoolchildren attended the Karachi Children’s Literature Festival last month. They listened to storytellers, participated in interactive art and music sessions, and attended debuts of graphic novels that captured the lives of “azeem” (great) Pakistanis: Begum Raa’na Liaqat Ali Khan, who championed women’s rights; Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a poet and activist; Hakeem Said, a scholar and philanthropist assassinated in 1998.

The battle for Pakistanis’ hearts and minds will be as tough as the one for sovereignty and territory. But the message will spread best when it’s free from political manipulation or overt assertions of national or civic pride. The children at the festival weren’t asked to choose between extremism and peace; they were left to enjoy themselves, to clap and cheer, to sing and dance. Experiences like these, organic and unforced, will win the cultural wars in Pakistan — if they are encouraged to flourish on the strength of unifying, not divisive, narratives and values that we all share.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts of a Guardian interview of Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie:

She went on to study creative writing in the US, writing her first novel, In the City by the Sea, while at the University of Massachusetts. It was published in 1998, when she was just 25, and was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys prize in the UK.

Some of the most memorable moments in Shamsie's new novel explore the issues of feminism's first wave, including women's suffrage and work during the first world war. When I ask about being a woman in the world today, she says without missing a beat: "Wherever in the world you go, you're living in the world's oldest and most pervasive empire, which is the empire of patriarchy. I don't know a place I've been to where it doesn't exist." She dismisses cultural relativism: "The worst thing that people say is 'oh well, compared to where you're from' as if that's an excuse, or makes any difference … It's not that girls are being shot in the head for going to school, and thank God for that, but there are these other levels that you have to contend with." She references the current debate around the gender imbalance in book reviewing, how women's books are marketed and how only men's fiction is deemed to be "weighty" and "serious". "The number of times I've heard my books referred to as romances," she scoffs. "Male writers such as Mohsin Hamid and Nadeem Aslam will write novels which have romances at their centre but the books are never, ever, referred to as romances."

While Shamsie is committed to fiction as a form, she also writes comment articles, including for the Guardian. "A lot of what you are doing in a novel is trying not to hit people over the head with a sledgehammer," she says, whereas writing journalism is much more immediate. "There's a clarity and logic that you can try to bring to bear on something which is enjoyable." She is also one of many novelists who have taken to the even more focused medium of Twitter. "It's an interesting way, if you're in one place, to be part of a certain kind of conversation in another place." And for someone who lives round the corner from Lord's and recognises how impossible it is to be Pakistani without also being a cricket fan, "Twitter's a good place to be when Pakistan is playing a cricket match."

Shamsie is self-deprecating about her craft: "Michael Ondaatje had a phrase for it, 'the artist who follows the brush' – a lovely way of making an incredibly chaotic process sound like it has some intrinsic meaning." And she has a horror of sounding superior: "The only way to be a writer is to assume that someone who is reading it knows more than you do about everything in the novel, including how to write a sentence – and that's the reader you're aiming for."

But Pakistan is a "very young country" in a "very old region", she explains, rich with untold stories that she wants to discover and share. Many aspects of the country's history, such as its creation in 1947 or the 1971 war, are not part of the national conversation "because everyone is trying to stake a claim for the narrative of Pakistan and its foundation myths, and there are such opposing viewpoints – about minority rights, Islam, what kind of Islam – that very often the complications don't get acknowledged."

A God in Every Stone unpeels one such story, of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who led a non-violent resistance to the British Raj and opposed the creation of the state of Pakistan – someone Shamsie never heard about when growing up because he didn't fit into "a certain national narrative"....

Riaz Haq said...

Anyone who has picked up a book in recent years will know that Pakistani writers are extraordinary. They are the keenest observers of this complicated country of ours; they are honest, curious and self-critical. The best investigate essential human stories, bypassing tired news headlines to portray a world otherwise unseen. And they do with wit, razor sharp prose, and a fine sense of negotiation.

Tanvi said...

Hi sir Riaz Haq, thanks for phrasing Pakistani writers.I am also from Pakistan.Our writers are really extraordinary,they always find a new story and design drama or film on new ideas.