Simplifying terms like ‘Muslim’ dangerous: Pakistani author


New Delhi : The novel "Reluctant Fundamentalist" is an attempt to demonstrate the "dangers of simplification", says its Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, who was in India for its launch.

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"The danger of simplification is one thing that I really wanted to emphasise through the novel. Words such as 'Pakistani', 'Muslim' are used as simple terms in the media but they have complex meanings. It is these terms that the novel attempts to break down," Hamid said.
He was speaking at the launch of the novel – his second after "Moth Smoke" – in Delhi Saturday evening at a function organised by its publisher Penguin Books and the British Council.
"Reluctant Fundamentalist" is a dramatic monologue, with a Pakistani named Changez talking to a silent American whom he runs into at a market in Lahore.
Though the American's voice is never heard, in subtle ways the reader is constantly reminded of the American's presence. And the one-sided nature of the conversation gradually becomes uncomfortable.
"In our world it is common that one person talks and the listener does not speak. We are used to having biased conversations that we pretend are unbiased. I wanted to show how uncomfortable this one sided conversation can be," Hamid said.
"The dramatic monologue, with the narrator and his audience both acting as characters, allowed me to mirror the mutual suspicion with which America and Pakistan (or the Muslim world) look at one another."
Reading from "Reluctant Fundamentalist" and from "Moth Smoke" (published in 2000), both of which took seven years to write, Hamid also talked about the sense of nostalgia that informs the former. "The nostalgia can be destructive. We can never really go back but, even if we desire it."
Hamid said, "I attempt to create characters that have a way of being. Also I tend to write about what I know. I am not Changez. But I have seen and lived through a lot of what Changez is shown to live through."
Hamid is currently living in London, a city that is "a comfortable midpoint between America and Pakistan" but home is always close to his heart.
"Lahore is one of those rare cities whose residents feel as though they are a part of the story. And the feeling of separation from that story is very real when the residents are away from the city," he said.