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November 18, 2013

The Man Behind the Magic: Meeting Mohsin Hamid


When you meet Mohsin Hamid, he doesn’t exactly come across as someone who is entirely aware of their own stardom. I mean, this is a man who has been considered one of the best writers of his generation and yet his composed and humble nature went completely against my former assumption that he would be an author with a huge ego. With three excellent novels under his belt (The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moth Smoke, How  to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia) and The Reluctant Fundamentalist having already made a film debut in 2012, Hamid is definitely on his way to becoming a rock star in his field. I wrote last week about how “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” film fell short of my high expectations, but the reality is that Hamid’s writing leaves very little to be desired. Each one of his novels are a candid and honest look at life not only in Pakistan but at other developing countries in Asia which bear the similar features and struggles of life in Mohsin Hamid’s homeland. mohsin hamid I was lucky enough at this year’s Singapore Writers Festival to listen to Mohsin Hamid expound on his journey towards becoming a best-selling author and, even got to meet the man himself!  Although I probably sounded way too much like an overly ecstatic fan girl when talking to him, I was amazed throughout the encounter with how down-to-earth and genuinely pleased he seemed to hear my thoughts. And his comments during his onstage interview were equally, if not more, able at casting a light on the man behind the magic. So was Mohsin Hamid always destined to be a writer? In some ways yes, as during his university years he took creative writing courses despite majoring in other seemingly more practical veins of study. And while working in the finance industry after graduating, Mohsin Hamid still took the time to continue to write and published his first novel, Moth Smoke, in 2000. It was in the early fall of 2001 that he presented to his publishers the root short story behind The Reluctant Fundamentalist; but little interest was shown as the story was based around a young Muslim man living in the USA and his journey of falling in and out of love. With the horrific tragedy of 9/11, a renewed interest was shown towards a story which could share with the world some of the stigmas and suspicions which would be applied to some Muslim men in the aftermath. Hamid incorporated 9/11 into his story but it took him another six years to finally get it right. He worked with a variety of voices, wrote and re-wrote, and finally decided upon what we now read as the final product. It’s obvious that for Hamid the process is never straightforward. He admitted to putting in months, and even years into works that he eventually scrapped because they just didn’t seem to come together in a cohesive way. Thankfully for those of us who love his books, Hamid doesn’t give up and continues to provide us with great works which prove that time and a careful respect towards one’s work really do create art which is unique and applicable to our times. All you avid readers out there will probably love to know how exactly Mohsin Hamid first got his inspiration to one day write: “One moment was when I was a little kid…I’d read comic books… my mother said: ‘Why is he reading this junk? Get him something good to read.’ And my father said: ‘It just matters that he loves reading.’” Mohsin continued on to say: “I wouldn’t be a writer today if I wasn’t someone who loved reading. I’m a reader first and I also happen to write.” Inspiring words for all those who love to read and hope to someday follow in Hamid’s footsteps to create exceptional artwork of their own! :D