His first novel had chronicled the struggles of three young Pakistani immigrants in New York following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre. That novel, Home Boy, published in 2009, went on to win the inaugural DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2011.
Now, Pakistani writer HM Naqvi says he is halfway through his second novel, this time set in Karachi, where he is based. “It will be a big, bad, bawdy comic epic,” he says, while in Mumbai recently to promote Home Boy. He does not intend to talk at length about it, though from what he says, it is likely to subvert the discourse about Pakistan just as Home Boy subverted conventional wisdom about Pakistani immigrants.
“Discourse reduces Pakistan to mere politics,” he says. To illustrate his point, he narrates an anecdote about his visit to a Waziri neighbourhood in Karachi. The Waziris are a reclusive community and as an outsider, Naqvi would never have been able to enter their homes in Waziristan. The Waziri household he visited, however, turned out to have a co-educational school for the children, with instructions being imparted in English, mathematics and drawing. “People who move to cities like Karachi or Mumbai are not making religious choices, but economic ones. You cannot ignore such stories,” he says.
His next work is unlikely to have political overtones. “I do not write on politics and am not privy to the political machinations in Islamabad,” he says. “I approached Home Boy with humour,” he added, which is remarkable considering he lost a friend in the tragedy, on whom one of the book’s characters is based.
Naqvi’s first novel, while it grappled with a geopolitically sensitive subject, describes neither the main incident around 9/11 nor its larger political fall-out in the US or Pakistan. It concentrates instead on the social anxieties it inflicts on its protagonists. “9/11 never takes place in Home Boy — I felt that was the right way to go about it.”