There is a lot of commonality between India and Pakistan: Mohsin Hamid
In an interview, author Mohsin Hamid talks about his new novel, writing, English writing in India and Pakistan, immigration, and more.books Updated: Apr 11, 2017 19:03 IST
Mohsin Hamid, one of the best known English writers from South Asia, is part of a slow cultural renaissance that is the result of the growing middle class and independent media in Pakistan. Apart from his bestseller, the 2007 Man Booker Prize finalist, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Hamid has written novels such as Moth Smoke –– which was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award; How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia; and the most recent, Exit West. Recently, we connected with the author via a phone call to Lahore. He spoke about his latest book, migration, effects of Donald Trump’s travel ban and the evolution of English writing in Pakistan.
How did you start writing?
As a kid, I would read all the time. I loved fantasy novels such as The Lord of The Rings and science and fiction novels like Frank Herbet’s Dune series. I also liked Charlotte’s Web and Wind in the Willows. It helped me get into writing as a profession. I still read a lot. My seven-year-old daughter wants me to write a children’s book. I’d like to write her one before she gets too old to read it.
Your new book, Exit West, is set in an unnamed country. What made you chose such a backdrop for your novel?
I like the idea of the starting point of a novel to be open so that different readers imagine it (the story) occurring in their city or their own settings. So, the unnamed nature is attributed to that aspect. And, partly because when we talk about migration and migrants, the places they come from are so often treated as being vague. The places they end up going to are in sharp focus. The novel explores that bias through anonymity.
Your book talks about migration. What are your views of the current policies on migration around the world, especially that of Donald Trump?
Talking about the travel ban, I think it is a sad and a discriminatory measure. It is a betrayal of equality and human decency. But, if we should look at our situation back home; there are restrictions for travel between India and Pakistan. I don’t like the idea of borders that prevent human travel and movement.
You’ve lived across several cities. Where do you feel the most at home?
I feel at home in Lahore, where I live at the moment. New York is another city I have called home for several years. Then, there are London and California, where I have spent a large part of my childhood. So, these places are home for me partly. But, my family and kids are in Lahore, so that is where my base is.
Pakistani authors seem to be quite sought-after in the Indian publishing industry…
Writers are one of the reasons we get to see across the border. It’s not surprising that Indian writers, film-makers and musicians are popular in Pakistan and vice versa because there is a huge commonality between these two countries. We often hear about the political differences between India and Pakistan, but the cultural commonalities between India and Pakistan are vaster than the political differences.
Pakistani authors are known to write grittier novels. Do you think good fiction comes from a politically charged environment?
I don’t think it’s useful to think of writing in terms of nations. We need to think of them as individuals and the work they produce. A lot of Indian and Pakistani writers are my friends. They have their own approach to writing.
A lot of Pakistani authors used to visit India for various literary festivals earlier…
I have been getting invitations (from India), but to be honest, I have been hesitating about coming down. Visiting Delhi, Mumbai and other places in India have always been amazing experiences. But, now, the problem is that the rhetoric has gone quite bad between both the countries. And, moreover, we keep hearing about cultural boycotts and bans on Pakistani writers and artistes. So, this makes one much more reluctant to come over. My only hope is that India and Pakistan go back to being on good terms, because I would like to come to India more often.