‘I see Brazil An Alternate Universe Of Pakistan’

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MOHSIN HAMID
Known Pakistani literary figure Mohsin Hamid
Takes part in FLIP festival in Brazil
Mohsin Hamid grew up in Lahore, Pakistan and attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School. His first novel, Moth Smoke, won the Betty Trask Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Prize. His second, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, spent over two months on the New York Times bestseller list. It was published in over 30 languages and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and was named by the Guardian as one of the books that defined the decade. Hamid contributes to Time, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other publications. He lives in Lahore.

Recently he went to Brazil to take part in FLIP literacy festival. Mohsin’s visit was part of Brazil embassy in Islamabad’s initiatives to promote literacy and cultural activities between the two countries. Mohsin had an opportunity to speak as a key speaker at the Round Table “8” of FLIP 2014, together with Brazilian writers Antonio parata and Tete Ribeiro. After FLIP Mohsin Hamid took part in some activities held in Rio de Janeiro.

Some of the other foreign guest writers at FLIP 2014 included, Ms. Eleanor Catton (New Zealand/Canada), winner of Man Booker Prize for her book The Luminaries, Joel Dicker (Switzerland), the French newspaper Le Monde referred to Joel Dicker as the second most exiting discovery of Switzerland after Roger Federer, Mathieu Lindon (France), Jhumpa Lahiri(UK), Juan Villoro (Mexico), Andrew Solomon (USA), Daniel Alarcon (Peru), Vladmir Sorokin (Russia), Gracela Mochkofsky (Argentina), Almeida Faria (Portugal), Jose Edwards (Chile) and Stgar Keret (Israel).

Mohsin Hamid gave an interview Oglobo, excerpts of which are produced here for the interest of readers.

How did the idea to write this book “self-help” come from?

It started with a joke. I was at a party in New York years ago, and found a Pakistani friend who worked in publishing in London. We talked about literature and how novels can sometimes be difficult to read. You move slowly, but feel that the book does him good, almost like self-help. Then I made a joke that my next novel would be a self-help book and everyone laughed. I returned to Pakistan and could not stop thinking: why I write books? I am 42, have two children, I am an ordinary person. But my day consists of sitting hours in a room, alone, thinking about things and writing about them. That’s a strange way to spend time. Perhaps writing novels is a kind of self-help for me, is how I make life make sense. Perhaps writing novels is always an act of self-help. And I started thinking that reading novels is also. I read to feel less alone, to understand the world, going beyond my own experience. The more I thought about it, the more I was sure that my new book would be a self-help book. But that would be kind of self-help? Then I thought how novels are sold today. Often say you have to read this book because it explains Africa, China, why the climate is changing. I thought it would be funny to play with this idea, hence the work on emerging Asia.

You make a parody of self-help works, a very popular genre in the world. What do you attribute this success?

We are living through a series of very rapid change. The changes between the generations of my great-grandfathers and grandfathers were small. Between me and my father, was much higher. Between me and my children, the difference is astronomical. They play on iPads, live in a Pakistan which has nuclear weapons. They can communicate with relatives who live in countries thousands of miles. And the pace of change continues to accelerate. The explanation (for the success of the genre) is that we are increasingly unable to find advice and deal with institutions around us. What happens to a family whose father is illiterate, left the country to the city and his son have wifi on a cell phone? Where these guys go after advice and guidance? Will seek to strangers. There is a whole self-help industry that feeds it, not only books, newspapers and magazines also. They say you need to eat more tomatoes, be slimmer. Besides the religious leaders, gang leaders, all sorts of people try to tell young people how to navigate this world.

You see a mismatch between the demands of happiness and wealth preached by these books and the real possibilities of young people to achieve them?

Undoubtedly, there is a huge frustration. It happens because people feel that the system is basically unfair. We live in a civilization that tells us all the time that is “with you”: if you work hard and strive, will succeed. And if not achieved success, it’s your fault. Now many young people go to school, enter the workforce and see what is waiting for them is very little. There are societies in which it is possible to play by the rules and get along, but there are others where everyone knows who’s on top cheated. This is not a secret. People in Brazil or Pakistan speak well. There is a dangerous situation in democracies in Brazil and Pakistan. If a dictatorship rich people rule the party in a way that is more stable because people know that the fact of being fucked is not only blame them. In a democratic system, if not advanced, it’s our fault. This creates anxiety and anger, something very explosive. In these societies, violence is the rule and laws are supposedly respected. I feel that, despite the economic progress of the past 50 years, our countries are infinitely more violent. This can be observed in several places in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

 

What are your expectations for the coming to Brazil?

 

There is no other country that would like to visit more than Brazil. I’ve been to all the continents, but never in Brazil. I’m very excited. I have many connections with the country. I played football in high school, when I was a kid there was Socrates, Pele was already a god of football. When I went to law school in the United States, shared a room with a Brazilian who became a great friend. He showed me Gilberto Gil, Jorge Ben. I was fascinated with the song “Taj Mahal”, a Brazilian song that spoke of characters who lived in my country. The connection between our lands was cut by the oceans. I see Brazil almost like an alternate universe of Pakistan. The two are very populous, with cities located between the sea and the mountain, had an ancestral population, were colonized by European countries, lived military dictatorships. Are many similarities, despite being so far away and being so different.

ABOUT FLIP

Paraty International Literary Festival (Flip) was born in August 2003. Organized by the Association Casa Azul, Flip carried out its 12th Edition between July 30 and August 3, 2014. The literary festival meets importants authors like in previous editions with the presence of Isabel Allende, Ferreira Gullar, Don DeLillo, Richard Dawkins, Eric Hobsbawm, Chico Buarque, among others. In the five-day Festival, the Flip performs about 200 events, including debates, concerts, exhibitions, workshops, film screenings and presentations to schools.