Friday, 7 March 2008

The Reluctant Fundamentalist


Mohsin Hamid's second novel, 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist', captures 'the recent episode of distrust between the East ant West'. (Kiran Desai) More than that, it explores the psyche of germinating fundamentalism in an educated, well placed Muslim youth - the genre that haunts and pulverise the minds of all modern and educated masses who pride themselves as being above all manner of parochialism and fanaticism.

The narrative is stunningly simple. A bearded Pakistani converses with an American in a downtown cafe in the buzzling city of Lahore. As the day progresses towards dusk and the darkness of the night, the story of the bearded young man comes out in a monologue. The American is a captive listener in what is a stunning portrayal of the schism that created the biggest divide in history - after the Inquisition - the terror strikes on the twin towers of WTC.

Changez, among the brightest and the best of the graduating class at Princeton University, is snapped up by Underwood Samson, an elite firm that specialises in valuation of companies ripe for acquisition. The symbolism of 'acquisition' is replete with insinuations. Parallel to the story of Changez's climbing the corporate ladder is his deep and passionate love for Erica, an all American girl, who is sadly still living in the past in a lost identity, and is prone to schizophrenia.
After 9/11 Changez's identity is also changing, in a seismic shift as well, 'unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power and perhaps even love.'

Till the end, the identity of the American is not revealed. Mohsin Hamid writes in a rivetting style, building up an eerie suspense and controlled irony. It is a tale of love and hatred in unequal measure, though there is a constant balancing of the political with the personal. 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist', although a complex portraiture, does not delve deep into the workings of the mind in such an altruistic situation. Yet, it is a reminder of the continuing cost of ethnic profiling, the breakdown of communication and religious intolerance.

Mohsin Hamid grew up in Lahore, Pakistan and attended Princeton University and the Harvard Law School. His first novel, 'Moth Smoke' was described as a 'brisk, absorbing' novel. He writes about world politics from a Muslim point of view.

Tailpiece - There are some parts in the otherwise well written novel that are jarring. After the mammoth tragedy that takes place on 9/11, the author does not seem to notice the larger tragedy - of lost human lives - instead he is shown to be paranoid about his lady love, although the way in which the author describes the spontaneous reaction of Changez while watching on television the collapse of the WTO twin towers is magically remniscent of most viewers of the scene, outside of America. But as far as his observations of India are concerned, as an agressor - neighbor, who is bent on overtaking Pakistan seem childish. At one one point, Hamid questions the arrogance of the American army fighting a war on terror on the Pakistan soil, of not retaliating to India, though they, Pakistan and America are fighting on the same side! Indian readers would guffaw on this one, for sure.


Nazeer said...

Well educated Muslim youths being drawn to fundamentalism is a mystery. Magnetic pull of Islam may be so strong that it sucks them into the blackhole of Jihad. Islam may have greater power to incite imagination of its followers. Very few Muslims can resist Afterlife and Paradise so vividly described in Quran. Islam is not a religion of peace as Muslim scholars will have us believe. The idea that Islam encompasses the material and the spiritual, political and religious creates a delusion among the Muslims that their religion has everything that can solve contemporary problems. Muslims are not taught about other religions and other systems of faiths. They are taught about the supremacy of their religion. Don't accuse me of Islamophobia.

Chandini said...

Yes, I frankly believe you are Islamophobic. These are evolutionary hiccups that all religions have faced at different times of evolving. We were not there when the dark ages happened and when the Mahabharata happened. After all, as people would tell you that the Epic describes the infighting between cousins for the throne. At the same time, I would acknoledge the poetry and the grandiose manner of dissecting the parable called life in the Gita as being as casual as life itself. I have read parts of Bible and I know all the stories in Hindu epics, though I have not read them. I havent read Quran though. From what you tell me, I think I can give it a miss, right?