Salil Tripathi speaks to Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid, whose second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is just out:
When Hamid saw the planes crashing into the towers, he knew it would change the way we look at our world. “My mother, who loves America, was deeply upset. But I was struck when I saw images of children dancing; I heard people, and not just Muslims, say that the US had it coming. How do you divorce the symbolic appreciation of that act as a form of response, from the catastrophe it caused?”
The world as he understood it, and his own reality — of being a Pakistani in the West — altered profoundly. He returned to Pakistan when tensions rose along the Indian border after the attack on the Indian Parliament. He went back to the West, only to return once more, to pursue the novel, and, as he puts it, “the woman who became my wife”.
I’m catching up with this February piece by Hamid in The Independent on the test that qualified him for British citizenship:
“I am reading from pages 24 and 26 of the British Citizenship Test Study Guide. This, for those who are unfamiliar with the foundational text of our common culture, is “A comprehensive study guide containing official material, study advice and sample questions”. So far, each of my colleagues has on average been able to answer only about one in three questions correctly. None, for example, could describe the intricately choreographed tribal ritual with which one year gives way to another in Wales.
Q: If you were visiting a Welsh home during the New Year, what tradition might be observed?
A: In Wales, on the stroke of midnight, the back door is opened to release the Old Year. It is then locked to keep the luck in, and at the last stroke, the front door opened to let in the New Year.
But unlike my colleagues, I, a 35-year-old, brown-skinned, Pakistani-born, US college- and law-school-educated, sometimes bearded, innately peripatetic, and rather obviously immigrated man can answer virtually all of the 175 sample questions correctly, because I spent much of the previous two days committing them to memory. I have, to borrow an expression from an illustrious group of navigators, The Knowledge.”