Updated May 19, 2017 11:08am

One problem in Pakistan is that people don’t believe in themselves, says novelist Mohsin Hamid

Social integration is a two-way process; if the immigrants should try to integrate in society they have migrated to, the hosts also should allow them to be absorbed into it, says noted novelist Mohsin Hamid.

Speaking at Gymkhana Club on Thursday, where he was speaking on his novel Exit West – narrating woes of a migrating couple – he said a majority of migrants do try to learn the ways – law, language and culture – of their host societies.

Also read: The idea of a ban on travel to America is heartbreaking, says Mohsin Hamid

Narrating his own experience in France, he said he went there to promote his novel and was interviewed at least by 40 different organisations. “Not even one interviewer was non-French guy speaking vernacular. How come that not even a single man had learned French, or none of them was allowed at the pinnacle of cultural or professional organisation? The host societies should also allow the immigrants enough space to excel in different fields of human activity,” he said.

He explained that inspiration for the latest novel did come from Syrian refugee crisis and the day to day insecurities of the life in Lahore. “One goes through this emotion of insecurity almost on a daily basis – struggling to keep his/her optimism daily. Both these strands came together to guide this novel,” he said.

He agreed to a questioner that people from Pakistan run to the West due to economic reasons and then come back suffering nostalgia and still struggle to adjust in Pakistan.

“It is not easy to live anywhere in the world for an under-privileged person. Life in New York or London or New Delhi is not easy if one is poor. In that sense, this social frustration is not unique to Lahore or Pakistan. But yes, Pakistan has failed its poor miserably. However, one should not lose hope.

"The next generation has great promise, both for itself and the country. Things can improve with new generation taking the center stage. There are few English writers from Pakistan despite having a rich literary history. But that deficit seems to be ending; more and more young people are learning the language and trying hands on story writing – youth is regularly writing me for guidance on how to write a story and novel.”

The next generation has great promise, both for itself and the country. Things can improve with new generation taking the center stage,” he said and added: “There are few English writers from Pakistan despite having a rich literary history. But that deficit seems to be ending; more and more young people are learning the language and trying hands on story writing – youth is regularly writing me for guidance on how to write a story and novel.”

With formal education in law and international relations, Mohsin was asked how he strayed into novel writing and then stuck to it. “In fact, I tried law practice but soon realised it was not for me. The sensitivities of international law helped me a lot in novel writing and so did my law education that trained me into grasping the crux of the matter,” he maintained.

“One problem that I found prevalent in Pakistan is that people don’t believe in themselves; that is why they need additional identities: being Muslim, or better Muslim, or being Punjabi, Baloch, Sindhi or Pathan. It is more like caste system. Once people start believing in themselves, they would not need these additional identities.

The new generation kindles that kind of hope, as it is full of confidence and less and less burdened by these identities,” he said.

He also read parts of his novel for the receptive audience.


Originally published in Dawn, May 19th, 2017

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Desh bandhu Chopra May 19, 2017 09:36am

The young novelist is a bit premature. It is not a matter of lack of self-belief in Pakistanis, I think. The things , which he calls additional identities, are in fact their connections with their roots. Nothing wrong about that. It is basically the lack of opportunities that plagues Pakistan. There is abundant talent in every field, the only need is to tap this wealth of talent and offer it appropriate opportunities and openings. One small piece of unsolicited advice for the young novelist. I think an aspiring novelist should see him or herself not as a story WRITER but a TELLER of stories. Because when you think of TELLING a story ( not writing it) , the product is definitely much better and more convincing.

BNJ May 19, 2017 10:30am

His 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' is one of the finest book one can come across !

The_Truth May 19, 2017 12:24pm

Good points. His books are so good. The writing skill this posses is of highest order. Best of luck for new books man.

rohit K May 19, 2017 01:53pm

To have confidence you need to have a strong sense of identity and be comfortable with it.

Hassan (Karachi) May 19, 2017 02:42pm

"... that is why they need additional identities..."

This line struck a cord for me. I try to identify myself with the achievements of my Grand Parents and Parents, to live up to those high standards, but I am lying to myself and failing miserably. I am defined by my actions. And will be judged by them in the after life.

gary May 19, 2017 03:28pm

That is one of the many problems Pakistanis have. They are not trusted by others. And they are religious fanatic, and utterly dishonest at the same time. Just get the data who takes the most state benefits from the state in the west.

AA May 19, 2017 04:36pm

@gary I am 100% Agree with you. I am Pakistani Catholic living in United states I have seen withint Pakistani muslim community they re way of life is very Dishonest they re expert is exploiting American Social system.

BNJ May 19, 2017 04:56pm

@Desh bandhu Chopra I assume you are an Indian, so am i. Pls let me know have you read any of Mohsin Hamid's work?? He is possibly one of the finest authors from the sub-continent. His books also deal with the subjects that you have mentioned in your comment but they put in an articulate manner. Pls read any of his book and you will understand what i meant.

Desh bandhu Chopra May 19, 2017 05:29pm

@BNJ I did not say a word about the quality of his writings.

Rahul May 19, 2017 07:35pm

Pakistanis search for identity because they have disowned whatever was their own in favor of what they feel is superior.

Shiraz Ahmad May 19, 2017 07:44pm

@BNJ I am glad you think that way. If you take away the hype it is one of the most shallow and overrated books written in a vey long time

P N B NAIR May 19, 2017 09:26pm

nice and true..

MHS May 19, 2017 11:12pm

@Desh bandhu Chopra looks like you missed the context here, altogether. The additional identities he is referring to are mentioned wrt the context of ex pats, who get confined to their societies mostly because of lack of opportunities and sometimes due to lack of self belief as mentioned.

Sanjay May 19, 2017 11:56pm

That's because they rightly recognize that they are not trustworthy. So how would they believe themselves?

Dr.Sadaf May 20, 2017 01:10am

It is so because they r busy surviving,

Dr.Sadaf May 20, 2017 01:11am

@rohit K , believe me the sense of identity is very strong so don't be confused on that account.

Onebookend May 20, 2017 02:42am

Self-Belief generates among people by Caregivers' consistent love, tenderness and direction. The Caregivers in turn receive the same from the Community and the Community receives patronage, support and safety from the Governing bodies which include schools, opportunity to earn a living and law enforcement Whenever there is a breach in this chain it creates a void that engulfs Belief systems, which eventually strikes Self-Belief.

Shah May 20, 2017 06:37am

Political leaders are to blame for providing corrupt leadership... which has shattered confidence.

Desh bandhu Chopra May 20, 2017 06:46am

@MHS I think he has allowed himself to be influenced more by Western thought . It is a trap few writers of our times ( especially those writing in English) can avoid.