Novelist Omer Shahid Hamid’s discussion on his writing process and subject drew a large audience and the hall was soon packed with students seated on the floor as well.
Hamid, who is also a police officer in Karachi, last wrote The Fix, a novel on match-fixing within the women’s cricket team, and is currently working on a spy thriller.
“Pakistani people have a strange psyche, very interested in cricket and conspiracy both,” he said. By combining these two interests, Hamid has, in fact, spoken about the pressures of match-fixing and as a story it excellently applied to the women’s cricket team.
“It’s unfortunately difficult to escape the problem of match-fixing, keeping in view the current socioeconomic and politicolegal situation,” he adds.
Moving on, Omer Shahid Hamid said he was lucky to have written each of his books during a sabbatical.
“The police force has a lot of stories that circulate within its own circles and there is no way that these can get out unless they are told. So I told these stories in a different way.”
The Prisoner, his first book, is a story narrated through the eyes of a police officer. His view of the city and life and his work are what the readers learn from.
“We may not be true psychiatrists but we certainly are amateur ones,” he laughs referring to how well a policeman can read a criminal. He compares his books, saying the darker one was The Party Worker. In the novel, Karachi is seen through the eyes of a Karachi-based party’s street politics enforcer and while the man has committed despicable crimes, he has been humanised.
“It is easy to dehumanise and to dislike a character, but I wish to breathe life into the character so I don’t judge it,” he explains. “It was success for me to have people feel sorry for him.” Now, he says, both the books are in production for a Netflix series.
“This kind of genre is getting more traction and Netflix believes that Pakistan is a growing market. Especially, after the success of the Sacred Games, which is also based on a book by an Indian author (Vikram Chandra), the prospect seems to be good.”
However, for a Pakistani English author who has become popular overnight, Hamid says, his stock of books has almost ended and won’t be replenished too soon as books cannot be published and imported from India.
“We had an advantage of publishing there,” he says. “There was a huge market for Pakistani writers and especially for English writers as they are interested in us too. Distribution was also easy as the distance is not that great. But now the government has imposed a ban on imports from India and without any exceptions, this won’t be possible. It may prove to be discouraging as the writers may need to publish in a country further away – or not at all.”
If someone wants to write something then they should, Hamid advises his readers. “That should be the prime motivation. Money and fame happen to very few, but to record what you want to say, is important.”
It is a daunting exercise, he admits, but a schedule has to be made to be able to produce something.
“You must have a time table of sitting down and trying to write – even if you don’t end up producing something sometimes,” he said.
Originally published in Dawn, November 18th, 2019