Friday, April 5, 2013

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia – Mohsin Hamid

After masterpieces like The Reluctant Fundamentalist (which is on its way to movie theatres soon); Mohsin Hamid brings another amazing piece of fiction our way. HTGFRIRA is a gritty & real look at small-town India/Pakistan/any similar country & how the multitudes there are fighting just to survive.

First of all, the best part of this book is that it is written as a self-help book. The way Mr Hamid plays with words is an inspiration to any of us with a love for language. He starts off every chapter with titles like “Don’t fall in love” or “Avoid Idealists” and then goes on to explain it in such a witty & engaging way that you cannot but want to know more.

Hamid doesn’t ever name his protagonist but keeps using the pronoun ‘You’ to describe the name character in the book – in one shot involving the reader & making the book completely representative of the everyman.
The book starts with detailing the nuances of a just-above-the-poverty-line family in a small town who get to relocate to a bigger town nearby. The older son has to start working; the daughter gets married but ‘you’ (the second son get to have an education; that’s where you start off your journey.

From almost losing his life as a kid to his road through school & college; this self-motivated & extremely self-aware young boy is completely focused on being able to build a financially secure life for himself. His mother’s death due to insufficient care only exacerbates this resolve.

But then he falls in love inspite of the chapter marked “Don’t Fall in Love”; this character of the ‘pretty girl’ is a beautiful & welcome respite from the constant ambition of the book. This is not to say that the girl isn’t ambitious, she has her own career path, going from being a d-list starlet to becoming an eclectic furniture boutique owner. While the hero has to forget about his romance; he manages to hang on to the last vestiges of his love & is haunted by these memories. It is almost like his personal cross to bear.

How the main character navigates through love, loss, shady businesses, unhelpful political & bureaucratic hurdles is a story worth reading; the examples given are reminiscent of experiences that I have either experienced personally or seen happening. I love how, for example, the protagonist starts off a mineral water business by putting boiled water in tampered bottles. At one point, when he is given a choice of bringing down costs by not boiling the water, he refuses to do it because he doesn’t want to compromise on quality. Because, of course, there are some lines that should not be crossed.

This hilarious & often uncomfortable style of writing is a great introduction to the Indian sub-continent & the way it works. It reminds me of Q&A before it became the godawful Slumdog Millionaire especially the nuanced dialogue. It is a welcome departure from books either bashing that part of the world or weirdly deifying it.

However, it is the last few chapters that truly ties together all of these messages & stories culminating in a weirdly satisfying yet not truly happy ending. I may be guilty of heaping way too much praise on this book but experiencing this author playing with words is truly a pleasure.

The tl;dr version: Read this book to get an amazing insight into the new & improved Indian sub-continent. This rags-to-riches story is written in a really cool self-help style that is both funny & brilliantly written. 

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