By Atul K Thakur
[H]ow the books, in general are meant for? They are for ‘self-help’, reveals the narrator of Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, on a less cryptic note. Though he doesn’t assert its universal supremacy, but cites it’s fallible and can be deviated as well. The later conclusion, Hamid’s third novel gives that narrator is ‘other’ and reader is ‘self’-the book progresses under this existential arrangement, and through taking meticulous care of locale.
The locale is, rising Asia (a greater misnomer), where chances are invariable for the aspirants of filthy richness-the sole requisite is to follow the model (which is not hindered by the shabbiness of surroundings, and knows thriving on suspicious commerce, violence and destiny) of that rash upturn. As the impressions of Asia story is heavily influenced with the new economic swing (often as it taken) in the South Asian countries, so it seems apt, if this novel is set away from a different Asia (beyond its southern part, which is in prime focus here).
Unlike Hamid’s acclaimed previous novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist that was characteristically woven tough around the named countries-United States and Pakistan, his latest fiction has no such specific geographic bound. Though both his novels exude the specialties of plain-narration, but it’s contextualization that makes them varied in interest and appearance. Nevertheless, the vital facts remain at core in Hamid’s novels, irrespective of his narrator’s predestined position, in first or second person.
The story starts and furthers this way-a poor young boy moves from the rural hinterland to a slum dwelling in the city (migrated for survival, not for adventurism initially), gets incomplete education, trysts with militancy, and eventually sets up a bottled water business. Mohsin does big services by terming this horrific trade as ‘the ultimate symbol of the modern South Asian city’, which forbids ones’ natural right over a commodity, like water. But architects of the new game in rising Asia sees this as mainstreaming of underused resources, alas!
Anyway, the unusual protagonist of this novel leaves his past behind, but his love for the girl he met as teenager remains vigorously persisting. As the prime mover in the self-help guide set-up, his rise (which believed true in various myopic quarters) becomes the sarcastic feed, portraying the awkwardness of belief that is attached today with the notion of success in the rapidly rising part of this world.
The ugliness of Asia’s weird statistical progression or terrible idleness of Western world forwards the case of mishandled growth management over the long course of history. The life makes or breaks with no definite set of rule here-all are lucky, who survives and rest are wretched. This is a new formulation, albeit it is extremely disastrous and has sharp impact. The complexities stop even that ‘luck’ to be faithful, rather filthy rich or aspirants are supposed to play with the system. They are expected to commit misdeeds outside, but have to be seen orderly with the household responsibilities.
The author seems well acquainted with the prevailing economic insecurity among the common folks, who sees no other way around than trying out a hand with filthy way of richness. The title forwards the acuteness of desperate competency- ‘Move to the City’, ‘Get an Education’, also ‘Avoid Idealists’, ‘Befriend a Bureaucrat’ etc. The chapters have nomenclatures, which fall close to the ‘articles of an imagined wisdom book’ but in deep senses, share the horror from mainstreaming of the misconceived trade or collective ethics. That is nothing short than a systemic failure, in making few individuals filthy rich and rests all, paupers (in relative deprivation).
The brilliantly witted and amazingly focused, Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a straight-forward anti-thesis of the new world order, now being known for following its intrinsically inequitable mandate. The strength of this book lies in its reliance over simple narratives; it’s simpler than most of the non-fiction works have written on furicious scales in recent time. With this novel, a self imposed inertia in fiction writing would end and the genre of fiction would be revitalized for better reasons.
As an exemplary chronicler of inner impulses and insecure self, Hamid in big deal knows the exciting or dull time around, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia confirms it beautifully. In reading this book, you can learn coping with the ironies, which not always arrives tangible or perfectly timed…read this book, and know the structural collapse of rationalism!
Atul K Thakur is a New Delhi-based journalist and editor of India Since 1947 (Niyogi Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org