I believe that reader needs to receive the promise of a story: Mohsin Hamid

Aman Kanth

Jaipur: Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid came into the literary scene with two of his best selling novels – ‘Moth Smoke’ (2000) and ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ (2007), which were well received by readers and critics alike. Mohsin is not only a suave gentleman with a resounding voice, but an intelligent novelist, who enthrals you with his engaging conversation.

A globetrotter, Mohsin has lived in US and UK and has finally settled down in Pakistan to pursue fulltime writing. Speaking on the Day 5 of DSC Jaipur Literature Festival 2011, Mosin gives us a sneak peak into the writer and thinker in him.

Here are some of the excerpts:

Q: Your novels, which are usually slim, are quite successful in conveying their message.

A: As far as my writing style and method are concerned, I tend to write narratives in realism. In my novels, someone falling in love or smoking a joint is very much part of a real world. For me, the idea of seemingly realist narrative inside a hyper-real frame creates a lot of excitement. In this frame, I set up the reader to interpret the scheme of things. This opens the space of interpretation. If writing is like a dance, it is a space where the reader dances alongside.

Q: You often prefer first person narratives rather than third person narratives in your novels.

A: Yes, ‘Moth Smoke’ and ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ are in first person narratives, which address to the reader too. Today, TV and films have become dominant narratives but we still love reading books. When you pick up a book, it transforms story into emotions into readers. Novel is an invitation to enter into the story. I try to write novels, where reader interpretation is final. I believe that reader needs to receive the promise of a story. I don’t want to obstruct that.

Q: Isn’t ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ both subversive in its title and storyline of the novel?

A: For me, I have an idea of a book. The first draft is an idea. In ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, I wanted to tell a story of a Pakistani guy. I tried writing it in American accent, what a twenty-two year old guy would speak. In the first two-three drafts, I figured out what was not working. The voice of Changez in ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is acronistic. I liked it because it sounds very formal.

Q: In ‘Reluctant Fundamentalist’, we find many italicized phrases.

A: In Albert Camus’ ‘In the Fall’, we do find overwrought language, a sense which draws intention to itself. I personally don’t like italics. In my current work, I am trying not use italics.

Q: Your thoughts on sex, eroticism and language.

A: For me, sex and spirituality is something very private. They are very difficult to express phenomena. When writing about sex, it is hugely important in stories. However, sex is not always penetrative as there can be a great deal of sex in a glance. Whenever there is sex in my novels, it is for a purpose. It has an enormous emotional side. I take sex seriously as I focus on the impact rather than anatomical intimacy.

Q: How important is punctuation in your style?

A: I never really understood punctuation. For me, punctuation is all about giving cadence to the words. Comma to me is a rhythmic break, which has a musical notation about it. Basic point is to have cadence and rhythm. When you find yourself slipping into sound, there is more empathy. It is mind, which imagines the timbre and sound of the words.

Q: How do you define a writer?

A: Basically, a writer is a reader. For me, fiction writing is an act of continuous evolution.