LAHORE: 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.

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,” 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, Balochi, 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.


Note from Mohsin Hamid: “In response to the 2017 article in DAWN regarding my talk at Gymkhana, I would like to point out that I have been misquoted throughout. For example, when speaking about the lack of immigrant interviewers in France, I was drawing attention to systemic racism not saying that immigrants do not learn French. Similarly, I do not believe that the issue of identity in Pakistan comes down to whether or not people believe in themselves, nor do I believe that the number of English language writers has a bearing on the richness of the country’s literary history. These are much more complicated issues that I spoke about in much more complicated ways, and I wish to object on record to being misquoted throughout this piece.”


Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2017

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