THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST BY MOHSIN HAMID PDF
Mohsin Hamid currently lives, works and writes in London. The Reluctant Fundamentalist MOHSIN HAMID ILLUSTRATIONS PENGUIN BOOKS PENGUIN . The Reluctant Fundamentalist: a Novel by Mohsin Hamid, Harcourt Inc, , pp. Irfan Khawaja. I. Since 9/11, Americans have desperately wanted, or at. PDF | In the postcolonial and the capitalist phase, the phenomenon of globalization ushered the promise of economic prosperity. In the name of.
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Read "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by Mohsin Hamid available from Rakuten Kobo. Sign up today and get $5 off your first purchase. Now a major motion. This course will introduce students to the heritage of British literature as well as pieces from a variety of cultures and genres. The coursework is. Identity at Stake: Mohsin Hamid's “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”. Humaira Tariq, . Center for Undergraduate Studies, University of the Punjab. Lahore, Pakistan.
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Sullivan, K. My world would be transformed, just as this market around us has been. See how quickly they have brought those tables into the street. Crowds have begun to stroll where only a few minutes ago there was the rumble of traffic. Coming upon this scene now, one might think that Old Anarkali looked always thus, regardless of the hour. But we, sir, who have been sitting here for some time, we know better, do we not?
Yes, we have acquired a certain familiarity with the recent history of our surroundings, and that—in my humble opinion—allows us to put the present into much better perspective.
I have been told that it looks like a rope burn; my more active friends say it is not dissimilar to marks on the bodies of those who have taken up rappelling—or mountain climbing, for that matter. Perhaps a thought of this nature is passing through your mind, for I detect a certain seriousness in your expression, as though you are wondering what sort of training camp could have given a fellow from the plains such as myself cause to engage in these activities!
Allow me, then, to reassure you that the source of my injury was rather prosaic. We have in this country a phenomenon with which you will doubtless be unfamiliar, given the state of plenty that characterizes your homeland.
Here—particularly in the winter, when the reservoirs of the great dams are almost dry—we face a shortage of electricity that manifests itself in rolling blackouts.
We call this load-shedding, and we keep our homes well-stocked with candles so that it does not unduly disrupt our lives.
As a child, during such a time of load-shedding, I grabbed hold of one of these candles, tipped it over, and spilled molten wax on myself. In America, this would have been the start, in all likelihood, of a protracted bout of litigation with the manufacturer for using candle-wax with such a high, and unsafe, melting point; here, it resulted merely in an evening of crying and the rather faint, if oddly linear, scar you see today.
Ah, they have begun to turn on the decorative lights that arc through the air above this market! A little gaudy? Yes, you are right; I myself might have chosen something less colorful. But observe the smiles on the upturned faces of those around us.
It is remarkable how theatrical manmade light can be once sunlight has begun to fade, how it can affect us emotionally, even now, at the start of the twenty-first century, in cities as large and bright as this one. Surely, New York by night must be one of the greatest sights in the world.
I remember my early nocturnal explorations of Manhattan, so often with Erica as my guide. She invited me to her home for dinner soon after our return from Greece; I spent the afternoon deciding what to wear.
I knew her family was wealthy, and I wanted to dress as I imagined they would be dressed: My suit seemed too formal; my blazer would have been better, but it was several years old and struck me as somewhat shabby. In the end, I took advantage of the ethnic exception clause that is written into every code of etiquette and wore a starched white kurta of delicately worked cotton over a pair of jeans.
It was a testament to the open-mindedness and— that overused word— cosmopolitan nature of New York in those days that I felt completely comfortable on the subway in this attire. Indeed, no one seemed to take much notice of me at all, save for a gay gentleman who politely offered me an invitational smile. The area—with its charming bistros, exclusive shops, and attractive women in short skirts walking tiny dogs—felt surprisingly familiar, although I had never been there before; I realized later that I owed my sense of familiarity to the many films that had used it as a setting.
Naturally, I responded with an equally cold and rather imperious tone—carefully calibrated to convey both that I had taken offense and that I found it beneath myself to say so—as I stated my business.
This had its desired effect; he promptly rang up to inquire whether I should be allowed to pass and—when informed that I should—directed me in person to the elevator.
I was instructed to press the button for the penthouse, a term associated in my mind with luxury and—yes, I will confess—with pornography as well.
Erica received me with a smile; her tanned skin seemed to glow with health. I had forgotten how stunning she was, and in that moment, pressed as we were into close proximity by the confines of the entryway, I was forced to lower my eyes. She said she wanted to show me something, and I followed her to her bedroom. I felt a peculiar feeling; I felt at home.
Perhaps it was because I had recently lived such a transitory existence—moving from one dorm room to thenext—and longed for the settled nature of my past; perhaps it was because I missed my family and the comfort of a family residence, where generations stayed together, instead of apart in an atomized state of age segregation; or perhaps it was because a spacious bedroom in a prestigious apartment on the Upper East Side was, in American terms, the socioeconomic equivalent of a spacious bedroom in a prestigious house in Gulberg, such as the one in which I had grown up.
Whatever the reason, it made me smile, and Erica, seeing me smile, smiled back and held up a slender, brown parcel. And so I kind of want to hold onto it for a little longer. I met her eyes, and for the first time I perceived that there was something broken behind them, like a tiny crack in a diamond that becomes visible only when viewed through a magnifying lens; normally it is hidden by the brilliance of the stone. I wanted to know what it was, what had caused her to create the pearl of which she had spoken.
But I thought it would be presumptuous of me to ask; such things are revealed by a person when and to whom they choose. So I attempted to convey through my expression alone my desire to understand her and said nothing further. As we were leaving her room, I noticed a sketch on the wall. It depicted under stormy skies a tropical island with a runway and a steep volcano; nestled in the caldera of the volcano was a lake with another, smaller island in it—an island on an island— wonderfully sheltered and calm.
She nodded. His mother gave it to me when she was clearing out his stuff. In its attention to detail—though not, of course, in its style or subject—it reminded me of our miniature paintings, of the sort one would find if one ventured around the corner to the Lahore Museum or the National College of Arts.
Her father stood at a grill, placing hamburgers onto plates; it was apparent from his demeanor that he was a man of consequence in the corporate world. Perhaps you misconstrue the significance of my beard, which, I should in any case make clear, I had not yet kept when I arrived in New York.
Moreover, not all of our drinkers are western-educated urbanites such as myself; our newspapers regularly carry accounts of villagers dying or going blind after consumingpoorquality moonshine. Indeed, in our poetry and folk songs intoxication occupies a recurring role as a facilitator of love and spiritual enlightenment.
Is it not a sin? I see you smile; we understand one another, then. But I digress. It was a warm evening, like this one—summer in New York being like spring here in Lahore. A breeze was blowing then, again as it is now, and it carried a smell of flame-cooked meat not dissimilar to that coming to us from the many open-air restaurants in this market that are beginning their preparations for dinner.
The setting was superb, the wine was delicious, the burgers were succulent, and our conversation was for the most part rather pleasant. Erica seemed happy that I was there, and her happiness infected me as well. I do, however, remember becoming annoyed at one point in the discussion. Corruption, dictatorship, the rich living like princes while everyone else suffers. I like Pakistanis.
But the elite has raped that place well and good, right? And fundamentalism. You guys have got some serious problems with fundamentalism. There was nothing overtly objectionable in what he had said; indeed, his was a summary with some knowledge, much like the short news items on the front Page of The Wall Street Journal, which I had recently begun to read.
Afterwards Erica and I shared a taxi down to Chelsea, where a friend of hers— the daughter of the owner of a contemporary art gallery—had invited her to a party to celebrate the opening of a show.
I could hear our driver chatting on his mobile in Punjabi and knew from his accent that he was Pakistani. Normally I would have said hello, but on that particular night I did not. Not in the least. It shows on your face.
It means you care. I insisted on paying for our cab, and Erica led me by the hand into an unimpressive building, a decrepit, post-industrial hulk. Upon entering I heard music; it grew louder as we mounted several flights of stairs, until finally we pushed open a fire door and were immersed in sound. The gallery was a vast space, white, with clean lines and minimalist fixtures; video projections of faces glowed on the blank heads of mannequins.
We passed fashion models, old men with tans, artists in outrageous outfits; I was glad I had worn my kurta. Erica was soon at the center of a circle of friends, none of whom I had previously met. I watched as she attracted people to her, and I was reminded of our trip to Greece, of the gravity she had exerted on our group.
Yet this time was different; this time she had brought me with her, and she made certain— through a glance, the offer of a drink, the touch of her hand at my elbow—that we remained connected throughout the evening.
When she kissed me on the cheek hours later, as I held the door of the cab in which she would return to her home alone, I felt as though we had spent an intimate evening together, even though we had spoken little at the party. In the weeks that followed, she did invite me to meet her on a number of occasions. But unlike that first night—when we were together in her room and in the taxi—we were never again alone.
We went to a small music venue on the Lower East Side, a French restaurant in the meatpacking district, a loft party in TriBeCa—but always in the company of others. Often, I found myself observing Erica as she stood or sat, surrounded by her acquaintances. At these moments she frequently became introspective; it was as though their presence allowed her to withdraw, to recede a half-step inside herself. She reminded me of a child who could sleep only with the door open and the light on.
Sometimes she would become aware of my gaze upon her, and then she would smile at me as though—or so I flattered myself to believe—I had placed a shawl around her shoulders as she returned from a walk in the cold. We exchanged only pleasantries on these outings, and yet I felt our relationship was deepening. At the end of the evening she would kiss my cheek, and it seemed to me that she lingered a fraction longer each time, until her kisses lasted long enough for me to catch a trace of her scent and perceive the softness of the indentation at the corner of her mouth.
My patience was rewarded the weekend before I left for Manila, when Erica asked me to join her for a picnic lunch in Central Park and I discovered that we were not to be met by anyone else. It was one of those glorious late-July afternoons in New York when a stiff wind off the Atlantic makes the trees swell and the clouds race across the sky.
You know them well? Yes, precisely: Erica wore a straw hat and carried a wicker basket containing wine, fresh-baked bread, sliced meats, several different cheeses, and grapes—a delicious and, to my mind, rather sophisticated assortment. We chatted as we ate, lounging in the grass. The sun is too strong, and the only people one sees sitting outside are clustered in the shade. There we often used to take our meals in the open—with tea and cucumber sandwiches from the hotel.
For a while I stopped talking to people. I stopped eating. I had to go to the hospital. They told me not to think about it so much and put me on medication. We kept it quiet, though, and by September I was back at Princeton.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
But I glimpsed again—even more clearly than before—the crack inside her; it evoked in me an almost familial tenderness. When we got up to depart, I offered her my arm and she smiled as she accepted it. Then the two of us walked off, leaving Central Park behind. I remember vividly the feeling of her skin, cool and smooth, on mine.
We had never before remained in contact for such a prolonged period; the sensation that her body was so strong and yet belonged to someone so wounded lingered with me until long afterwards. Indeed, weeks later, in my hotel room in Manila, I would at times wake up to that sensation as though touched by a ghost. What bad luck! The lights have gone. But why do you leap to your feet? Do not be alarmed, sir; as I mentioned before, fluctuations and blackouts are common in Pakistan.
Really, you are overreacting; it is not yet so dark. The sky above us still contains a tinge of color, and I can see you quite clearly as you stand there with your hand in your jacket. I assure you: For a city of this size, Lahore is remarkably free of that sort of petty crime.
Do sit down, I implore you, or you shall force me to stand as well. As it is, I feel rude to remain in this position while my guest is uncomfortable. Ah, they are back! Thank goodness. It was nothing more than a momentary disruption.
And you—to jump as though you were a mouse suddenly under the shadow of a hawk! I would offer you a whiskey to settle your nerves, if only I could. You smile; I have hit upon a spirit to which you are partial. Sadly, all the beverages in this market that can trace their origin to your country are carbonated soft drinks.
One of those will do? Then I will summon our waiter immediately. Creepy, you say? What a delightfully American expression—one I have not heard in many years! I do not find them creepy; indeed, I quite like them. Lahore was home to even larger creatures of the night back then—flying foxes, my father used to call them—and when we drove along Mall Road in the evenings we would see them hanging upside down from the canopies of the oldest trees.
They are gone now; it is possible that, like butterflies and fireflies, they belonged to a dreamier world incompatible with the pollution and congestion of a modern metropolis. Today, one glimpses them only in the surrounding countryside. But bats have survived here. They are successful urban dwellers, like you and I, swift enough to escape detection and canny enough to hunt among a crowd. I marvel at their ability to navigate the cityscape; no matter how close they come to these buildings, they are never involved in a collision.
Butterflies, on the other hand, tend to splatter on the windshields of passing automobiles, and I have once seen a firefly bumping repeatedly against the window of a house, unable to comprehend the glass that barred its way.
If so, they would have long been extinct in New York—or even in Manila, for that matter! When I arrived in the Philippines at the start of my first Underwood Samson assignment, I was terribly excited. We had flown first class, and I will never forget the feeling of reclining in my seat, clad in my suit, as I was served champagne by an attractive and—yes, I was indeed so brazen as to allow myself to believe—flirtatious flight attendant.
I was, in my own eyes, a veritable James Bond— only younger, darker, and possibly better paid. How odd it seems now to recall that time; how quickly my sense of self-satisfaction would later disappear! But I am getting ahead of myself. I was telling you about Manila. Have you been to the East, sir? You have! Truly, you are well-traveled for an American—for a person of any country, for that matter.
I am increasingly curious as to the nature of your business—but I am certain you will tell me in due course; for the moment you seem to prefer that I continue. Since you have been to the East, you do not need me to explain how prodigious are the changes taking place in that part of the globe. I expected to find a city like Lahore—or perhaps Karachi; what I found instead was a place of skyscrapers and superhighways.
Yes, Manila had its slums; one saw them on the drive from the airport: I tried not to dwell on the comparison; it was one thing to accept that New York was more wealthy than Lahore, but quite another to swallow the fact that Manila was as well. I felt like a distance runner who thinks he is not doing too badly until he glances over his shoulder and sees that the fellow who is lapping him is not the leader of the pack, but one of the laggards.
Perhaps it was for this reason that I did something in Manila I had never done before: I attempted to act and speak, as much as my dignity would permit, more like an American.
The Filipinos we worked with seemed to look up to my American colleagues, accepting them almost instinctively as members of the officer class of global business—and I wanted my share of that respect as well. Did these things trouble me, you ask?
Certainly, sir; I was often ashamed. But outwardly I gave no sign of this. In any case, there was much for me to be proud of: We were there, as I mentioned to you earlier, to value a recorded-music business. But despite his colorful past, he had managed to sign lucrative outsourcing deals to manufacture and distribute CDs for two of the international music majors.
Indeed, he claimed his operation was the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia and—piracy, downloads, and Chinese competition notwithstanding—growing at quite a healthy clip. To determine how much it was actually worth, we worked around the clock for over a month. We interviewed suppliers, employees, and experts of all kinds; we passed hours in closed rooms with accountants and lawyers; we gathered gigabytes of data; we compared indicators of performance to benchmarks; and, in the end, we built a complex financial model with innumerable permutations.
I spent much of my time in front of my computer, but I also visited the factory floor and several music shops. I felt enormously powerful on these outings, knowing my team was shaping the future.
Would these workers be fired? Would these CDs be made elsewhere? We, indirectly of course, would help decide. Yet there were moments when I became disoriented. I remember one such occasion in particular. I was riding with my colleagues in a limousine. We were mired in traffic, unable to move, and I glanced out the window to see, only a few feet away, the driver of a jeepney returning my gaze.
There was an undisguised hostility in his expression; I had no idea why. We had not met before—of that I was virtually certain—and in a few minutes we would probably never see one another again. But his dislike was so obvious, so intimate, that it got under my skin. I stared back at him, getting angry myself—you will have noticed in your time here that glaring is something we men of Lahore take seriously—and I maintained eye contact until he was obliged by the movement of the car in front to return his attention to the road.
Afterwards, I tried to understand why he acted as he did. Perhaps, I thought, his wife has just left him; perhaps he resents me for the privileges implied by my suit and expensive car; perhaps he simply does not like Americans. I remained preoccupied with this matter far longer than I should have, pursuing several possibilities that all assumed—as their unconscious starting point—that he and I shared a sort of Third World sensibility.
Then one of my colleagues asked me a question, and when I turned to answer him, something rather strange took place. I looked at him—at his fair hair and light eyes and, most of all, his oblivious immersion in the minutiae of our work—and thought, you are so foreign.
I felt in that moment much closer to the Filipino driver than to him; I felt I was play-acting when in reality I ought to be making my way home, like the people on the street outside. I did not say anything, of course, but I was sufficiently unsettled by this peculiar series of events—or impressions, really, for they hardly constituted events—that I found it difficult to sleep that night.
Fortunately, however, the intensity of our assignment did not permit me to indulge in further bouts of insomnia; the next day I was at the office until two in the morning, and when I returned to my hotel room, I slept like a baby. During my time in Manila—I arrived in late July and left in mid-September—my main links to friends and family were weekly phone calls to Lahore and online correspondence with Erica in New York.
Because of the time difference, messages she wrote in the morning arrived in my inbox in the evening, and I looked forward to reading and replying to them before I went to bed. Her emails were invariably brief; she never wrote more than a paragraph or two. But she managed to say a great deal with few words. One note, for example, contained something to the effect of: A bunch of us were hanging out on the beach today and I went for a walk by myself. I found this rock pool. Do you like rock pools?
I love them. Perfect, self-contained, transparent. Then the tide rises and a wave crashes in and they start all over again with new fish left behind. It was kind of surreal. Made me think of you.
Perhaps this strikes you as an exaggeration. But you must understand that in Lahore, at least when I was in secondary school—youngsters here, like everywhere else, are probably more liberated now—relationships were often conducted over fleeting phone calls, messages through friends, and promises of encounters that never happened.
Many parents were strict, and sometimes weeks would pass without us being able to meet those we thought of as our girlfriends.
So we learned to savor the denial of gratification—that most un-American of pleasures! But I was of course eager to see Erica again and was therefore in high spirits as our project approached its end.
Jim had flown in to satisfy himself with our final conclusions; he sat me down for a drink. A shark. I never stopped swimming. And I was a cool customer. Just like you. The confession that implicates its audience is—as we say in cricket—a devilishly difficult ball to play. Reject it and you slight the confessor; accept it and you admit your own guilt.
For half my life, I was outside the candy store looking in, kid. And in America, no matter how poor you are, TV gives you a good view. But I was dirt poor. My dad died of gangrene. So I get the irony of paying a hundred bucks for a bottle of fermented grape juice, if you know what I mean. As I have already told you, I did not grow up in poverty.
Some of my relatives held onto imagined memories the way homeless people hold onto lottery tickets. Nostalgia was their crack cocaine, if you will, and my childhood was littered with the consequences of their addiction: In this, Jim and I were indeed similar: We were joined at the bar by other members of the team, but Jim sat with his arm around the back of my chair in a way that made me feel—quite literally—as though he had taken me under his wing.
It was a good feeling, and it felt even better when I saw how the hotel staff were responding to him; they had identified Jim as a man of substance, and the smiles and attention he received were impressive to behold. I was the only non-American in our group, but I suspected my Pakistaniness was invisible, cloaked by my suit, by my expense account, and—most of all—by my companions. And yet… No, I ought to pause here, for I think you will find rather unpalatable what I intend to say next, and I wish to warn you before I proceed.
Besides, my throat is parched; the breeze seems to have disappeared entirely and, although night has fallen, it is still rather warm. Would you care for another soft drink? You are curious, you say, and desire me to continue? Very well. I will just signal our waiter to bring a bottle for me; there, it is done.
And here he comes, making such haste; one would think we were his only customers!
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Ah, delicious: The following evening was supposed to be our last in Manila. I was in my room, packing my things.
I turned on the television and saw what at first I took to be a film. But as I continued to watch, I realized that it was not fiction but news. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased. Your disgust is evident; indeed, your large hand has, perhaps without your noticing, clenched into a fist. But please believe me when I tell you that I am no sociopath; I am not indifferent to the suffering of others.
When I hear of an acquaintance who has been diagnosed with a serious illness, I feel—almost without fail—a sympathetic pain, a twinge in my kidneys strong enough to elicit a wince. When I am approached for a donation to charity, I tend to be forthcoming, at least insofar as my modest means will permit.
So when I tell you I was pleased at the slaughter of thousands of innocents, I do so with a profound sense of perplexity. But at that moment, my thoughts were not with the victims of the attack—death on television moves me most when it is fictitious and happens to characters with whom I have built up relationships over multiple episodes—no, I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to her knees.
Ah, I see I am only compounding your displeasure. But surely you cannot be completely innocent of such feelings yourself. Do you feel no joy at the video clips—so prevalent these days—of American munitions laying waste the structures of your enemies? But you are at war, you say? Yes, you have a point. I was not at war with America. Far from it: I was the product of an American university; I was earning a lucrative American salary; I was infatuated with an American woman.
So why did part of me desire to see America harmed? I did not know, then; I knew merely that my feelings would be unacceptable to my colleagues, and I undertook to hide them as well as I could. But hearing them speak of their loved ones, my thoughts turned to Erica, and I no longer needed to pretend. I did not yet know, of course, that the dying was confined to the limited geography of what would come to be called Ground Zero.
Nor did I yet know that Erica was safely at home when the attacks took place. I was almost relieved to be worried for her and unable to sleep; this allowed me to share in the anxiety of my colleagues and ignore for a time my initial sense of pleasure.
We were unable to leave Manila for several days, on account of flights being canceled. At the airport, I was escorted by armed guards into a room where I was made to strip down to my boxer shorts—I had, rather embarrassingly, chosen to wear a pink pair patterned with teddy bears, but their revelation had no impact on the severe expressions of my inspectors—and I was, as a consequence, the last person to board our aircraft.
My entrance elicited looks of concern from many of my fellow passengers. I flew to New York uncomfortable in my own face: I was aware of being under suspicion; I felt guilty; I tried therefore to be as nonchalant as possible; this naturally led to my becoming stiff and self-conscious.
Jim, who was sitting next to me, asked on multiple occasions if I was all right. When we arrived, I was separated from my team at immigration. They joined the queue for American citizens; I joined the one for foreigners. The officer who inspected my passport was a solidly built woman with a pistol at her hip and a mastery of English inferior to mine; I attempted to disarm her with a smile. In the end I was dispatched for a secondary inspection in a room where I sat on a metal bench next to a tattooed man in handcuffs.
My team did not wait for me; by the time I entered the customs hall they had already collected their suitcases and left. As a consequence, I rode to Manhattan that evening very much alone. But why do you flinch? Ah yes, the bats; they are circling rather low. They will not touch us; allow me to reassure you on that score.
You know, you say? Your tone is curt; I can see that I have offended you, angered you even. But I have not, I suspect, entirely surprised you. Do you deny it? And that is of not inconsiderable interest to me, for we have not met before, and yet you seem to know at least something about me. Perhaps you have drawn certain conclusions from my appearance, my lustrous beard; perhaps you have merely followed the arc of my tale with the uncanny skill of a skeet shooter; or perhaps… But enough of these speculations!
Let us cast our gaze over a menu; I have spoken too much, and I fear I have been negligent in my duties as a host. Besides, I wish now to hear more oiyou: Night is deepening around us, and despite the lights above this market, your face is mostly in shadow. Let us, like the bats, exercise our other senses, since our eyes are of diminishing utility.
Your ears must be exhausted; the time has come to employ your tongue—for taste, if nothing more, although I hope you can be persuaded to speak! If you are not yet ready to reveal your purpose in traveling here—your demeanor all but precludes the possibility that you are a tourist wandering aimlessly through this part of the world —then I will not insist.
Ah, I see that you have detected a scent. Nothing escapes you; your senses are as acute as those of a fox in the wild. It is rather pleasant, is it not? It comes, as your glance suggests you have already surmised, from the table beside ours, where that family has just taken their seats for dinner. What a contrast: And what a contrast, again: It is remarkable indeed how we human beings are capable of delighting in the mating call of a flower while we are surrounded by the charred carcasses of our fellow animals—but then we are remarkable creatures.
Perhaps it is in our nature to recognize subconsciously the link between mortality and procreation—between, that is to say, the finite and the infinite—and we are in fact driven by reminders of the one to seek out the other. I remember being tasked with purchasing such flowers upon the death of my maternal grandmother. Our Toyota Corolla was lovingly maintained but getting on in years and therefore prone—as happened in this particular case—to overheating.
To this day I can still recall the heady aroma of those strands of threaded jasmine piled high in my arms as I walked to the cemetery, sweating in the summer sun. New York was in mourning after the destruction of the World Trade Center, and floral motifs figured prominently in the shrines to the dead and the missing that had sprung up in my absence.
I would often glance at them as I walked by: They reminded me of my own uncharitable— indeed, inhumane—response to the tragedy, and I felt from them a constant murmur of reproach. Other reproaches were far louder. Small flags stuck on toothpicks featured in the shrines; stickers of flags adorned windshields and windows; large flags fluttered from buildings.
They all seemed to proclaim: We are America—not New York, which, in my opinion, means something quite different—the mightiest civilization the world has ever known; you have slighted us; beware our wrath. Gazing up at the soaring towers of the city, I wondered what manner of host would sally forth from so grand a castle.
It was against this backdrop that I saw Erica again. Six weeks had passed since that afternoon we spent together in Central Park, and when I called I thought Erica might have other plans, but she suggested we meet that very evening, which is to say the evening of my first full day back in New York, as soon as I was done with work.
I was waiting on the sidewalk as she stepped out of a taxi. A peculiar odor lingered in the air; the smoldering wreckage downtown made its way into our lungs. Her lips were pale, as though she had not slept— or perhaps she had been crying. I thought in that moment that she looked older, more elegant; she had an element of that beauty which only age can confer upon a woman, and I imagined I was catching a glimpse of the Erica she would one day become.
Truly, I thought, she is an empressin-waiting! Go out to the Hamptons. But I told her the last thing I wanted to do was leave town. The attacks churned up old thoughts in my head.
I felt we were encountering one another at a funeral; one never knows what to say to those who have been bereaved. Most nights I have to take something to help me rest.
But I feel haunted, you know? Her marriage was arranged, so she had only met her husband a few times beforehand. He was an air force pilot. He died three months later, but she never married again. She said he was the love of her life. We lingered at our table until the restaurant closed for the night—by which time we were rather pleasantly drunk —and then strolled out into the street.
On the one hand it pleased me as her friend to see her so animated, and I knew, moreover, that it was a mark of affection that she took me into her confidence in this way—I had never heard her discuss Chris when speaking to someone else; on the other hand, I was desirous of embarking upon a relationship with her that amounted to more than friendship, and I felt in the strength of her ongoing attachment to Chris the presence of a rival— albeit a dead one—with whom I feared I could never compete.
The aunt I had mentioned was unlike Erica in almost every way: But this was my aunt at forty-five; the woman who stared jauntily out of her photographs at the age of twenty-two was cocksure and painfully attractive. I could only imagine how many suitors she had turned away, and I wondered if my infatuation with Erica was as doomed as theirs had been.
But she had been tense at the start of the evening, careworn and riddled with worry. Like so many others in the city after the attacks, she appeared deeply anxious. Yet her anxieties seemed only indirectly related to the prospect of dying at the hands of terrorists. The destruction of the World Trade Center had, as she had said, churned up old thoughts that had settled in the manner of sediment to the bottom of a pond; now the waters of her mind were murky with what previously had been ignored.
I did not know if the same was true of me. We wandered in silence through the night, and as luck would have it—no, I am being dishonest; luck had nothing to do with it—we found ourselves outside my building. I was somewhat apprehensive of what she might think of the place—it was, after all, a tiny fraction of the size of her own home—but I reassured myself that it possessed a certain literary charm. She shut her eyes, leaned back on her elbows, and smiled drowsily, in the manner of a trusting little girl.
My bladder was dangerously close to bursting, and before dashing off to the lavatory I informed her I would return immediately. By the time I emerged, she was fast asleep. There was no answer. I did not know what to do, and hesitated before eventually turning off the light. The blinds were up; the nighttime glow of Manhattan found its way inside, and I watched the gentle rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. Then I covered her with a sheet and tossed a pillow on the floor for myself.
I was exhausted, and suffering from jet lag in addition, but I had long to wait before dreams took me. I did not wake in the morning when, as I later learned, she kissed me on the forehead before leaving.
But observe! A flower-seller approaches. I will summon him to our table. You are not in the mood? Surely you cannot object to a single strand of jasmine buds. Here, take them in your hand: More like popcorn shrimp, you say? Ah, you jest; for an instant I thought you were being serious. Yet you have succeeded in reminding me of a delicacy we entirely lack in Lahore, being so far from the sea. What I would not give for a bucket of American popcorn shrimp—fried in batter until a delicious golden-brown and served with a sachet of tomato sauce!
Where was I? Yes, I was telling you of Erica and my return to New York. After she had slept at my flat, Erica took to inviting me out with pleasing regularity. I became, in effect, her official escort at the events of New York society. This role pleased me indeed. I was presumptuous enough to think that this was how my life was meant to be, that it had in some way been inevitable that I should end up rubbing shoulders with the truly wealthy in such exalted settings.
Erica vouched for my worthiness; my way of carrying myself—I flattered myself to believe— suggested the impeccability of my breeding; and, for those who inquired further, my Princeton degree and Underwood Samson business card were invariably sufficient to earn me a respectful nod of approval.
Looking back now, I see there was a certain symmetry to the situation: I felt I was entering in New York the very same social class that my family was falling out of in Lahore. Perhaps this accounted for a good part of the comfort and satisfaction I found in my new environment.
But an even greater part of my happiness in those days was due to being in the regular company of Erica. I could, without exaggeration, watch her for hours. The pride of her stance, the slender muscularity of her arms and shoulders, the failure of her garments to cloak the memory of those naked breasts I had seen in Greece: And yet I was also filled with protectiveness.
Often, as we stood or sat in the midst of an impeccably turned-out crowd, I would observe that she was utterly detached, lost in a world of her own. Her eyes were turned inward, and remarks made by her companions would register only indirectly on her face, like the shadows of clouds gliding across the surface of a lake. She smiled when it was brought to her attention that she seemed distant, and said she was, as usual, spacing out.
But I had come to suspect that hers were not merely the lapses of the absent-minded; no, she was struggling against a current that pulled her within herself, and her smile contained the fear that she might slip into her own depths, where she would be trapped, unable to breathe.
I wished to serve as her anchor in these moments, without being so vulgar as to make known to her that this was a role I felt she needed someone to play. I discovered that the best way of doing this was to come close to touching her —to rest my hand on a table, say, as near as possible to hers without actually making contact—and then to wait for her to become aware of my physical presence, at which point she would shake her head as if waking from a dream and bridge the gap between us with a small caress.
Perhaps it was this sense of protectiveness that prevented my attempting to kiss Erica; equally likely, it was the shyness and awe that accompany first love. In any case, several weeks passed before one night, after a Burmese meal in the East Village, Erica held me back as her friends hailed taxis and began to disperse. He said length had been his only concern—the novella form being, in his words, a platypus of a beast— but upon reflection he thought he could make a strong case to publishers.
I congratulated her and said I would most willingly accompany her on any adventure she chose for the evening; she suggested we purchase a magnum of champagne and proceed to my flat, which was just around the corner.
She said this as though it was the most natural thing in the world; I smiled assent in —as best I could manage—the same easy manner. But it was clear to both of us, I think it safe to say, that a certain gravity had attached itself to our actions, and I for one was uncharacteristically clumsy as I searched in my pocket, first in a liquor store for change, and later on the steps in front of my building for my keys.
It was a nippy October day and Erica was dressed warmly; indoors, she removed her sleeveless jacket and her cotton sweater, shedding layers until she achieved her preferred attire of T-shirt and jeans. Lacking a candle, I turned on my television and set it to mute, thereby bathing the room in a dim, flickering light. We drank from a pair of ornate silver cups that had been a graduation present from one of my uncles; the effect was to make the champagne taste metallic, but in a not unpleasant—and indeed rather exotic—fashion.
She nailed me right under the armpit. I fingered my knee, following the scar left by my surgery. So I nodded, at that moment unable to trust my voice. I had thought she would merely raise her T-shirt; instead she pulled it off entirely and lifted one arm. I stared at her. I had seen her in a bikini before—indeed, I had seen her topless—but as she sat on my futon in her bra I felt I had never seen her so naked.
Her body had lost its tan and appeared almost blue in the glow of the television, and she was even more fit than I had remembered. She seemed otherworldly; she could have sprung from the pages of a graphic novel. I commanded myself to focus on her bruise; it was dark and angry at the top of her rib cage, bisected by the strap of her bra. Without thinking, I extended my hand. Then I hesitated. She returned my gaze watchfully, but her expression did not change, so I touched her, placing my fingers on her bruise.
She rested her hand on the back of her head as I traced the line of her ribs. I felt her skin break out in goose bumps, and I pulled her to me, embracing her gently and giving first her forehead, and then her lips, a kiss. She did not respond; she did not resist; she merely acceded as I undressed her. At times I would feel her hold onto me, or I would hear from her the faintest of gasps.
Mainly she was silent and un-moving, but such was my desire that I overlooked the growing wound this inflicted on my pride and continued. I found it difficult to enter her; it was as though she was not aroused. She said nothing while I was inside her, but I could see her discomfort, and so I forced myself to stop. Her sexuality, she said, had been mostly dormant since his death.
She had only once achieved orgasm, and that, too, by fantasizing of him. I did not know what to say. I wanted to console her, to accompany her into her mind and allow her to be less alone. So I asked her to tell me about him, how they had come to kiss, how they had come to make love.
I replied that I did, and so she told me. I knew bits and pieces of their story from before; that night I received it whole.
Something of it seemed familiar to me; later I would realize what seemed familiar was the emotion with which she spoke, an emotion similar to that which she evoked in me. I attempted to separate myself from the situation, to listen to her as though I were not both aching for her and hurt that—seemingly despite herself—her body had rejected me.
I succeeded in this to an extent that surprises me still, when I think of it today. Their story remains vivid in my mind, but I will not recount it now. Suffice it to say that theirs had been an unusual love, with such a degree of commingling of identities that when Chris died, Erica felt she had lost herself; even now, she said, she did not know if she could be found.
But as she spoke of him, her voice seemed to strengthen, and I felt her naked body soften and relax beside me. A liveliness entered her eyes; they ceased to be turned inward. She asked me about my experiences, about the nature of sex and relationships for teenagers in Pakistan. I told her I had had next to nothing in the way of sex before coming to America, and my relationships hardly amounted to much in the face of what she had just recounted. But they were delightful in their own way, I said, and I entertained her with anecdotes of Lahore for what seemed like hours.
At one point I found myself gazing up at the ceiling as though I were gazing at the stars, and the two of us started to laugh. I felt we were at last becoming comfortable in the same bed, and as the sky outside began to lighten, I was compelled to stifle a good-natured yawn. She, too, was drowsy, she said, adding that I was better than any medication at putting her at ease.
Perhaps because of our conversation I dreamed not of Erica, but of home; what she dreamed of I did not know … But I observe, sir, that you are watching me with a rather peculiar expression. Possibly you find me crass for revealing such intimacies to you, a stranger? I will interpret that movement of your head as a response in the negative.
Allow me to assure you that I do not always speak this openly; indeed, I almost never do. But tonight, as I think we both understand, is a night of some importance.
Certainly I perceive it to be so—and yet if I am wrong, you will surely be justified in regarding me the most terrible boor! Certainly I wanted to believe; at least I wanted not to disbelieve with such an intensity that I prevented myself as much as was possible from making the obvious connection between the crumbling of the world around me and the impending destruction of my personal American dream.
The power of my blinders shocks me, looking back—so stark in retrospect were the portents of coming disaster in the news, on the streets, and in the state of the woman with whom I had become enamored.
America was gripped by a growing and self-righteous rage in those weeks of September and October as I cavorted about with Erica; the mighty host I had expected of your country was duly raised and dispatched—but homeward, towards my family in Pakistan. When I spoke to them on the telephone, my mother was frightened, my brother was angry, and my father was stoical—this would all pass, he said.
I reasoned that these stories were mostly untrue; the few with some basis in fact were almost certainly being exaggerated; and besides, those rare cases of abuse that regrettably did transpire were unlikely ever to affect me because such things invariably happened, in America as in all countries, to the hapless poor, not to Princeton graduates earning eighty thousand dollars a year.
Thus clad in my armor of denial I was able to focus—with continuing and noteworthy success—on my job. He offered me another assignment on one of his teams, this time valuing an ailing cable operator. The firm was based in New Jersey—to which I began a daily commute—and had been hit hard by the decline in investor sentiment surrounding the technology sector in general and small-scale broadband providers in particular; it was barely able to service its debts and had become a prime candidate for acquisition.
On this occasion, our client was unconcerned with the potential for future growth. No, our mandate was to determine how much fat could be cut. The potential for headcount reduction was substantial—and hence the reception our team received from the employees of the company was frosty indeed.
Our telephone extensions and fax machines would mysteriously stop working; our security badges and notebooks would disappear. Often I would emerge into the car park to find that one of the tires of my rental car was punctured—far too often for it to be mere coincidence. Once this happened when Jim had come out for the day; he had asked me to give him a ride back to the city. He shook his head as I brought out the spare. Remember that. Things always change. It was the seventies. But you could just smell the opportunity.
My father had lived and died making things with his hands, so I knew from up close that that time was past. Then he made a fist and twisted his thick forearm from side to side, slowly, until the instrument found its level. There was an almost ritualistic quality to his movements, like a batsman—or even, I would say, a knight—donning his gloves before striding onto a field of contest.
First it needed muscle. Now all the blood it could spare was rushing to its brain. In finance. In the coordination business. The tailbone. Like me. We came from places that were wasting away. Power comes from becoming change. There was a certain ring of truth to his words, but I was uncomfortable with the idea that the place I came from was condemned to atrophy.
So I dwelled instead on the positive aspect of his little sermon: I also found myself better equipped to regard as misguided—or at least myopic—the resentment which seethed around us as we went about our business that autumn in that New Jersey corporate park.
But it would not be true to say I was completely untroubled. There were older people among the workers of the cable company.
I sometimes sat near them in the cafeteria—although never at the same table; the seats beside our team always went untaken—and I imagined many of them had children my age. If English had a respectful form of the word you—as we do in Urdu—I would have used it to address them without the slightest hesitation. As it was, the nature of our interactions left me with minimal scope to show them deference—or even sympathy.
Just remember your deals would go ahead whether you worked on them or not. And focus on the fundamentals. And that was precisely what I continued to do, more often than not with both skill and enthusiasm. Because to be perfectly honest, sir, the compassionate pangs I felt for soon-to-be-redundant workers were not overwhelming in their frequency; our job required a degree of commitment that left one with rather limited time for such distractions.
But then, in the latter part of October, something happened that upset my equanimity.
It was shortly after Erica and I had abortively attempted to make love— perhaps a day or two later, although I can no longer precisely recall. The bombing of Afghanistan had already been under way for a fortnight, and I had been avoiding the evening news, preferring not to watch the partisan and sports-event-like coverage given to the mismatch between the American bombers with their twentyfirst-century weaponry and the ill-equipped and ill-fed Afghan tribesmen below.
What left me shaken, however, occurred when I turned on the television myself. I had reached home from New Jersey after midnight and was flipping through the channels, looking for a soothing sitcom, when I chanced upon a newscast with ghostly night-vision images of American troops dropping into Afghanistan for what was described as a daring raid on a Taliban command post.
I had to sit down to calm myself, and I remember polishing off a third of a bottle of whiskey before I was able to fall asleep. The next morning I was, for the first time, late for work. I had overslept and woken with a cracking headache. My fury had ebbed, but much though I wished to pretend I had imagined it entirely, I was no longer capable of so thorough a self-deception.
I did, however, tell myself that I had overreacted, that there was nothing I could do, and that all these world events were playing out on a stage of no relevance to my personal life.
What is Kobo Super Points?
But I remained aware of the embers glowing within me, and that day I found it difficult to concentrate on the pursuit—at which I was normally so capable— of fundamentals. But listen! Did you hear that, sir, a muffled growl, as if of a young lion held captive in a gunnysack? That was my stomach protesting at going unfed. Let us now order our dinner. You would rather wait, you say, and eat upon your return to your hotel?
But I insist! Here in Old Anarkali that pride is visible in the purity of the fare on offer; not one of these worthy restaurateurs would consider placing a western dish on his menu.
No, we are surrounded instead by the kebab of mutton, the tikka of chicken, the stewed foot of goat, the spiced brain of sheep!
These, sir, are predatory delicacies, delicacies imbued with a hint of luxury, of wanton abandon. Not for us the vegetarian recipes one finds across the border to the east, nor the sanitized, sterilized, processed meats so common in your homeland! Here we are not squeamish when it comes to facing the consequences of our desire. For we were not always burdened by debt, dependent on foreign aid and handouts; in the stories we tell of ourselves we were not the crazed and destitute radicals you see on your television channels but rather saints and poets and—yes—conquering kings.
We built the Royal Mosque and the Shalimar Gardens in this city, and we built the Lahore Fort with its mighty walls and wide ramp for our battle-elephants. And we did these things when your country was still a collection of thirteen small colonies, gnawing away at the edge of a continent.
But once more I am raising my voice, and making you rather uncomfortable besides.In any case, there was much for me to be proud of: It has only one service line: Will you not answer it? It is curious how a cup of tea can be refreshing even on a warm day such as this—a mystery, really—but there you have it.
Your bonuses and staffing will depend on them. It struck me then—no, I must be honest, it strikes me now—that shorn of hair and dressed in battle fatigues, we would have been virtually indistinguishable.
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