Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: How to get filthy rich in rising Asia

It has been a long time since I posted here- blame it on life and getting busy! Or maybe, blame it on having nothing to say. Or maybe, too much to say and do and not enough time for either. Blame games aside, I have been doing a lot of reading despite the busyness, maybe one of the few things that still keeps me sane.

Apart from my usual cache of romantic trash and chick-lit, my other passion is books related to/based in South Asia (as regular reader(s) of this blog know). I am a bit late to the party when it comes to Mohsin Hamid, not having read his first two books, especially The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is really famous and now a movie. I chanced upon his latest book, How to get filthy rich in rising Asia, at the library recently, and spent many a midnight reading it. Despite my best intentions not to while away nights reading, and sleep instead, this was one book that defied my ideas. I don't know how to describe the pull of the book, it wasn't enthralling or thrilling or mesmerizing. But it was unputdownable. It pulled me in slowly but surely into its web, till I was caught deep within the lives of its characters. It spun its web around me, holding me captive, involving and engaging me till I lived and breathed with the protagonist. It made me care.

The book is written in the second person with no names, just our Hero ("you" in the book) and our Heroine ("pretty girl") living out their destinies in an unnamed expanding cosmopolitan city in Asia. Both are driven by ambition to get out of their poverty stricken neighborhood, and adopt all possible paths to achieve their ends. Hero wants to be filthy rich, Heroine wants to be rich and famous. And off they travel on their paths. The book illustrates these paths, which are specific and peculiar to the socio-cultural-political dynamics of Asia (India, maybe?)

He holds up a mirror to current society in India (if it is indeed India- maybe because I am Indian I could see India in every word that he had written). The politics, the bribery, the violence, the cheating, religious and social divides, caste and class schisms, gender dynamics... yes, he shows what current India is all about. He shows how our Hero and Heroine traverse these minefields of class, money and power as they go about making money, making a name, getting rich and richer.

It is hard to describe the story- maybe the story is not as impactful as the manner of its deliverance, the prose that is so powerful and eloquent. Hamid is clearly a master of the craft of penmanship, almost every sentence in the book is like a gem. These studded sentences come together to create a piece of sumptuous handcrafted jewelry. Yes, I guess that is where the book's spell comes from. Not from the story, but from the prose. It is the joy and wonder and enthrallment that comes from reading something so wondrously written. Hamid uses the English language to create his massive web, that entangles and engages endlessly.

Is that what great writers do? Is that what great prose is? I remember the story, but loved the writing. He may have effectively shown the state of India/Asia, but the manner of doing so is way more fascinating. There is such depth to his writing, wherein one can jump in and explore the prose. Or maybe, savor it. Put each sentence on your tongue and let it melt, as it explodes with hidden meaning. Layer upon layer of prose unfurls to create new sensations, new emotions. Yes, maybe, I wasn't reading the book, I was eating it!

(Image Source:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Marital Advice?

No, this post is not about what you think it is, given the title :-) I've been thinking about what would be the best advice to give to an Indian woman about to get married. This thought hasn't come out of the blue, my niece is getting married in the next two days. I am not able to attend the wedding given the distance involved, and I'm pretty sure that I'm the last person she would approach about advice as she enters this new phase in her life. And yet, I was wondering, what would I tell her from my lofty experience of having been married six years?

I still remember the advice I got six years ago, none of which I followed and all it did was make me angry enough to fight with the advice-givers! Here's the gyaan I got:

1. Have kids immediately!
2. Give whatever you earn to your husband and then ask him for spending money.

As you can well imagine, I did not follow the first piece of advice, and ended up getting into a major fight with my dear Aunt who gave me the second bit of wisdom :-) To think, she was trying give me genuine heartfelt advice and honestly believed that giving everything I earn to my husband would make me and my married life happier.

Coming back to the topic at hand, given that I am the dear Aunt in question this time, what would I say to my niece? How does one condense one's experiences into a few pithy sentences, to convey what I think is important- advice that my niece and (and given the example I just gave you) most of my family might not agree with? But anyway, here are the two bits of wisdom that I would pass along:

1. Always have a job and earn your own money
I cannot stress this enough. My niece does not work, and I also realize she will not be working after she gets married. Yet, I want her to. Work gives you a sense of self-worth and confidence. The fact that you earn money makes others respect you. It makes you an equal in some ways- ways which are very important in this already lopsided view of women that Indian society holds. Money is power, make sure you have some!

2. Don't give up your sense of self
Whether you work or not, always be your own person. Don't change your thoughts, beliefs, friends or dreams to accommodate other people and their beliefs. Value the things that are important to you and don't give them up. It is very easy to get swept up in the euphoria of marriage, and slowly give up on your own hobbies, likes and dislikes and dreams. Marriage is meant to nurture you and your growth as an individual, not stifle it.

As I look at these two pieces of advice, I realize how antithetical these are to what Indians call the good "bahu". One who serves her husband's family and becomes a part and parcel of them. One who gives up her dreams for the sake of the husband and his family. One who gives up her career and life because that is what is required. Well, you know what, you can still be a good, no, great bahu without giving up what you think is important for you. Giving your new family respect is essential, giving yourself up is not.

So that is my bit of advice. Here's wishing you a wonderful life ahead!

(Image source: