Pakistani writer H M Naqvi feels a lot of exciting writing is emanating from his country but rues that Pakistan is routinely reduced in mainstream discourse to two or three issues.
"Karachi hosted a wonderful literary festival which was attended by, among others, Mohammed Hanif, Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Mohsin Hamid, Asif Farrukhi, Bapsi Sidhwa and Fehmid Mirza...There a lot of writing emanating from Pakistan. It's quite exciting," says the writer of Home Boy, published by HarperCollins.
According to Naqvi, who taught creative writing at the Boston University, the characters in his debut novel started off as words on a page - Jimbo, AC, Chuck - but when they started interacting with each other, responding to different situations, circumstances, they became animate, three-dimensional.
"I like to think that the characters in my book remain with the reader when they put the book down. You could imagine having a chat with them over dinner or a drink. After all, one is a bar-brawling, doctoral student, one a sensitive, off-the-boat cabdriver, and the third a two-hundred-and-fifty-pound Pahan DJ from Jersey City who calls his girlfriend 'The Duck'," Naqvi told PTI in an interview.
On Pakistan being frequently stereotyped and tarred with single brush by outsiders, he says, "although I find that Pakistan is routinely reduced in mainstream discourse to two or three issues, an inaccurate and rather silly approach to a vast country, I am not an activist or sociologist or pundit. I don't write to address matters of image. I write to address my anxieties. I write because I have an itch."
The characters in Naqvi's book are renaissance men and boulevardiers. They are three young Pakistani men in New York City at the turn-of-the-millennium: AC, a gangsta rap-spouting academic; Jimbo, a hulking Pushtun deejay from the streets of Jersey City; and Chuck, a wide-eyed, off-the-boat kid, searching for himself and the American Dream.
In a city where origins matter less than the talent for self-invention, three 'Metrostanis' have the guts to claim the place as their own.
But when they embark on a road trip to the hinterland weeks after 9/11 in search of the Shaman, a Gatsbyesque compatriot who seemingly disappears into thin air, things go horribly wrong. Suddenly, they find themselves in a changed, charged America.
Rollicking, bittersweet and sharply observed, Home Boy is at once an immigrant's tale, a mystery, a story of love and loss as well as a unique meditation on Americana and notions of collective identity. It announces the debut of an original, electrifying voice in contemporary fiction.
On how the idea (of writing the novel) struck him, he says, "I've been writing since I was five or six, writing as far back as I can remember. I don't actually remember the genesis of this novel, probably because I was a few drinks into the evening when I started scribbling on a cocktail napkin. When I transcribed the lines several weeks later, after emptying my pockets, the novel began.
"The novel definitely has resonance among diasporic desis, Pakistanis and Indians alike. The prose is peppered with Punjabi and Urdu, allusions to Bollywood, the contemporary Pakistani rock scene. At the same time, there is Yiddish and hip hop in it, a high literary and lowbrow register. In this way, Home Boy is a sort of stew, a khichri."
Home Boy was dubbed by the The New York Times as "a remarkably engaging novel that delights as it disturbs".
"Naqvi is a genius with words...I haven't read anything so delicious in a long time," wrote Mohammed Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes about the book.
Naqvi says his dream project would involve film, photographs, prose, oral archives.
"It would span the subcontinent, generations, centuries. It would be epic and would take a lifetime. I don't, however, have a lifetime," he says.
Exciting Writing Emanating from Pak: 'Home Boy' Writer
Zafri Mudasser Nofil/New Delhi
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