Read How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia Online
Authors: Mohsin Hamid
ALSO BY MOHSIN HAMID
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Published by the Penguin Group
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New York, New York 10014, USA
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Copyright Â© 2013 by Mohsin Hamid
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions. Published simultaneously in Canada
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hamid, Mohsin, date.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia / Mohsin Hamid.
1. Self-realizationâFiction. I. Title.
PS3558.A42169H69 2013 2012039847
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers, Internet addresses, and other contact information at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
SEVEN: BE PREPARED TO USE VIOLENCE
NINE: PATRONIZE THE ARTISTS OF WAR
ELEVEN: FOCUS ON THE FUNDAMENTALS
MOVE TO THE CITY
LOOK, UNLESS YOU'RE WRITING ONE, A SELF-HELP
book is an oxymoron. You read a self-help book so someone who isn't yourself can help you, that someone being the author. This is true of the whole self-help genre. It's true of how-to books, for example. And it's true of personal improvement books too. Some might even say it's true of religion books. But some others might say that those who say that should be pinned to the ground and bled dry with the slow slice of a blade across their throats. So it's wisest simply to note a divergence of views on that subcategory and move swiftly on.
None of the foregoing means self-help books are useless. On the contrary, they can be useful indeed. But it does mean that the idea of self in the land of self-help is a slippery one. And slippery can be good. Slippery can be pleasurable. Slippery can provide access to what would chafe if entered dry.
This book is a self-help book. Its objective, as it says on the cover, is to show you how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. And to do that it has to find you, huddled, shivering, on the packed earth under your mother's cot one cold, dewy morning. Your anguish is the anguish of a boy whose chocolate has been thrown away, whose remote controls are out of batteries, whose scooter is busted, whose new sneakers have been stolen. This is all the more remarkable since you've never in your life seen any of these things.
The whites of your eyes are yellow, a consequence of spiking bilirubin levels in your blood. The virus afflicting you is called hepatitis E. Its typical mode of transmission is fecal-oral. Yum. It kills only about one in fifty, so you're likely to recover. But right now you feel like you're going to die.
Your mother has encountered this condition many times, or conditions like it anyway. So maybe she doesn't think you're going to die. Then again, maybe she does. Maybe she fears it. Everyone is going to die, and when a mother like yours sees in a third-born child like you the pain that makes you whimper under her cot the way you do, maybe she feels your death push forward a few decades, take off its dark, dusty headscarf, and settle with open-haired familiarity and a lascivious smile into this, the single mud-walled room she shares with all of her surviving offspring.
What she says is, “Don't leave us here.”
Your father has heard this request of hers before. This does not make him completely unsusceptible to it, however. He is a man of voracious sexual appetite, and he often thinks while he is away of your mother's heavy breasts and solid, ample thighs, and he still longs to thrust himself inside her nightly rather than on just three or four visits per year. He also enjoys her unusually rude sense of humor, and sometimes her companionship as well. And although he is not given to displays of affection towards their young, he would like to watch you and your siblings grow. His own father derived considerable pleasure from the daily progress of crops in the fields, and in this, at least insofar as it is analogous to the development of children, the two men are similar.
He says, “I can't afford to bring you to the city.”
“We could stay with you in the quarters.”
“I share my room with the driver. He's a masturbating, chain-smoking, flatulent sisterfucker. There are no families in the quarters.”
“You earn ten thousand now. You're not a poor man.”
“In the city ten thousand makes you a poor man.”
He gets up and walks outside. Your eyes follow him, his leather sandals unslung at the rear, their straps flapping free, his chapped heels callused, hard, crustacean-like. He steps through the doorway into the open-air courtyard located at the center of your extended family's compound. He is unlikely to linger there in contemplation of the single, shade-giving tree, comforting in summer, but now, in spring, still tough and scraggly. Possibly he exits the compound and makes his way to the ridge behind which he prefers to defecate, squatting low and squeezing forcefully to expel the contents of his colon. Possibly he is alone, or possibly he is not.
Beside the ridge is a meaty gully as deep as a man is tall, and at the bottom of that gully is a slender trickle of water. In this season the two are incongruous, the skeletal inmate of a concentration camp dressed in the tunic of an obese pastry chef. Only briefly, during the monsoon, does the gully fill to anything near capacity, and that too is an occurrence less regular than in the past, dependent on increasingly fickle atmospheric currents.
The people of your village relieve themselves downstream of where they wash their clothes, a place in turn downstream of where they drink. Farther upstream, the village before yours does the same. Farther still, where the water emerges from the hills as a sometimes-gushing brook, it is partly employed in the industrial processes of an old, rusting, and subscale textile plant, and partly used as drainage for the fart-smelling gray effluent that results.
Your father is a cook, but despite being reasonably good at his job and originating in the countryside, he is not a man obsessed with the freshness or quality of his ingredients. Cooking for him is a craft of spice and oil. His food burns the tongue and clogs the arteries. When he looks around him here, he does not see prickly leaves and hairy little berries for an effervescent salad, tan stalks of wheat for a heavenly balloon of stone-ground, stove-top-baked flatbread. He sees instead units of backbreaking toil. He sees hours and days and weeks and years. He sees the labor by which a farmer exchanges his allocation of time in this world for an allocation of time in this world. Here, in the heady bouquet of nature's pantry, your father sniffs mortality.
Most of the men of the village who now work in the city do return for the wheat harvest. But it is still too early in the year for that. Your father is here on leave. Nonetheless he likely accompanies his brothers to spend his morning cutting grass and clover for fodder. He will squat, again, but this time sickle in hand, and his movements of gather-cut-release-waddle will be repeated over and over and over as the sun too retraces its own incremental path in the sky.
Beside him, a single dirt road passes through the fields. Should the landlord or his sons drive by in their SUV, your father and his brothers will bring their hands to their foreheads, bend low, and avert their eyes. Meeting the gaze of a landlord has been a risky business in these parts for centuries, perhaps since the beginning of history. Recently some men have begun to do it. But they have beards and earn their keep in the seminaries. They walk tall, with chests out. Your father is not one of them. In fact he dislikes them almost as much as he does the landlords, and for the same reasons. They strike him as domineering and lazy.
Lying on your side with one ear on the packed earth, from your erect-worm's-height perspective you watch your mother follow your father into the courtyard. She feeds the water buffalo tethered there, tossing fodder cut yesterday and mixed with straw into a wooden trough, and milks the animal as it eats, jets of liquid smacking hard into her tin pail. When she is done, the children of the compound, your siblings and cousins, lead the buffalo, its calf, and the goats out to forage. You hear the swishing of the peeled branches they hold and then they are gone.
Your aunts next leave the compound, bearing clay pots on their heads for water and carrying clothes and soap for cleaning. These are social tasks. Your mother's responsibility is solitary. Her alone, them together. It is not a coincidence. She squats as your father is likely squatting, handle-less broom in her hand instead of a sickle, her sweep-sweep-waddle approximating his own movements. Squatting is energy efficient, better for the back and hence ergonomic, and it is not painful. But done for hours and days and weeks and years its mild discomfort echoes in the mind like muffled screams from a subterranean torture chamber. It can be borne endlessly, provided it is never acknowledged.
Your mother cleans the courtyard under the gaze of her mother-in-law. The old woman sits in shadow, the edge of her shawl held in her mouth to conceal not her attributes of temptation but rather her lack of teeth, and looks on in unquenchable disapproval. Your mother is regarded in the compound as vain and arrogant and headstrong, and these accusations have bite, for they are all true. Your grandmother tells your mother she has missed a spot. Because she is toothless and holds the cloth between her lips, her words sound like she is spitting.
Your mother and grandmother play a waiting game. The older woman waits for the younger woman to age, the younger woman waits for the older woman to die. It is a game both will inevitably win. In the meantime, your grandmother flaunts her authority when she can, and your mother flaunts her physical strength. The other women of the compound would be frightened of your mother were it not for the reassuring existence of the men. In an all-female society your mother would likely rise to be queen, a bloody staff in her hand and crushed skulls beneath her feet. Here the best she has been able to manage is for the most part to be spared severe provocation. Even this, cut off as she is from her own village, is no small victory.
Unsaid between your mother and your father is that on ten thousand a month he could, just barely, afford to bring your mother and you children to the city. It would be tight but not impossible. At the moment he is able to send most of his salary back to the village, where it is split between your mother and the rest of the clan. If she and you children were to move in with him, the flow of his money to this place would slow to a trickle, swelling like the water in the gully only in the two festival months when he could perhaps expect a bonus and hopefully would not have debts to clear.
You watch your mother slice up a lengthy white radish and boil it over an open fire. The sun has banished the dew, and even unwell as you are, you no longer feel cold. You feel weak, though, and the pain in your gut is as if a parasite is eating you alive from within. So you do not resist as your mother lifts your head off the earth and ladles her elixir into your mouth. It smells like a burp, like the gasses from a man's belly. It makes your gorge rise. But you have nothing inside that you can vomit, and you drink it without incident.
As you lie motionless afterwards, a young jaundiced village boy, radish juice dribbling from the corner of your lips and forming a small patch of mud on the ground, it must seem that getting filthy rich is beyond your reach. But have faith. You are not as powerless as you appear. Your moment is about to come. Yes, this book is going to offer you a choice.
Decision time arrives a few hours later. The sun has set and your mother has shifted you onto the cot, where you lie swaddled in a blanket even though the evening is warm. The men have returned from the fields, and the family, all except you, have eaten together in the courtyard. Through your doorway you can hear the gurgle of a water pipe and see the flare of its coals as one of your uncles inhales.
Your parents stand over you, looking down. Tomorrow your father will return to the city. He is thinking.
“Will you be all right?” he asks you.
It is the first question he has asked you on this visit, perhaps the first sentence he has uttered to you directly in months. You are in pain and frightened. So the answer is obviously no.
Yet you say, “Yes.”
And take your destiny into your own hands.
Your father absorbs your croak and nods. He says to your mother, “He's a strong child. This one.”
She says, “He's very strong.”
You'll never know if it is your answer that makes your father change his answer. But that night he tells your mother that he has decided she and you children will join him in the city.
They seal the deal with sex. Intercourse in the village is a private act only when it takes place in the fields. Indoors, no couple has a room to themselves. Your parents share theirs with all three of their surviving children. But it is dark, so little is visible. Moreover, your mother and father remain almost entirely clothed. They have never in their lives stripped naked to copulate.
Kneeling, your father loosens the drawstring of his baggy trousers. Lying with her stomach on the floor, your mother pivots her pelvis and does the same. She reaches behind to tug on him with her hand, a firm and direct gesture not unlike her milking of the water buffalo this morning, but she finds him already ready. She rises onto all fours. He enters her, propping himself up with one hand and using the other on her breast, alternately to fondle and for purchase as he pulls himself forward. They engage in a degree of sound suppression, but muscular grunting, fleshy impact, traumatized respiration, and hydraulic suction nonetheless remain audible. You and your siblings sleep or pretend to sleep until they are done. Then they join you on your mother's cot, exhausted, and are within moments lost in their dreams. Your mother snores.
A month later you are well enough to ride with your brother and sister on the roof of the overloaded bus that bears your family and threescore cramped others to the city. If it tips over as it careens down the road, swerving in mad competition with other equally crowded rivals as they seek to pick up the next and next groups of prospective passengers on this route, your likelihood of death or at least dismemberment will be extremely high. Such things happen often, although not nearly as often as they don't happen. But today is your lucky day.
Gripping ropes that mostly succeed in binding luggage to this vehicle, you witness a passage of time that outstrips its chronological equivalent. Just as when headed into the mountains a quick shift in altitude can vault one from subtropical jungle to semi-arctic tundra, so too can a few hours on a bus from rural remoteness to urban centrality appear to span millennia.
Atop your inky-smoke-spewing, starboard-listing conveyance you survey the changes with awe. Dirt streets give way to paved ones, potholes grow less frequent and soon all but disappear, and the kamikaze rush of oncoming traffic vanishes, to be replaced by the enforced peace of the dual carriageway. Electricity makes its appearance, first in passing as you slip below a steel parade of high-voltage giants, then later in the form of wires running at bus-top eye level on either side of the road, and finally in streetlights and shop signs and glorious, magnificent billboards. Buildings go from mud to brick to concrete, then shoot up to an unimaginable four stories, even five.