A section from
‘A Jedi shall not know hatred, nor fear… nor love.’ from Star Wars Episode II
MOTH SMOKE - MOHSIN HAMID
'When I first met Darashikoh Shehzad, I didn't know wether I was going to sleep with him, but I knew I wanted to. He seemed the perfect partner for my first extramarital affair. He was smart and sexy, and since he was one of Ozi's best friends, I knew he'd keep his mouth shut.'
A drug-peddling and tragic anti-hero, an adulterous new mother and the dutiful son of a modern-day pirate tell the story of life in Lahore, Pakistan towards the end of the twentieth century. Moth smoke is narrated in first person by principle characters which brings out their drive and flaws, and it makes an honest, hillarious and insightful read. Minor characters in the story include a mechanic cum peddler cum goon, an SUV and the Indo-Pak nuclear tests.
Daru - a banker and ex-college boxer, is plunged deeper into financial crisis after putting a difficult client in his place costs him his job. The newly acquired unemployed status widens the social gaps between him and his friends. Nothing, not even years of brotherhood and comraderie manage to bridge the growing distance between humble and elite born classmates.
His growing slanted belief in himself makes him stubborn and he refuses even short term pain. His inner hostility towards the well-heeled of Lahore is evident in dialogue.
'I sit in the back of Ozi's Pajero. I've never been in a Pajero before. Costs more than my house and moves like a bull, powerful and single-minded. Ozi drives by pointing it in one direction and stepping on the gas, trusting that everyone will get out of our way. Occasionally, when he cuts things too close and has to swerve to avoid crushing someone, the Pajero engine grumbles with disappointment and Ozi swears.
"It was a red light," Mumtaz points out.
"So? He could see me coming."
Daru's casual dalliance with recreational drugs turns into a prospective vocation when peddling drugs becomes the only source of income. Relief nevertheless comes after the tension between him and Mumtaz is broken by sex on his terrace.
The twisted but universal reactions of Daru, Mumtaz and Ozi make interesting reading, much like a soap opera, and a casual (unacademic) look at society in the Indian sub-continent.
Most of the secondary characters are introduced by Daru; whose prejudice brings out the most entertaining traits of even the most mundane people.
'Raider sees me and shakes his head. Riader's real name is Haider, and his dream is to become a hostile takeover specialist on Wall Street. He's the only man at our bank who wears suspenders.
Raider's talking about my client, Malik Jiwan, a rural landlord with half a million US in his account, a seat in the Provincial Assembly, and his eyebrows that meet in the middle like a second pair of whiskers. His pastimes include fighting the spread of primary education and stalling the census. Right now he's sitting behind my desk, in my chair rotating imperiously.
By far the real protagonist is Mumtaz. Part villain, part seductress, part adventuress, part lover, part survivor, and sadly only the smallest part of her was a mother.
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