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. Editorial Reviews. sidi-its.info Review. Mohsin Hamid's first novel, Moth Smoke , dealt with the Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. Buy a Kindle Kindle eBooks Kindle Unlimited Prime Reading Best Sellers & More Kindle Book Deals Free Reading Apps Kindle Singles Newsstand . Moshin Hamid The Reluctant FundamentalistPENGUIN BOOKSTHE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST'A fantastic piece of work, supe.
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Apr 3, The NOOK Book (eBook) of the The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid at Barnes & Noble. FREE Shipping on $ or more!. Paperback · Ebook · Audio Download The Reluctant Fundamentalist is Mohsin Hamid's thrillingly provocative international bestseller, available as a Penguin. Ebook Download The Reluctant Fundamentalist Now a major motion pictureShort-listed for the Man Booker PrizeNew York Times. bestsellerExtreme times call.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is Mohsin Hamid's thrillingly provocative international bestseller, available as a Penguin Essential for the first time. Shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard. I am a lover of America. So speaks the mysterious stranger at a Lahore cafe as dusk settles. Invited to join him for tea, you learn his name and what led this speaker of immaculate English to seek you out.
A multi-layered and thoroughly gripping book, which works as a poignant love story, a powerful dissection of how US imperialist machinations have turned so many people against the world's superpower - and as a thriller that subtly ratchets up the nerve-jangling tension towards an explosive ending' Metro.
His fiction has been translated into over 30 languages, received numerous awards, and been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. His next novel, Exit West, will be published by Hamish Hamilton in spring For the latest books, recommendations, offers and more. By signing up, I confirm that I'm over View all newsletter. Paperback Audio Download Books Categories.
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The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (ebook)
Authors A-Z. Featured Authors. Articles, Games and more Penguin Shop Penguin Shop Book bundles. Penguin gifts. Writing workshops. View all. Events Podcasts Apps. Contact us Contact us Offices Media contacts Catalogues. Home The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Penguin Published: Paperback Ebook Audio Download. View more editions. Be the first to write a review. Share This eBook:. Add to Wishlist. Instant Download. Description eBook Details Click on the cover image above to read some pages of this book!
A multi-layered and thoroughly gripping book, which works as a poignant love story, a powerful dissection of how US imperialist machinations have turned so many people against the world's superpower - and as a thriller that subtly ratchets up the nerve-jangling tension towards an explosive ending' Metro 'Beautifully written. Industry Reviews A profoundly contemporary story about civil wars, unstable countries and refugees pouring to the cities of the West The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley. The Good People.
A Thousand Paper Birds. Anything is Possible. Men Without Women Stories. Best Laid Plans. The Trip of a Lifetime.
Against All Odds. A Hundred Small Lessons. The Golden Child Sweetness, danger, bullying, shame. I had not before this been to Europe or even swum in the sea—Lahore is, as you know, a ninety-minute journey by air from the coast—and so I gave in to the pleasures of being among this wealthy young fellowship.
I will admit that there were details which annoyed me. The ease with which they parted with money, for example, thinking nothing of the occasional— but not altogether infrequent—meal costing perhaps fifty dollars a head. Or their selfrighteousness in dealing with those whom they had paid for a service. But it may be that I am inclined to exaggerate these irritants in retrospect, knowing the course my relationship with your country would later take.
Besides, the rest of the group was for me mere background; in the foreground shimmered Erica, and observing her gave me enormous satisfaction.
She had told me that she hated to be alone, and I came to notice that she rarely was. She attracted people to her; she had presence, an uncommon magnetism. Documenting her effect on her habitat, a naturalist would likely have compared her to a lioness: Yet one got the sense that she existed internally at a degree of remove from those around her.
Not that she was aloof; she was, in fact, friendly in disposition. But one felt that some part of her—and this, perhaps, was a not insubstantial component of her appeal—was out of reach, lost in thoughts unsaid. Suffice it to say that in relationship to the contemporary female icons of your country, she belonged more to the camp of Paltrow than to that of Spears. But my cultural reference has fallen on deaf ears! You appear distracted, sir; those pretty girls from the National College of Arts have clearly recaptured your attention.
Or are you watching that man, the one with the beard far longer than mine, who has stopped to stand beside them? You think he will scold them for the inappropriateness of their dress— their T-shirts and jeans? I suspect not: Moreover, among the many rules that govern the bazaars of Lahore is this: There, sir, you see?
He has moved on. He was merely staring at something he found intriguing, much as you are, but in your case, of course, with considerably more discretion. As for myself, that summer in Greece with Erica, I tried not to stare. But towards the end of our holiday, on the island of Rhodes, I could not help myself.
You have not been to Rhodes? You must go. It seemed to me unlike the other islands we had visited. Its cities were fortified, protected by ancient castles; they guarded against the Turks, much like the army and navy and air force of modern Greece, part of a wall against the East that still stands. How strange it was for me to think I grew up on the other side! But that is neither here nor there. I was telling you about the moment when I was forced to stare.
We were lying on the beach, and many of the European women nearby were, as usual, sunbathing topless—a practice I wholeheartedly supported, but which the women among us Princetonians, unfortunately, had thus far failed to embrace—when I noticed Erica was untying the straps of her bikini.
A moment later—no, you are right: I am being dishonest; it was more than a moment—she turned her head to the side and saw me staring at her.
A number of possible alternatives presented themselves: I could suddenly avert my eyes, thereby proving not only that I had been staring but that I was uncomfortable with her nudity; I could, after a brief pause, casually move my gaze away, as though the sight of her breasts had been the most natural thing in the world; I could keep staring, honestly communicating in this way my admiration for what she had revealed; or I could, through well-timed literary allusion, draw her attention to the fact that there was a passage in Mr.
Palomar that captured perfectly my dilemma. But I did none of these things. As soon as I had done this, I wanted to disappear; I knew I sounded unbelievably foolish. We reached the water; it was warm and perfectly clear, round pebbles and the flash of little fish visible below the surface. We slipped inside, she swam out into the bay with powerful strokes, and then she trod water until I had caught up with her.
For a time we were both silent and I felt our slippery legs graze each other as we churned the sea. She smiled. Respectful polite. You give people their space. I really like that. Instead, my thoughts were engaged in a struggle to maintain a facial expression that would not appear idiotic. She turned and began to swim back to shore, keeping her head above water.
None of our companions wanted to join us, there being at least another hour of taninducing sunlight remaining in the day, and so we two made our way to the road and caught a bus. As we sat side by side, I could not help but notice that her bare leg was less than an inch from where I was resting my hand on my thigh.
Do you not agree? That bearded man—who even now, sir, continues from time to time to attract your wary gaze—is himself unable to stop glancing over his shoulder at those girls, fifty yards away from him.
Yet they are exposing only the flesh of the neck, the face, and the lower three-quarters of the arm! Moreover, once sensitized in this manner, one numbs only slowly, if at all; I had by the summer of my trip to Greece spent four years in America already—and had experienced all the intimacies college students commonly experience—but still I remained acutely aware of visible female skin.
She agreed, saying that he had been quite the dandy, and rather vain even in hospital. His nurses had been charmed by him: Arriving in town, we found a cafe near the harbor with tables shaded by blue-andwhite umbrellas. She ordered a beer; I did the same. I told her Pakistan was many things, from seaside to desert to farmland stretched between rivers and canals; I told her that I had driven with my parents and my brother to China on the Karakoram Highway, passing along the bottoms of valleys higher than the tops of the Alps; I told her that alcohol was illegal for Muslims to buy and so I had a Christian bootlegger who delivered booze to my house in a Suzuki pickup.
She listened to me speak with a series of smiles, as though she were sipping at my descriptions and finding them to her taste. I often did miss home, but in that moment I was content to be where I was. They had grown up together—in facing apartments, children the same age with no siblings—and were best friends well before their first kiss, which happened when they were six but was not repeated until they were fifteen. He had a collection of European comic books with which they were obsessed, and they used to spend hours at home reading them and making their own: Chris drawing, Erica writing.
They were both admitted to Princeton, but he had not come because he was diagnosed with lung cancer—he had had one cigarette, she said with a smile, but only the day after he received the results of his biopsy—and she had made sure she never had classes on a Friday so she could spend three days a week in New York with him.
He died three years later, at the end of the spring semester of her junior year. Chuck made all of us laugh with a series of uncanny impersonations—my mannerisms were, in my opinion, somewhat exaggerated, but the others were spot on—and then he went around the table and asked each of us to reveal our dream for what we would most like to be.
When my turn came, I said I hoped one day to be the dictator of an Islamic republic with nuclear capability; the others appeared shocked, and I was forced to explain that I had been joking. Erica alone smiled; she seemed to understand my sense of humor. Erica said that she wanted to be a novelist. Her creative thesis had been a work of long fiction that had won an award at Princeton; she intended to revise it for submission to literary agents and would see how they responded. Normally, Erica spoke little of herself, and tonight, when she did so, it was in a slightly lowered voice and with her eyes often on me.
I felt—despite the presence of our companions, whose attention, as always, she managed to capture—that she was sharing with me an intimacy, and this feeling grew stronger when, after observing me struggle, she helped me separate the flesh from the bones of my fish without my having to ask.
Nothing physical happened between Erica and me in Greece; we did not so much as hold hands. But she gave me her number in New York, to which we were both returning, and she offered to help me settle in.
For my part, I was content: I had struck up an acquaintance with a woman with whom I was well and truly smitten, and my excitement about the adventures my new life held for me had never been more pronounced. But what is that? Ah, your mobile phone! I have not previously seen its like; it is, I suspect, one of those models capable of communicating via satellite when no ground coverage is available.
Will you not answer it? I assure you, sir, I will do my utmost to avoid eavesdropping on your conversation. But you are opting to write a text message instead; very wise: As for myself, I am quite happy to wait as you navigate the keys. After all, those girls from the National College of Arts have only just finished their tea, and the pleasure of their presence on this street will persist for a few moments longer before they disappear—as inevitably they must—from view around that corner.
Or, I should say, it has such a soothing effect on us, for you, sir, continue to appear ill at ease. I hope you will not mind my saying so, but the frequency and purposefulness with which you glance about—a steady tick-tick-tick seeming to beat in your head as you move your gaze from one point to the next—brings to mind the behavior of an animal that has ventured too far from its lair and is now, in unfamiliar surroundings, uncertain whether it is predator or prey!
Observe instead how the shadows have lengthened. Soon they will shut to traffic the gates at either end of this market, transforming Old Anarkali into a pedestrian-only piazza. In fact, they have begun. Will the police arrest those boys on their motor scooter? Only if they can catch them! And already they are streaking away, making good their escape.
But they will be the last to do so. The gates are now being locked, as you can see, and those gaps that remain are too narrow for anything wider than a man. You will have noticed that the newer districts of Lahore are poorly suited to the needs of those who must walk. In their spaciousness—with their public parks and wide, tree-lined boulevards—they enforce an ancient hierarchy that comes to us from the countryside: But here, where we sit, and in the even older districts that lie between us and the River Ravi—the congested, maze-like heart of this city—Lahore is more democratically urban.
Indeed, in these places it is the man with four wheels who is forced to dismount and become part of the crowd. Like Manhattan? Yes, precisely!
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And that was one of the reasons why for me moving to New York felt—so unexpectedly—like coming home. But there were other reasons as well: In a subway car, my skin would typically fall in the middle of the color spectrum.
On street corners, tourists would ask me for directions. I was, in four and a half years, never an American; I was immediately a New Yorker. My voice is rising? You are right; I tend to become sentimental when I think of that city.
It still occupies a place of great fondness in my heart, which is quite something, I must say, given the circumstances under which, after only eight months of residence, I would later depart. Certainly, much of my early excitement about New York was wrapped up in my excitement about Underwood Samson.
I remember my sense of wonder on the day I reported for duty. Their offices were perched on the forty-first and forty-second floors of a building in midtown—higher than any two structures here in Lahore would be if they were stacked one atop the other—and while I had previously flown in airplanes and visited the Himalayas, nothing had prepared me for the drama, the power of the view from their lobby.
This, I realized, was another world from Pakistan; supporting my feet were the achievements of the most technologically advanced civilization our species had ever known.
Often, during my stay in your country, such comparisons troubled me. In fact, they did more than trouble me: Four thousand years ago, we, the people of the Indus River basin, had cities that were laid out on grids and boasted underground sewers, while the ancestors of those who would invade and colonize America were illiterate barbarians.
Now our cities were largely unplanned, unsanitary affairs, and America had universities with individual endowments greater than our national budget for education. To be reminded of this vast disparity was, for me, to be ashamed. But not on that day. I wished I could show my parents and my brother! I stood still, taking in the vista, but not for long; soon after our arrival we entering analysts were marched into a conference room for our orientation presentation.
There a vice president by the name of Sherman—his head gleaming from a recent shave—laid out the ethos of our new outfit. You were the best candidates at the best schools in the country. Your bonuses and staffing will depend on them. I glanced about me to see how my fellow trainees were responding. There were five of them, in addition to myself, and four sat rigidly at attention; the fifth, a chap called Wain-wright, was more relaxed.
But aside from light-hearted banter of this kind, there would be little in the way of fun and games at the workplace. For the next four weeks, our days followed a consistent routine. In the mornings we had a three-hour seminar: We were taught by professors from the most prestigious institutions—a Wharton woman, for example, instructed us in finance—and the results of the tests we were administered were carefully recorded. Lunch was taken in the cafeteria; over chicken-pesto-in-sun-dried-tomato wraps we observed the assured urgency with which our seniors conducted themselves.
Afterwards we attended a workshop intended to familiarize us with computer programs such as PowerPoint, Excel, and Access. I see you are impressed by the thoroughness of our training. I was as well.
At Princeton, learning was imbued with an aura of creativity; at Underwood Samson, creativity was not excised—it was still present and valued—but it ceded its primacy to efficiency. Maximum return was the maxim to which we returned, time and again. We learned to prioritize—to determine the axis on which advancement would be most beneficial—and then to apply ourselves single-mindedly to the achievement of that objective.
But these musings of mine are perhaps rather dry! I do not mean to imply that I did not enjoy my initiation to the realm of high finance. On the contrary, I did. I felt empowered, and besides, all manner of new possibilities were opening up to me. I will give you an example: Do you know how exhilarating it is to be issued a credit card and told that your company will pick up the tab for any ostensibly work-related meal or entertainment?
Forgive me: But for me, at the age of twenty-two, this experience was a revelation. As you can imagine, we new hires availed ourselves of the opportunity to cultivate one another on a regular basis.
I remember the first night we did so; we went to the bar at the Royalton, on Forty-Fourth Street. Sherman came with us on this occasion and ordered a bottle of vintage champagne to celebrate our induction. I looked around as we raised our glasses in a toast to ourselves.
Two of my five colleagues were women; Wainwright and I were non-white. We were marvelously diverse …and yet we were not: 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. But I suspect Wainwright made this particular allusion to Star Wars mostly in jest, for immediately afterwards he, like I—like all of us, for that matter—drank heartily. We did so, staggering out into the street around midnight.
Wainwright and I shared a cab downtown. The man behind the counter recognized me; he had given me a free meal that morning when I mentioned it was my first day of work. Although we were speaking in Urdu, Wain-wright seemed to understand. Moreover, it is a mark of friendship when someone treats you to a meal— ushering you thereby into a relationship of mutual generosity— and by the time fifteen minutes later that I saw Wainwright licking his fingers, having dispatched the last crumb on his plate, I knew I had found a kindred spirit at the office.
But why do you recoil? Ah yes, this beggar is a particularly unfortunate fellow. One can only wonder what series of accidents could have left him so thoroughly disfigured. He draws close to you because you are a foreigner. Will you give him something? Very wise; one ought not to encourage beggars, and yes, you are right, it is far better to donate to charities that address the causes of poverty rather than to him, a creature who is merely its symptom.
What am I doing? I am handing him a few rupees—misguidedly, of course, and out of habit. There, he offers us his prayers for our well-being; now he is on his way. I was telling you about Wainwright. Over the following weeks, it became clear that he was in strong contention for the top position in our rankings. All of us analyst trainees were competitive by nature—we had to have been for us to have acquired the grades necessary for consideration by Underwood Samson—but Wainwright was less overtly so; he was genial and irreverent, and was as a consequence almost universally well-liked.
But there was no doubt in my mind that my friend was also extremely talented: I hope you will not think me immodest when I say that I, too, stood out from the pack.
I retained from my soccer-playing days a sort of controlled aggression—not belligerence, mind you, but determination—and I harnessed this to my desire to succeed. How so? Well, I worked hard—harder, I suspect, than any of the others: My tenacity was frequently commented upon, with approval, by our instructors. Moreover, my natural politeness and sense of formality, which had sometimes been a barrier in my dealings with my peers, proved perfectly suited to the work context in which I now found myself.
I have subsequently wondered why my mannerisms so appealed to my senior colleagues. Perhaps it was my speech: Or perhaps it was my ability to function both respectfully and with self-respect in a hierarchical environment, something American youngsters—unlike their Pakistani counterparts—rarely seem trained to do. Whatever the reason, I was aware of an advantage conferred upon me by my foreignness, and I tried to utilize it as much as I could.
One group, including Wainwright and me, rode in a limousine with Jim, the managing director who had hired us; the other group rode with Sherman, who, as a vice president, was more junior in the Underwood Samson pantheon. Since nothing at our firm happened by chance, we all knew this was a sign. Everyone began to chat—everyone, that is, except Jim and myself. Jim observed the conversation in silence. Then he glanced in my direction, and I had to avert my eyes so he did not catch me observing him.
You know where that comes from? I know. It was beside the beach— on a rise behind a protective ridge of sand dunes— and it had a swimming pool, a tennis court, and an open-sided white pavilion erected at one end of the lawn for drinking and dancing.
A swing band struck up as we arrived, and I could smell steak and lobster being thrown on a grill. Wainwright seemed very much in his element: The rest of us watched from the sidelines, cocktails in hand. After a while, I stepped outside the pavilion for some air. The sun had set, and I could see the lights of other houses twinkling in the distance along the curve of the shore.
The waves were whispering as they came in, causing me to recall being in Greece not long ago. The sea had always seemed far away to me, luxurious and full of adventure; now it was becoming almost a regular part of my life. How much had changed in the four years since I had left Lahore! I turned; it was Jim.
Barbecue going, music playing. Reminded me of Princeton for some reason, of how I felt when I got there. Jim let his gaze wander out over the water, and for a time we stood together in silence.
I found myself wishing during the course of the evening that Erica were there. You wondered what had become of her? No, I had not forgotten; she was very much a part of my life in New York, and I shall return to her shortly. And that, as you will come to understand, is saying a great deal. A week later, when the analyst training program came to an end, Jim called us one by one to his office. He laughed. Nurture it. It can take you a long way. Want to be on it? I felt bathed in a warm sense of accomplishment.
Nothing troubled me; I was a young New Yorker with the city at my feet. How soon that would change! 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.
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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. 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.
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