Mohsin Hamid Q&A: “Death can do us the one service of treating others better”

The writer talks Game of Thrones, the perils of free speech and universal passports.

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Mohsin Hamid was born in 1971 in Lahore, Pakistan, and spent much of his youth in the US. He has published four novels: his most recent, “Exit West”, was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker prize.

What’s your earliest memory?

I was almost three, giving a speech on the dining room table, saying things I’d heard a Pakistani politician say on TV: “When I am prime minister…” My mother laughed and chased me, I ran into thin air, fell, split my head, and wound up with stitches. It was an early lesson in the perils of free speech.

Who is your hero?

My dad. We played and hung out constantly. He does the same now with my kids. A gentle man, which requires such strength in a world that encourages men to be driven and aggressive.

Which political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

Nelson Mandela. He reminded us of our capacity to be radically optimistic and also of the power such a position can confer upon us.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

JRR Tolkien.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

At this moment, now that you ask, I’m feeling torn between Andalucia circa 1200 and TRAPPIST-1f in the year 2471.

Which TV show could you not live without?

I find myself fiending for the final and sadly still-distant season of Game of Thrones.

Who would paint your portrait?

Shahzia Sikander. She’s an old friend; I’ve admired her work for decades. She might not want to paint these days and prefer to tackle a portrait as a video installation or anime, and that would be just fine with me.

What is your theme tune?

The Mission Impossible theme when I hit the streets. The Jaws theme when I hit the beach. The BBC World News theme when I’m in my hotel room bed, desperately jetlagged and struggling to fall asleep.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t do interviews, you become a caricature of yourself. Um…

What’s currently bugging you?

I’m not a particularly big fan of the rise of intolerant, chauvinistic xenophobes.

What single thing would make your life better?

Being immortal. Failing that, a machine that prints universal passports permitting holders to live or travel anywhere on Earth.

When were you happiest?

My wife and I had a good movie and takeaway night with our kids last week.

If you weren’t a writer, what job might you have chosen?

Somebody who sits at their keyboard and stares at the screen and doesn’t write anything. Actually, I’m that person most of the time when I am writing, too.

Are we all doomed?

Individually, yes. As a species, no. All of us, individually, are going to die. That is horrifying. But it opens up the potential for compassion. We can see that every other human being faces the same terrible fate as we do. And we can begin to treat each other accordingly. With greater sympathy. Human history is likely to be a slow, sometimes appalling, often faltering march towards a world where people treat each other better than in the past. Death can do us that one service. So have hope.

“Exit West” is published in paperback by Penguin

This article appears in the 01 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of the radical left

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