Monday, August 27, 2007

"Nawabdin Electrician," in The New Yorker

There's a very interesting short story in this week's New Yorker, by a new Pakistani writer named Daniyal Mueenuddin. It's about an electrician working on a large farm in rural Pakistan, more or less taking care of his business until something dramatic happens. I won't say much about the dramatic thing that happens to Nawabdin (read the story), but here's a teaser to give you a sense of the writing style:

The motorcycle increased his status, gave him weight, so that people began calling him Uncle and asking his opinion on world affairs, about which he knew absolutely nothing. He could now range farther, doing much wider business. Best of all, now he could spend every night with his wife, who early in the marriage had begged to live not in Nawab’s quarters in the village but with her family in Firoza, near the only girls’ school in the area. A long straight road ran from the canal headworks near Firoza all the way to the Indus, through the heart of the K. K. Harouni lands. The road ran on the bed of an old highway built when these lands lay within a princely state. Some hundred and fifty years ago, one of the princes had ridden that way, going to a wedding or a funeral in this remote district, felt hot, and ordered that rosewood trees be planted to shade the passersby. Within a few hours, he forgot that he had given the order, and in a few dozen years he in turn was forgotten, but these trees still stood, enormous now, some of them dead and looming without bark, white and leafless. (link)

In the story as a whole, I think Mueenuddin finds some very congenial ways to convey a poor electrician's point of view. He's got a good sense of comic details, but doesn't depend on them too much. I also liked the ambiguities at the end regarding Nawabdin's character. Any thoughts on this story?

Incidentally, Mueenuddin also has another story online, at the literary magazine Zoetrope. It's quite different from "Nawabdin Electrician"; I think it will be interesting to anyone who has been in a serious cross-cultural or interracial relationship. (I'm happy to discuss that story too.)

Labels: ,


Sharif said...

nice, really liked it. Thanks for the recommendation.

Initially, I thought the story would involve just the part about him being an 'Electrician'. The twist was nicely paced. Even though there were few stereotypes I think the character was nicely drawn with vivid descriptions.

5:06 PM  
Ruchira Paul said...

A promising writer. I will look forward to more. Nawabdin Electrician is an interesting story although the ending was unsatisfactory for me. Like .... I too expected the story to proceed along the line of theft of electricity. Enough power purloining to marry off his dozen daughters? Too predictable perhaps. Please tell us what you think.

I was more intrigued by the other story you've linked to - Our Lady in Paris. Several things struck me as interesting. Sure, it is about interracial relationship but it is also about class and the location where the story unfolds. It said a lot about power play within intimate relationships. Rafia, Sohail's mom understands that best of all. Helen, a white girl of simple means in the US is likely to be bestowed with the societal power in her native country which her own accomplished, upper class Pakistani Muslim son (after 9/11) is not likely to be accorded. That worries the mother who doesn't want to see her beloved son "emasculated." Yet she is ambivalent about the power structure in her own native society - she wistfully invokes the "freedom" in America. I was wondering if the story would have (could have) ended differently if the meeting had taken place in a more "natural" setting like the US or even Sohail's home in Pakistan instead of Paris at Christmas time.

One other observation. I haven't read a whole host of younger Pakistani authors. Only Mohsin Hamid and Kamila Shamsie come to mind. But I have noticed in the writings of Pakistani writers occasional, wholly un-contextual references to India. Like a casual swipe which is said just for the satisfaction saying it, without furthering the story line. I haven't seen Pakistan figure in this manner in the writings of Indian born writers. I could go into political pop psychology here but would rather not. In Mueenudin's story too there was a line.

"Don't be flip, Sohail. Amjad, where would you like to have been born?"
The father, who had been drinking his stew with the equanimity of a solitary patron in a busy café, looked up from under his brows.
"I suppose in the happiest possible home. And not in India, I think. And not in Europe. Perhaps in America."

10:09 PM  
Amardeep said...

Hi Ruchira,

Thanks for interesting thoughts on the other story. After thinking about them a bit more, I'm beginning to think I like the Zoetrope story better than the one in the New Yorker, maybe because it feels more 'real'.

That worries the mother who doesn't want to see her beloved son "emasculated." Yet she is ambivalent about the power structure in her own native society - she wistfully invokes the "freedom" in America.

Actually, I didn't think she was being sincere with the line about freedom. There's she's appealing to Helen's sense of herself (perhaps complimenting her indirectly), while also demonstrating to Helen that she's really the one who will determine Suhail's future. It's the mother who is really holding the reins over the son... for better or worse.

11:33 AM  
Ruchira Paul said...

So, you saw a classic "Saas-Bahu" tug of war over who controls the son / lover. Rafia manipulatively reading Helen the Riot Act. If your view is correct, then Helen acted in her own interest with little thought for Sohail's emotional well being.

I gave the "ladies" a little more benefit of the doubt. Despite her polished and "hard as nails" worldly persona, I felt that Rafia was sincerely appealing to Helen's sympathies - to grant her son a life of dignity in his homeland rather than the diminished manhood she feared America had to offer. And I felt that Helen understood that and let go.

The last scene about Sohail skipping half-heartedly through the maze was very touching.

In any case, which one was then the "Lady" in Paris?

3:28 PM  
Samara said...

One thing I found interesting was that Rafia located the perceived problems of the relationship in race ("you will be white in Pakistan, or he will be brown in America"), while Helen seemed more affected by the difference between their classes ("I am always spending his money"). I wondered if that indicated the author's opinion of what Pakistanis or Americans find more relevant, or if the indication was that one only feels the problems of a power difference when one is on the wrong end? I would have thought the latter, I suppose. And in a story which deals with race and class, one has to ask after the third which usually joins them -- sex -- and perhaps I'm not alone in wondering why a girl who wants to be a doctor would place such value on her boyfriend's "always taking care" of her.

3:02 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home