Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Just lovely prose

I have not yet finished reading Daniyal Mueenuddin's "Sameer and the Samosas," which appears in the 3 December 2012 issue of the New Yorker, but I had to stop to share a bit of it before I could turn the page.

This is from the story of a young man from Pakistan, who went off to Dartmouth College in the US, who returns home after graduation and decides to take over one of his father's farms.

My God, how penny-bright and clueless I was, arriving at the farm that day in 1987, to be met by the managers—the Committee, as I came to think of them. (Because they or their progeny still carry weight in the environs of the farm, I have assigned them fictitious names.) They should have been standing there in order of size as my jeep chugged up the drive: tall, volatile, vicious Shakil at one end of the line—in a cartoon, he would be the slavering Doberman, no brains but lots of bad muscle between the ears—and, at the other end, dumpy, lame Shafik, the accountant, born to be a sidekick to some rogue, who spent the next four or five years trotting around me in circles as I struggled to understand the double-entry bookkeeping system he had devised expressly to be intelligible only to him. In lore and reality, these managers are a type as well defined as the English butler, but of a very different temper. Every absentee landowner has them, and most believe that theirs alone are honest.

In those days, I drove—I rolled in—an ancient Pakistani-made Naya Daur jeep. The name means New Era, and its production, at least of the one model built before production collapsed, did indeed signal a new day, a flowering of Pakistan’s newly organized kleptocratic command economy of Bhutto's nineteen-seventies, built with a shoddiness that would have drawn an appreciative whistle from a Soviet metalworks manager. That first day, rumpled and dust-covered after the ten-hour drive from Lahore in this crate, I was met, as I would be met each time I drove back in the early years, by these suave, ruthless, cunning operators, lined up in the farmhouse portico and waiting to embrace me, size me up, and then retire—like a conclave of Renaissance cardinals—to plot my confusion.

Sorry that the digital version is available only to subscribers, but here's a link to the article's abstract, if you like. I encourage you to seek out the whole thing.

You might also have a look at Daniyal Mueenuddin's website.

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