There are self-help books and there are self-help books written by Mohsin Hamid. That, probably, is the simplest and best way to describe, in a nutshell, the twelve guidelines laid down throughout the course of the book entitled How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia. Narrated in the second-person, every chapter forewarns the reader and sets expectations in terms of how much ‘help’ one can derive from this rather helpful (insert dollops of sarcasm) self-help book. The book puts forward a set of characters that are not larger-than-life and are able to sketch together a story that reverberates with the growth story in the sub-continent plus the very real pitfalls that come as an unnecessary but added bonus.
We are introduced to the protagonist of the story, a young boy born into the typical poor family’s home situated in one of the multitude of villages strewn across the geography of this part of the world. As is the general trend, he migrates to the big city, along with many other poor migrants, in search of a new gleaming future. Soon after, the element of love enters the boy’s life through the guise of a ravishing young woman who, on the other hand, is highly ambitious and wishes to leave the confines of poverty and make her mark in the world of glamour. Our protagonist is, of course, not someone whom you can write off as just another poverty-stricken drop in the ocean of poverty. He, too, starts working his way up the social ladder by tapping into the sleazy aspect of the purified water industry. Slowly and surely, both the guy and the girl rise up the social ladder and lead starkly different lives that intersect once in a blue moon and even though they do not see much of each other, there is an undercurrent of desire that links their destinies together. The boy goes onto become highly successful while the girl, too, sees her share of success. Eventually, the self-help book makes a transition into the negative yet very real aspect of the decline of fortunes that has plagued so many ambitious and successful people since time immemorial. With things looking bleak for them as time marched on relentlessly, they rediscover an innate need for companionship and bonding that has remained practically dormant over the majority of their lifetime.
The book, in itself, is a mirror of the volatility of the uncontrollable and rapid pace of urbanization and modernization. This disease of volatility victimizes ambitious human beings who are in search of that elusive power that can be garnered only by becoming ‘filthy rich’. In that context, the title of the book is wrapped in a shimmering veil of sarcasm and thus, it sets the tone of the narrative that is to follow. The author puts across twelve seemingly simple steps which should be followed in order to become ‘filthy rich in rising Asia’. By the time the reader reaches the last quarter of the book, the sarcastic undertone of the larger picture becomes highly prominent and causes one to understand the fatality of this rather ambitious and apparently highly promising goal of the ‘self-help’ book. By not naming any of the characters and by painting pictures that the reader has no difficulty in conceptualizing, Hamid has tried to simultaneously connect the reader’s heartbeats with the rise and fall of the fate of the colourful characters and put forward a rather successful experiment in displaying the grounded reality of the Utopian aims of the average self-help book. In essence, it is a lesson in contradiction where the self-help book itself never really realizes in advocating the goal put forward in the beginning of the book. In short, the book is unconventional, grounded, experimental and contradictory or in other words, weirdly entertaining and, might I add, a tad educational.
My rating of the book is 8/10.
Published in Book Link, India (August, 2013)
Published in Book Link (August, 2013)