Capital Guest – Daniyal Mueenuddin, Pakistani Author
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Hanging out in Lodhi Garden.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s cool to buy a farm in the south of France and write a book or two. But in the south of Punjab? Pakistani Punjab? Say salam alaikum to Daniyal Mueenuddin.
The new star of Pakistan’s literal scene came visiting the Indian capital early in 2008. He was pampered big time by Random House India, his publishers. And why not? The guy’s fiction has been published not once, not twice, but thrice in The New Yorker magazine.
I got to meet Daniyal in Lodhi Garden the day John Updike died. We lay down on a grassy slope, watched the smooching-groping lovers, smoked imported suttas and talked Chekhov, Tolstoy, Rushdie and The New Yorker (of course!).
“Why, Delhi has almost become a second world city,” Daniyal, who returned to the town after two decades, cried. “It’s like Bulgaria on a steroid.”
[Is that’s a compliment?]
Brought up in Lahore and Massachusetts, Daniyal is no easy job for a professional profiler. Look at his life: a former lawyer, a sometime poet, a full-time farm owner, a short story writer… and now working on a novel.
Then there’s the mess of his ‘mixed-blood’ heritage.
He is half-Pakistani, half-American and yet he’s no Jhumpa Lahiri. “Daniyal’s writing isn’t soaking wet with migration, rootlessness, racism, nostalgia, longing and blah-blah,” reported a friend who has read his stories.
This could be because Lahiri was not lucky enough to inherit a mango orchard from her dad in the Bengal countryside. Daniyal did in his native Punjab. But don’t imagine our published-in-The-New-Yorker writer dirtying his hands in the muddy soil. Daniyal is a Tolstoy lover but he’s no tilling-my-own-land Pierre of Anna Karenina. That’s a job for the peasants.
Curious still, despite being a Pakistani landlord, Daniyal is no feudal lord. No palace, no harem, and just one cook. He lives in a 2-room book-lined house with his Economist-reading Norwegian wife. While the Lodhi Garden rendezvous was too short for making instant judgments, it was tough romanticising him as a macho man with kalshnikovs and mistresses.
Guarding over a firang wife must be a task in itself.
As per the CNN version of a West-hating, mujhahidin-infested Pakistan, each new morning his foren wife wakes up alive must be considered a blessing. “It’s not like that,” laughed Daniyal. “When she goes to the bazaar, nobody throws a second look at her.”
Unbelievable. Danyal’s wife is attractive and I was busy surveying her when he was not watching me. Even then the husband’s bazaar claims must be accepted. The village’s comfort level with gori chamri perhaps dates back to Daniyal’s American mother who now lives with her second husband in NYC.
Yet, a village is a village. Just how do a James Joyce reading man and his European wife cope there?
“We have a power generator, an Internet connection and we get bottled water from the bazaar,” said Daniyal. “Sometimes we camp overnight in the Sindhi desert; sometimes when friends are to visit from Islamabad, we ask them to bring a good pack of brown bread and cheeses.”
The rest is detail: waking up around 6 am, writing the novel, running the farm, dealing with subordinates, dinner with wife, and yes, reading The New Yorker on net. Reminded of which, I informed Danyal that Khan Market is just across the Lodhi Garden. “As long as you’re in Delhi, you don’t have to go on-line for The New Yorker,” I said. “You can get the latest copy from Bahrisons.”
[Daniyal Mueenuddin’s collection of short stories is collected in a volume titled In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. Click here to reach his website.]
Thinking the plot?
See you in The New Yorker