How many gushing adjectives can one use to describe a wonderful book?


Well written.


Realistic.  This book was all of these and more.

All the time I was reading this book,  I kept saying “yes,” simply because so much of it was so familiar.

I live in India. This book would seem to be set in Pakistan.

I live in Delhi and I think this book is meant to be set in Lahore, and so there was so much about the descriptions and the people and the lives described that was instantly recognisable, and there is nothing like feeling a comfortable, knowledgeable insider, to add enjoyment to the reading of a book.

I said that I thought the book was set in Pakistan and that it was probably set in Lahore.

That is because no proper names are used in the book. We do not even know the name of the protagonist – except that since the book is written in the second person, the “you” the writer addresses could well be you the reader/or me the reader. So “you” does not have a name, and people are referred to throughout by a descriptive tag that never changes nor evolves over the decades covered in the book. The pretty girl of the early chapter remains the pretty girl despite age and frailty…but I will not spoil the end, worry not.

Mr. Hamid is a staggeringly good writer (clever sounds almost condescending) and his talent fizzes through the book.

Firstly the way he used the second person without ever alienating you the reader/me the reader. It sounds so natural that you go along with his conceit. His descriptions of the countryside, the city, the country (which could be Pakistan, could be India) are perfect. I caught myself, time and again, saying “yes, that is exactly the way x, y, or z happens/looks/sounds” even though we are not entirely sure where the book takes pace. Now if that isn’t fabulously brilliant writing, I don’t know what is.

Mr. Hamid uses the format of a self help book, and each chapter contains a new message for “you” the reader.

Education, love, work, family, religion, bureaucracy – the writer skilfully steers we the readers through all the different chapters of life, and as “you” climb your way up and out of grinding rural poverty into middling commercial success, there is a chapter of advice to accompany “you” on the journey.
If I am making a bit of a hash of describing the technique, please rest assured it is clever and slick and also endearing. The writer is omniscient, but always sympathetic and never critical of you/me/we the reader(s).

Plus he is just such a brilliant writer.



One of the most dazzling pieces of writing for me is in the opening chapter of the book when “you” travel on the top of a rickety bus from the countryside to a town.




What writing…

Mr. Hamid has an infallible eye for the people of the subcontinent.

The man described below may well be power walking in Lahore, but I have seem so many of his fellow walkers here in Delhi :




Or this lady: reading this made me feel distinctly uncomfortable, having experienced similar behaviour at first hand :



My uneasiness at the matriarchal behaviour continued as I read more, almost squirming because I have witnessed such moments :




This is literally a countryside-dirt-poor-rags-to-polluted-but-big-city riches story, and it all hinges on certain crucial decisions and opportunities afforded to “you,” such as education :



You/we/the reader gets a chance that the siblings do not have and so life takes a different direction.

This book is a great read, it brilliantly captures the chaos and conflict of the sub-continent.  And it is fun.

And, for this reviewer at least, the innovative writing style “works” so much better than “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.”


Thoroughly recommended.


Published in 2013 by Penguin, the hardback sells for Rs 499 in India.

If you enjoyed reading this review and would now like to read the book, nothing could be easier. Just click on any of the links below :

RED JIHAD by Sami Ahmad Khan

“Red Jihad”  is a good story in need of a good editor,

A clever, futuristic plot set in 2014, that sees India and Pakistan almost at war against each other, and then coming together to fight a common enemy, is marred by poor editing.

A writer like Mr. Khan who is a PhD scholar student from JNU and a Fulbright scholar would not – I’d stake my life on it – make the sloppy grammatical errors that pepper this book.

You don’t have to be a linguistic purist to be irritated by these errors, which any decent editor should have picked up :

…pick up cudgels…

He had learned that one should never let a neta not blame people around him, for it was the neta’s pet alibi.  (I have no idea what that means)

Sonar was all he knew, rest everything puzzled him.

The silo was lighted and ready for action.

Grapevine had it that India was…

He knew a lieutenant general who did not make it to a full general only because he had given many under his command. Cardiac arrests.

His biggest achievement in the field of defence was on the verge of biting dust.  “What  else do we know?” the defence minister asked, trying to put the shock behind.  (2 errors in as many sentences –  careless)

The storyline does, thank goodness. carry the reader along, and towards the end of the book I became less irritated by the editing, choosing to ignore it, and much more involved in the unfolding Indo-Pak drama.

The premise is a clever one.

Pakistani Islamic extremists join forces with Indian Naxalites, and together they try and set the 2 traditional enemies at each others throats by launching a nuclear missile.  I won’t spoil too much of the plot for you, as there are many twists and turns along the way – literal as well as metaphorical – as the terrifyingly powerful Pralay (India’s imagined intercontinental ballistic missile) is programmed to jink and twist and turn as it flies across the subcontinent making its lethal target impossible to predict.

You see the drama in that ?

Will it hit an Indian city (Delhi) or a Pakistani one (Lahore) ?

Will India unwittingly nuke its own capital ?

Or will India start a war by unwittingly nuking a Pakistani city ?

And who has programmed Pralay anyway ?  Who has unleashed this weapon on truly terrifying magnitude ?

Should old enemies trust each other as they both try to handle this disastrously explosive situation ?

Living in Delhi as I do, I enjoyed the futuristic touch, peeking into how my city and government will look in 2 years. We will have a new PM (and it is NOT whom you think, which is reason enough to cheer!)  and we will have learned how to queue.  This, I have to admit, I found fantastic in every sense of the word.

A disaster has been declared in Delhi.  Evacuation orders have been issued, and I quote :

“There were long but well-managed queues as hastily recalled DTC bus drivers came running in their pyjamas, and sped the jam-packed buses away…”

Hmm…well-managed queues in Delhi, just 2 years from now…page 137 if you don’t believe me.

Joking aside, “Red Jihad” is interesting, it’s a good page-turning read –  though I could have wished for a less complicated timeline, jumping back and forth as it does between India and Pakistan, minute by minute.  And watch out for the underlined dates which, as the writer explains in a footnote, “imply action having taken place in the past rather than during the linear timeline of events.’

Combining the forces of Jihadis and Nazalites is clever and thought-provoking.

I look forward to Mr. Khan’s next book.

Published by Rupa, the paperback costs Rs 295.

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