‘Getting rich’ is a story you tell yourself
What makes us the most irrational being in the world? Wealth?
“How to get filthy rich in rising Asia” by Moshin Hamid, the title, yes, its a bit on the nose isn’t it? And the words “A Novel” are spotted on the edge of the cover, hidden but present as to not confuse the Moshin Hamid piece of fiction for a Tony Robbins guide to ‘living the life you’ve always dreamed of.’ Though, as far as self-help books go, Hamid is not far off.
A glance at the back cover, or flipping through the pages tells you it isn’t entirely a self-help book, although each chapter is named and begins with a flailing attempt to provide some help to the reader. Of course, this faltering assistance is intended by Hamid, to allow the reader to have some stake in the tale of the protagonist, who is “you.” Yes, he is “you” the reader, he does not have a name, nor do any of the other characters, simply referred to in relation to “you,” your mother, father, brother, sister, and above everyone else, your pretty girl. Each character is a member, watching you and is the very reason, or rather the cause of your getting rich. Where? in rising Asia, of course.
No country mentioned, no city marked, no map drawn. Hamid allows you to paint your dwelling, sprinkled with the squalor you grew up in, between the traffic, in the market, and under the street lights. You are free to conjure up the setting of your own city, or one in which you aim to start anew with the hopes of getting rich.
Every chapter you put down marks the coming of age of any ‘struggle-to-success’ story. Moving to the big city, shouldering unkempt responsibility, bearing love-lost and familial despair, realizing that you are an anomaly, persisting in the face of hardship, while always, always keeping your eye on the prize. Hamid, through “you” delves into the step-by-step process of “getting rich,” still maintaining the theme of self-help.
Reading through the pages, you see the trajectory of any business enterprise in rising Asia spearheaded by an ambitious “you.” “You” fulfill the classic rags to riches story of any self-made business tycoon in Asia. Amassing wealth beyond generations before, building a powerful empire, and having your name known. This is what you dreamed of, what you worked for, what you envisioned since you were a child. But are you rich?
While the perceived immediate iteration of “getting rich” is monetary fulfillment, in a world as fast-paced as the one “you” live in. Hamid takes you through another journey of “getting rich,” beginning when you think your riches have left you. It begins when “you” see your life flash before you. It is not devoid of cars, mansions or chauffers, rather a succession to it.
But where? Where does Hamid intend to take “you”? Where is this elusive neverland which all your success and hard work cannot grant you? Haven’t you already achieved business success, amassing wealth as far as the eye can see? Isn’t this the finality of moving to the city? Isn’t this the culmination of beginning your journey cycling around town for a meager income? Isn’t this the repayment for burdening the financial constraints of your family? For burying your father, your mother, your sister? For not falling in love and chasing the “pretty girl”? For forgetting your wife and family, solely focusing on work? Isn’t this the very essence of “getting rich”?
Reality hits “you,” not just once, but twice. The first time is in the hospital bed, as you recover from successive heart attacks. Like a flash, your wealth is gone. You lay on the hospital bed, surrounded by family, even those with a prefix of their association to you signifying only past relations, and not present. The people who surround on, as you fight death, are the only remnants of your wealthy days, or rather products of it. You do not know.
This is where your journey of ‘getting rich’ begins. Or so you think. Hamid narrates the doctor recalling a “patient” who “improved and lived on for years.” In him, you see yourself, you see your ‘richness’ manifest, as you have always desired it to be, as something no amount of money, no objects can ever offer you. This is where the ‘fundamentals’ are focused on with aplomb, and most of all, with memory.
“You” make a stunning recovery, spearheaded by the persistent administration those you have ignored in the past. Your, now ex-wife, looks after you, despite your work-horse demeanor stealing her youth, diminishing the placid bond only fit for a martial contract. She arranges for you to, in no small terms, be ‘brought back to life.’
It’s funny how ‘rags to riches’ do not reverse into ‘riches to rags,’ rather to something of, albeit less luster, but more respectable means. You realize richness was never in accomplishments measured by currency, but in acts of everyday existence, in your ‘rich life.’
In this new “rich” life, your longing for the cherry on top of the cake, the dot on the ‘i’ in rich, if you will, happened, so seemingly to drift back into your life. And this time you do not let the opportunity slide. Your pretty girl, whose memory never resisted your teenage or adult fantasies, crosses your path, not just in the fairytales of your mind, but amidst the squalor of the city, in which you first met.
You’re pushing eighty, assisted in your stance by a cane, wealth in the rearview, yet you’re pursuing the “pretty girl,” for reasons you can’t seem to understand. A promise kept to your teenage self, perhaps? or maybe this is the last hurrah of life? I’d like to venture, this is the second coming of your tryst with getting rich.
Every meeting with here, in your archaic and aching older self, peels off layers of resoluteness and defiance that armored your first ‘rich life.’ You do not notice this change, you simply let it run its course. Soon you are transformed into the ‘boy’ you once were, the boy who brought her movies, the boy whom she spent that unforgettable night with on the roof, the boy who never forgot his “pretty girl.” Hamid writes,
“She sees you as a boy and as a man. She sees how you diminish her solitude, and more meaningfully, she sees you as seeing, which sparks in her that oddest of desires an I can have for a you, the desire that you be less lonely.”
Besides her, you haven’t opened up to anyone in your life. You never allowed anyone to see you, you never even allowed yourself to see. You kept trudging along, for your mother, your father, your siblings, your family. Never for yourself. This is the first time, since adolescence that you are “seeing,” in the present moment, rather than foreseeing the future.
“Refugees from our childhoods,” is how Hamid refers to us, some are always running from childhood. But, through this novel with its nameless characters, and its first-person references, we realize that some refugees are running for their childhood.
Stories intrigue us, they allow us to narrate the lives we want to see, the past we want to go back to, the desires we’ve always dreamed of. Through stories, we “seek a solution to the problem that time passes,” we cannot stop time, we cannot go back to the past, but maybe, just maybe, with childhood as rekindled inspiration, memories can be revisited into stories of the future, one that can elude time in the here and now, and allow us, us refugees, to return home one last time?
It is this return you conjure spending the best years of your life, perhaps the last years of your life, as your ‘childhood’ intended, with the ‘pretty girl,’ whoever or whatever you dream your ‘pretty girl’ to be. The stories you created as a child were conjured up in old age. But that’s all it was, a ‘conjuring.’ You wake up younger, amid the concern of your immediate family, not of your desired story, in the absence of your one true desire, the only modicum of your ‘rich life.’
To not deny you the brilliance of Hamid’s writing, I will refrain from revealing how you end up getting rich in rising Asia. But I will leave you with these words,
“For there was a moment when anything was possible. And there will be a moment when nothing is possible. But in between, we can create.”