June 27, 2015

With his debut novel, The Prisoner, dealing with the murky realm of crime and politics in Karachi, Omar Shahid Hamid’s second foray, The Spinner’s Tale, delves into the world of Pakistan’s home grown jihadis. With this novel, he has proved that he is not just a one hit wonder but can contest for the title of Pakistan’s finest thriller writer.

The Spinner’s Tale is about a trio of best friends Ahmed Uzair Sufi, Adnan Shah and Sana Safdar whose lives take an unpleasant turn once they step out of their cocooned existence.  The novel brilliantly describes how a bright kid like Ahmed Uzair Sufi, coming from a secular middle class background, turns towards radicalism while Sana and Adnan are the typical elite unable to cope with the reality of the world outside Clifton and Defence. These two are quite likeable, their foibles are relatable and the development of their character familiar for many of us. This novel offers a psychological study of a Jihadi’s evolution and sociological investigation of our so-called upscale classes.

The novel is chock-full of references to the art of spin bowling.  Indeed, like a crafty spinner, Omar Shahid Hamid begins the novel in an aggressive manner prodding your defenses, then giving you some looping flighty deliveries to make you feel at ease and draw you out. But his final delivery leaves you stumped.

Just like The Prisoner was replete with obvious hints and allusions to the biggest names in Karachi’s political and criminal circles, this novel continues the practice. Here you will find familiar religious leaders merged into the Machiavellian character of Ahmed Sufi who likes to play mind games and is devilishly persuasive.  The novel explores the way secular minds, but lost souls, fall into the trap of extremism. However, once they get into the game, they realize that the desire to cause violence is the motivating force not any high ideology.

The novel also tries to shed the myth of Karachi as a bastion of secular ideology, showing how the ever increasing network of extremist madrassahs is posing a threat not just to the security of the nation but gnawing at the very roots of our society. Moreover, it’s not the madrassah system alone but the failings of our society which is spawning a whole generation of lost souls, even among the elite, and providing  fertile ground for the extremists to wreak havoc in our country.

The novel describes how religion or indeed any secular ideology can ultimately become a tool to justify violence. Yes, it takes  considerable suffering or deprivation to unleash the animal within an individual. But once released, the beast must be regularly fed its share of human sacrifice.

The Spinner’s Tale is a gripping read by Omar Shahid Hamid who just keeps getting better and better.

The author tweets @JamalNeutron