I went to a wedding in Toronto the other weekend and took along a bunch of New Yorkers that needed to be read, including the December 3rd Food Issue. Although I wasn’t certain that I’d be enchanted by any of the articles, I started at the beginning of the issue, as usual, and read my way through, coming to a screeching halt after I read Sameer and the Samosas by Daniyal Mueenuddin. I needed to find someone to share this lovely personal essay with and since I don’t suffer from carsickness, I read it to MathMan on the drive back home.
Mueenuddin is the son of an American mother and Pakistani father. He spent his first 13 years in Pakistan and then came to the U.S. for the balance of his formal education. After college, hoping to find a place where he could write, where he “would have leisure, would find subjects, color, conflict” and responding to his father’s cajoling letters, he returned to Pakistan. His father asks him to take over one of the family farms, in a rural area of Lahore. It happens to be the place he loved most to visit as a child. He agrees and sets off with high hopes that he can be a proper steward for the farm and become a writer.
“My God, how penny-bright and clueless I was, arriving at the farm that day in 1987” he writes. It’s a classic tale about how the servants who have fattened their own coffers in the absence of the landlord are determined to continue to hoodwink the new, young, and indeed very clueless heir. Daniyal’s Groton and Dartmouth educations have hardly equipped him for the thievery that is disguised by the fawning, deferential behavior of the staff. He is a threat to their way of life, an outsider, and they will play him for a fool as long as they can.
As always, what makes this personal essay so enjoyable is the writing; it’s always the writing. In a leisurely way, Mueenuddin sets the scene, describing the landscape as he arrives at the farm, bringing the reader into the picture. His childhood memories of long sleepy train rides to Lahore, of shooting grouse with his six-toed shikari, all work together to create a picture of the rural idyll he cherished. Arriving as an adult to take over the farm is quite a different matter: he’s met by a line of managers–“suave, ruthless, cunning operators” who he likens to “a conclave of Renaissance cardinals” plotting his confusion.
I can’t tell any more; whether the young landlord finds a way to assert control or finds a way to make peace with their greed is for Mueenuddin to tell. No matter the resolution, it’s the telling that shines.