Transcript: Exit West | Jul 26, 2017

Nam sits in the studio. She's in her early forties, with shoulder length curly brown hair. She's wearing glasses and a gray blazer over a pink shirt.

A caption on screen reads "Doors to a better world. Nam Kiwanuka, @namshine, @theagenda."

Nam says SOMETIMES FICTION CAN GO WHERE
NONFICTION TRIES TO, BUT SOMEHOW
FALLS SHORT.
DIFFICULT TOPICS, PAINFUL
STORIES, OR ACHING DREAMS OF A
BETTER LIFE.
NOVELIST MOHSIN HAMID IS A
MASTER AT IT.
HIS LAST BOOK,
THE RELUCTANT
FUNDAMENTALIST,
WAS SHORTLISTED
FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE.
HIS NEW BOOK IS: Exit West.

A picture of the book appears briefly on screen. The cover is purple and blue.

Nam continues AND WE'RE DELIGHTED THAT IT
BRINGS MOHSIN TO OUR STUDIO TONIGHT.

Mohsin is in his fifties, clean-shaven and balding. He's wearing a gray suit and a blue gingham shirt.

Nam says WELCOME.

Mohsin says THANK YOU.

Nam says I REALLY ENJOYED THIS BOOK.
LIKE I SAID, I READ IT IN ONE
DAY.
AND I READ THAT USUALLY IT TAKES
YOU ABOUT SIX TO SEVEN YEARS TO
WRITE.
BUT WITH THIS BOOK,
EXIT WEST,
IT TOOK YOU ONLY FOUR YEARS.

Mohsin says YES, I'M GETTING FASTER.

NAM LAUGHS AND SAYS YOU'RE GETTING
FASTER.

Mohsin says YEAH.

Nam says BUT ONE OF THINGS THAT I KEEP
READING ABOUT WHEN I READ THE
REVIEWS IS A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY
THAT IT'S A TIMELY BOOK.

Mohsin says YES.

Nam says OBVIOUSLY IF IT'S TAKEN YOU FOUR
YEARS, THIS IS SOMETHING THAT'S
BEEN ON YOUR MIND.
WHY DO YOU THINK PEOPLE KEEP
SAYING THAT?

The caption changes to "Mohsin Hamid. Author, 'Exit west.'"
Then, it changes again to "Mass migration."

Mohsin says WELL, I THINK THAT... I MEAN, I
BEGAN THE BOOK FOUR YEARS AGO.
I HANDED IT IN TO MY EDITOR
ABOUT A YEAR AGO.
SO, BEFORE THE BREXIT VOTE,
BEFORE THE TRUMP ELECTION.
AND... AND IF YOU HAD ASKED ME
THEN WILL BREXIT HAPPEN, WILL
TRUMP BE ELECTED, I WOULD HAVE
SAID NO TO BOTH.
BUT I THINK THE THEMES IN THE
BOOK WHICH ARE ABOUT THE DESIRE
TO MIGRATE, AND ALSO FEAR OF
MIGRANTS AND VILIFICATION OF
MIGRANTS, THOSE THEMES HAVE BEEN
THERE FOR A LONG TIME.
I WANTED TO EXPLORE THOSE
THEMES, AND SO...

NAM SAYS BUT WHY?

Mohsin says WELL, I MIGRATED MY WHOLE LIFE.
AS A CHILD, AT THE AGE OF THREE,
I CAME TO CALIFORNIA FROM
PAKISTAN.
WENT BACK AT THE AGE OF NINE.
18, I CAME BACK TO AMERICA TO
STUDY.
30 TO LONDON.
MY LATE-30S, BACK TO PAKISTAN.
AND I'M A THOROUGHLY
MONGRELIZED, HYBRIDIZED PERSON.
I'M NOT ONE THING OR THE OTHER.
AND SO, PARTLY, I TAKE IT
PERSONALLY WHEN PEOPLE SEEM TO
BE OPPOSED TO MOBILIZATION,
HYBRIDIZATION, MIGRATION... AND SEARCHING FOR KIND OF
IMAGINED PURITY.
AND PARTLY BECAUSE I THINK THAT
THERE'S SOMETHING PERNICIOUS AND
WRONG ABOUT THE VILIFICATION OF
MIGRANTS THAT'S HAPPENING RIGHT
NOW.

Nam says YOU BELIEVE THAT MIGRATION
SHOULD BE A HUMAN RIGHT.

Mohsin says YEAH, SO I THINK THAT IN A
COUPLE OF CENTURIES, PEOPLE WILL
LOOK BACK AT THIS ERA AND THINK
IT'S JUST AS STRANGE... AS WE DO
LOOKING BACK AT PEOPLE, YOU
KNOW, WHO KEPT SLAVES... THEY'LL
THINK IT'S SO STRANGE THAT IN
THE YEAR 2017 PEOPLE THOUGHT
THAT THE ACCIDENT OF WHERE YOU
WERE BORN SHOULD SO DRAMATICALLY
DETERMINE YOUR RIGHTS AND
WHETHER YOU'RE EQUAL IN A
SOCIETY OR NOT.
IF YOU CAN SAY THAT SOMEBODY
SHOULD NOT BE DISCRIMINATED
AGAINST ON THE BASIS OF THEIR
RACE, OR THEIR GENDER, OR THEIR
RELIGIOUS ORIENTATION, OR SEXUAL
ORIENTATION, OR OTHER BELIEFS,
WHY IS THAT SOME CHILD BORN IN
MOGADISHU SHOULD HAVE
FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT RIGHTS
BECAUSE OF THE ACCIDENT OF THEIR
BIRTH THAN SOMEBODY BORN IN TORONTO?
I THINK THAT THAT PROPOSITION IN
TWO OR THREE CENTURIES WILL BE
RECOGNIZED AS... AS NOT SUSTAINABLE.

Nam says YOU'VE DESCRIBED YOURSELF AS A
NOMAD.
YOU'VE LIVED IN NEW YORK AND
LONDON.
AND YOU MOVED TO YOUR NATIVE
PAKISTAN SEVEN YEARS AGO,
AND THAT'S WHERE YOU WROTE THIS
BOOK.
WHAT INFLUENCE DID BEING BACK
HOME HAVE ON WRITING THIS NOVEL?

Mohsin says I THINK THAT THE DIFFERENT WAYS
IN WHICH IT INFLUENCED THIS
NOVEL.
ONE WAS... LAHORE, FORTUNATELY, IS
MOSTLY A CITY OF PEACE.
AND WE HAVE ART GALLERIES AND
LITERARY FESTIVALS AND
TELEVISION STUDIOS AND
UNIVERSITIES AND BROADBAND AND
EVERYTHING.
BUT IT'S CLOSE ENOUGH TO A SENSE
OF PRECARIOUSNESS THAT YOU DO
IMAGINE WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN.
EVERY SO OFTEN, THERE IS A
TERRORIST ATTACK.
EVERY SO OFTEN, THE SCHOOLS ARE
SHUT BECAUSE OF FEARS OF SOME
KIND OF ATTACK.
ONE KNOWS PEOPLE WHO'VE BEEN
AFFECTED BY THESE SORTS OF
TRAGEDIES.
AND SO, IT'S NOT IMPOSSIBLE TO
IMAGINE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THE
CITY TUMBLED DOWN THE ABYSS AND
BECAME LIKE MOSUL AND ALEPPO.
I DON'T THINK THAT THAT WILL
HAPPEN TO LAHORE.
I DON'T BELIEVE THAT THE
NARRATIVE OF PAKISTAN DESCENDING
INTO CHAOS IS... IS A NARRATIVE
THAT WE'RE... THAT IS CORRECT,
REALLY.
BUT IT'S IN THE BACK OF YOUR
MIND, YOU KNOW?
AND SO, IN A WAY, THIS NOVEL WAS
ABOUT EXPLORING THAT.
WHAT HAPPENS TO TWO YOUNG PEOPLE
WHO MEET, WHO BEGIN A LOVE
AFFAIR, AND IN A CITY THAT SEEMS
LIKE A NORMAL LARGE CITY, AND
THEN FIND THE WORLD CHANGED SO
DRAMATICALLY?
SO, THAT WAS A MAJOR WAY IN
WHICH PAKISTAN CAME INTO THE
BOOK.
AND ANOTHER WAY THAT PAKISTAN
HAS COME IN IS THAT, YOU KNOW, I
LIVE INTERGENERATIONALLY IN
PAKISTAN, THE WAY I GREW UP.
MY PARENTS AND THEIR
GRANDCHILDREN... MY CHILDREN... LIVE
NEXT DOOR TO EACH.
THEY PLAY EVERY DAY.
AND THE NATURE OF THAT
RELATIONSHIP AND FAMILY TIES AND
HOW DIFFICULT IT WOULD BE TO
SEVER THOSE TIES, HOW
EMOTIONALLY PAINFUL IT WOULD
BE... IN FACT SHAPED THIS BOOK
BECAUSE I THOUGHT, YOU KNOW,
"WHAT MUST HAPPEN TO PEOPLE WHO
DO HAVE TO SEVER THOSE TIES?"
AND THAT'S, IN A WAY, WHAT
EXIT
WEST
IS ABOUT.

Nam says I FIND IT ALSO INTERESTING THAT
YOU NEVER NAME THE PLACE.

Mohsin says WHY NOT?
WELL, PARTLY, I JUST DIDN'T HAVE
THE HEART TO DO TO THE CITY OF
LAHORE... WHERE I LIVE... WHAT
HAPPENS TO, SAEED AND NADIA CITY
WHICH IS REALLY A DESCENT INTO
HORRIFIC VIOLENCE.
IT WOULD HAVE BROKEN MY HEART TO
WRITE THAT.
BUT PARTLY, IT WAS I WANTED TO
OPEN UP THE ENTRY CITY, SO THAT
MANY PEOPLE WOULD COULD IMAGINE
IT BEING THEIR CITY.
JUST RECENTLY, I GAVE A TALK IN
TORONTO, AND AT THAT TALK, A
YOUNG MAN GOT UP AND ASKED A
QUESTION, AND HE SAID, "I WANT
TO KNOW WHAT RESEARCH YOU'VE
DONE INTO CONFLICT ZONES,
BECAUSE I GREW UP IN A CONFLICT
ZONE, AND I LIVE IN CANADA NOW,
AND I FELT THAT THE DEPICTION
THAT YOU GAVE OF THE CITY THAT
SAEED AND NADIA ARE IN WAS VERY
CLOSE TO MY OWN EXPERIENCE AND
HAD CLEARLY COME FROM AN
EXPERIENCE LIKE THAT."
AND... AND IN A WAY, I THINK, I
WANTED THE NOVEL TO BE OPEN
ENOUGH THAT PEOPLE COULD READ
THEIR OWN EXPERIENCES INTO IT,
SO THAT A LOT OF THE
PARTICULARITIES OF SAEED AND
NADIA'S CITY HAS BEEN REMOVED.
NOT BECAUSE THERE'S SOME
UNIVERSAL, YOU KNOW, CITY
THAT... LIKE, MOROCCO IS THE SAME
AS PAKISTAN, IS THE SAME OF
IRAQ... THAT WOULD BE ABSURD.
BUT THAT IF ONE TAKES A CITY,
SHOWS IT IN A SLIGHTLY
ABSTRACTED WAY... IT'S VERY EASY TO IMAGINE IT BEING YOUR CITY.

Nam says THE STORYTELLING IN THIS BOOK IS
VERY STRAIGHTFORWARD.
BUT THERE IS ONE MAGICAL
ELEMENT, AND... THE DOORS.

Mohsin says YES.

NAM SAYS CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE DOORS?

The caption changes to "Magical realism."

Mohsin says SO, SAEED AND NADIA, THEY BEGIN
THEIR LOVE AFFAIR IN THIS
UNNAMED CITY, AND THEN AS IT
DESCENDS INTO VIOLENCE, THEY
BEGIN TO MOVE.
AND THEY GO TO GREECE, AND THEY
GO TO LONDON.
THEY WIND UP IN MARIN COUNTY,
CALIFORNIA.
AND OTHER PEOPLE ARE MOVING IN
THIS WORLD TOO.
AND THE WAY THEY'RE MOVING IS
THESE BLACK DOORS BEGIN TO
APPEAR.
SO, IMAGINE YOU'RE IN TORONTO,
AND YOU'RE GOING TO THE
BATHROOM.
INSTEAD OF THE DOOR TO YOUR
BATHROOM ONE NIGHT, THAT DOOR'S
BEEN TRANSFORMED INTO AN OPAQUE,
BLACK RECTANGLE.
AND IF YOU STEP THROUGH IT,
INSTEAD OF ARRIVING IN YOUR
BATHROOM, YOU'LL EMERGE IN
CARACAS OR IN LAHORE OR IN
TOKYO.
AND... AND BECAUSE OF THIS
DISTANCE, BASICALLY COLLAPSES IN
THE NOVEL.
AND THE NEXT TWO OR THREE
CENTURIES OF MIGRATION HAPPEN IN
JUST A YEAR.
MILLIONS, BILLIONS OF PEOPLE GO
FROM PLACE TO PLACE.
AND THE DOORS WERE A WAY
TO... PARTLY TO CAPTURE THE
TECHNOLOGICAL REALITY OF OUR
PRESENT MOMENT WHICH IS ONE
WHERE DISTANCE HAS COLLAPSED,
NOT...

Nam says I GUESS WITH THE USE OF
TECHNOLOGY, IT HAS IN A WAY, RIGHT?

MOHSIN SAYS YES.
I MEAN, YOU KNOW, I STEPPED
THROUGH THE DOOR THE OTHER DAY,
AND I WAS IN SEATTLE, AND HERE I
AM IN TORONTO.
AND, YOU KNOW, I'LL BE IN
LAHORE.
BUT ALSO, YOU AND I COULD BE
SPEAKING RIGHT NOW OVER SKYPE,
FOR EXAMPLE... AND IT WOULD BE AS THOUGH WE
WERE LOOKING AT WINDOWS ON OUR
COMPUTERS.
BUT REALLY, I MEAN, IT'S ALMOST
LIKE WE'RE IN THE SAME PLACE.
OR YOU COULD BE... OR I COULD BE
LOOKING AT A PHONE, AND INSTEAD
OF BEING HERE IN TORONTO, WE
COULD BE, IN OUR CONSCIOUSNESS,
IN ANTARCTICA OR THE SURFACE OF
MARS.
TECHNOLOGY HAS A FUNCTION TO
REMOVE DISTANCE.
AND THE DOORS, WHILE NOT TRUE TO
PHYSICS, I THINK ARE TRUE TO THE
EMOTIONAL REALITY OF BEING A
TECHNOLOGICALLY ENABLED 21ST
CENTURY PERSON.

Nam says FOR MANY, THE TRAGIC PHOTO OF
THE YOUNG LITTLE BOY... SYRIAN
TODDLER AYLAN KURDI... BY THE
BEACH IN GREECE BECAME A
TOUCHPOINT FOR... OF SYMPATHY IN
THE ONGOING REFUGEE CRISIS.
I WONDER BY YOU SKIPPING THAT
JOURNEY, DOES IT TAKE AWAY OUR
ABILITY TO CONNECT AND TO SHOW
EMPATHY TO OTHER PEOPLE?

The picture of Aylan Kurdi's corpse on the beach pops up briefly.

Mohsin says I HOPE IT DOESN'T DO THAT.
MY INTENTION WAS EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE.
I THINK THAT VERY OFTEN WE CAN
IMAGINE THAT IT'S THE JOURNEY
ACROSS THE RIO GRANDE OR THE
JOURNEY ACROSS THE
MEDITERRANEAN, THAT LEAKY BOAT,
THAT DEFINES THE MIGRANT OR
REFUGEE EXPERIENCE.
AND BECAUSE PERHAPS WE IN
TORONTO OR SOMEWHERE ELSE
HAVEN'T HAD THAT JOURNEY, THOSE
PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT FROM US.
THE TRUTH IS THOSE DAYS OR WEEKS
ARE A TINY MOMENT.
I MEAN, A PERILOUS AND HORRIFIC
AND SOMETIMES DEADLY MOMENT, BUT
A TINY MOMENT IN THE LIFE STORY
OF MOST REFUGEES AND MIGRANTS.
MOST OF THE STORY IS: "WHY DID
YOU LEAVE?
"AND WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU WHEN
YOU GOT TO THE NEW PLACE?"
AND FOR ME, BY FOCUSING ON THOSE
TWO ELEMENTS OF THE STORY, WHICH
ARE ELEMENTS VERY SIMILAR TO
THOSE OF EVERYBODY'S LIFE... YOU
KNOW, WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE THIS
MOMENT, WHAT HAPPENS AFTER... I WAS HOPING TO EXPAND THE
POSSIBILITY OF EMPATHY AND
TO... AND TO SUGGEST PERHAPS THAT
WE ALL ARE MIGRANTS.
THAT IT ISN'T THAT JOURNEY THAT
MAKES ONE INTO A MIGRANT, BUT
RATHER THE WAY THAT HUMAN LIFE
IS LIVED THROUGH TIME WHERE
EVERYTHING CHANGES AND CONTINUES
TO CHANGE UNITES US WITH
MIGRANTS.

Nam says YOU WRITE... IT'S WEIRD TO READ
THIS 'CAUSE YOU'RE SITTING
BESIDE ME.

[LAUGHING]

Mohsin says NO, PLEASE DO.

Nam says BUT YOU WRITE...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Class at the edge of the abyss." The quote reads "It might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class –in this case an evening glass on corporate identity and product branding- but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about out errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does."
Quoted from Mohsin Hamid, "Exit west." 2017.

Nam says SO, AS THE CITY IS BEING
TRANSFORMED AROUND NADIA AND
SAEED, THEY'RE GOING ABOUT THEIR
BUSINESS AS IF EVERYTHING IS
NORMAL.

Mohsin says YEAH.

Nam says WHY?

Mohsin says I THINK THAT'S OFTEN WHAT HAPPENS.
I MEAN, WHEN I THINK OF WHAT
HAPPENS IN LAHORE AFTER A
TERRORIST ATTACK OR A BOMB
BLAST, YOU KNOW, FOR A FEW DAYS,
PEOPLE DON'T GO TO THE
RESTAURANTS; THEY AVOID THE
BAZAARS.
AND THEN PEOPLE GET BACK INTO
THE RHYTHM OF THEIR NORMAL LIVES.

NAM SAYS BUT WHY IS THAT?
WOULDN'T YOU THINK THAT PEOPLE
WOULD WANNA RETREAT AND...

Mohsin says IT'S THE DESIRE FOR LIFE TO BE
NORMAL IS SO POWERFUL.

NAM SAYS OH, DO YOU THINK... SORRY,
NOT TO INTERJECT...

Mohsin says NO, PLEASE...

Nam says DO YOU THINK IT'S MORE LIKE A
DENIAL OF WHAT'S HAPPENING?
'CAUSE IF YOU WERE TO PROCESS
THAT EVERY SINGLE DAY, WOULDN'T
IT BE TOO MUCH FOR US TO HANDLE?

Mohsin says EXACTLY, IT IS THAT.
BUT THAT IS WHAT NORMALCY IS.
SO, YOU KNOW, WHAT'S HAPPENING
IN THIS MOMENT IS THAT BOTH YOU
AND I ARE DYING, RIGHT?
WE SPEND OUR ENTIRE LIVES IN A
MORTAL STATE WHERE AT ANY MOMENT
WE COULD COME TO AN END.

NAM SAYS WE'RE BORN TO DIE.

Mohsin says YEAH, WE'RE BORN TO DIE.
AND SO, NORMALCY, IN A WAY, IS
LIVING DESPITE THAT PREDICAMENT.
NOW, WHAT HAPPENS IN, I THINK, A
SITUATION WHERE EVENTS BECOME
MUCH MORE PERILOUS IS IT GETS
STRONGER, THAT DESIRE.
I'VE SEEN PEOPLE, YOU KNOW, WHEN
THEY'RE... SOME YEARS AGO, THERE
WAS A RISK OF WAR WITH INDIA.
PEOPLE WERE LEAVING THE COUNTRY
AND DIPLOMATS WERE BEING
EVACUATED.
AND IN LAHORE, PEOPLE WERE GOING
ABOUT THEIR LIVES AS THOUGH,
YOU KNOW, NOTHING WAS GOING ON,
ALMOST BELLIGERENTLY SO.
"OH, DINNER AT MY PLACE TONIGHT."
OR, "BIG END-OF-THE-WORLD PARTY
AT SO-AND-SO'S HOUSE."
AND... AND I THINK IT'S ALMOST A
FUNDAMENTAL ASPECT OF HUMAN
NATURE THAT AS LONG AS WE CAN
AVOID IT...
SO MANY OF US WILL TRY.
AND A CERTAIN POINT COMES WHERE
YOU CAN'T, AND THEN THE RUSE
DISAPPEARS.
BUT EVEN THEN, I SAW THIS... THIS
HEARTBREAKING PHOTO OF AN OLD
MAN IN SYRIA...

NAM SAYS ON THE BED?

Mohsin says YES.

NAM SAYS AND THE WINDOWS ARE BLOWN
OUT.

MOHSIN SAYS YES, THE WINDOWS HAVE
BEEN BLOWN IN, AND THERE'S A
RECORD PLAYER THERE.

NAM SAYS YEAH.

Mohsin says AND...

The mentioned picture pops up briefly. An elderly man with a long white beard sits on a bed in a large wrecked room, listening to a record player.

NAM SAYS HE'S LISTENING TO RECORDS.

Mohsin says HE'S LISTENING TO RECORDS.
IN SOME WAYS, IT WAS... IT WAS AS
THOUGH I WAS LOOKING AT, YOU
KNOW, THE FICTIONAL CHARACTER OF
SAEED'S FATHER AFTER SAEED AND
NADIA LEAVE, ALONE WITH THE
RECORD PLAYER IN HIS HOUSE.

Nam says WHEN I SAW THAT PICTURE, THAT'S
EXACTLY WHAT I THOUGHT TOO.

Mohsin says AND I... IT WAS JUST THIS... THIS
VERY STRANGE MOMENT BECAUSE IT
ISN'T A FICTIONAL CHARACTER.
THAT IS... THAT IS A LIVING ACTUAL
HUMAN BEING WITH A HISTORY AND A
NAME AND A LIFE, AND, YOU KNOW,
TRYING TO LIVE IN THE STATE OF
NORMALCY WHICH IS... WHICH IS JUST
SO REMARKABLE, GIVEN THE
SHATTERED SURROUNDINGS AROUND HIM.

Nam says DO YOU THINK THAT IF PEOPLE WERE
TO KIND OF COLLAPSE, THOUGH,
OTHER PEOPLE MIGHT SAY, "OK,
IT'S REALLY BAD."
BUT MAYBE PEOPLE GOING... LIKE,
ABOUT THEIR BUSINESS, PEOPLE
THINK, "OH, IT'S NOT AS BAD AS IS."

Mohsin says PEOPLE DO COLLAPSE.
I DON'T THINK WE CAN GENERALIZE.
WHEN THERE HAVE BEEN BAD
INCIDENTS IN PAKISTAN, SOME
PEOPLE I KNOW HAVE WANTED TO GET
OUT.
OR HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO SLEEP OR
HAVE GONE ON MEDICATION OR HAVE
SUNK INTO DEEP DEPRESSION.
SO, IT'S NOT... IT'S NOT
UNIVERSALLY THE CASE THAT PEOPLE
JUST CONTINUE LIFE AS NORMAL.
THEY DO COLLAPSE.
BUT OFTEN, THERE'S AN ATTEMPT
TO... TO REMAIN, YOU KNOW, "NORMAL."

Nam says YOU WRITE:
"WHEN WE MIGRATE, WE MURDER FROM
OUR LIVES THOSE WE'LL LEAVE BEHIND."
WHAT DID YOU MEAN BY THAT?

The caption changes to "Connect with us: @theagenda, TVO.org, Facebook, YouTube, Periscope, Instagram."

Mohsin says THERE'S AN EMOTIONAL VIOLENCE TO
MOVING.
AND WE OFTEN FORGET THIS.
YOU KNOW, SO OFTEN,
WE... PARTICULARLY IN PLACES LIKE
CANADA OR AMERICA WHERE THE
STORY OF MIGRATION IS THE STORY
OF HOPE, AND, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE
LOOKING FOR A NEW LIFE AND A
BETTER LIFE... WE FORGET HOW MUCH
SORROW IS ALSO PART OF THE STORY
OF MIGRATION.
WHEN YOU LEAVE YOUR HOME, YOU
PERHAPS LEAVE YOUR PARENTS; YOU
MIGHT LEAVE YOUR BEST FRIEND.
AND THESE ARE PEOPLE YOU'LL
CONTINUE TO PERHAPS BE IN TOUCH
WITH, BUT WON'T BE PART OF YOUR
DAY-TO-DAY LIFE ANYMORE.
AND I THINK... FOR EXAMPLE, WHEN I
THINK OF LEAVING PAKISTAN, I
THINK OF MY PARENTS NOT BEING
ABLE TO PLAY WITH THEIR
GRANDKIDS EVERY DAY.
YES, THEY'D COME FOR TWO WEEKS
AND SEE US IF WE LIVED IN
TORONTO OR NEW YORK OR LONDON... BUT IT WOULD BE A
FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE.
AND THAT... THAT PARTICULAR
RELATIONSHIP THAT THEY HAVE WITH
THEIR GRANDCHILDREN WOULD SORT
OF DIE.
A NEW RELATIONSHIP WOULD COME
INTO BEING.
AND I WANTED TO CAPTURE THE... THE
SORROW AND THE HEARTACHE AND THE
EMOTIONAL VIOLENCE THAT'S DONE
BECAUSE WE... WE DON'T, I THINK,
CONSIDER ENOUGH HOW MUCH PEOPLE
WHO MIGRATE GIVE UP.
WE IMAGINE THEY'VE COME TO
CANADA, FOR EXAMPLE, AND THEY'RE
FREELOADING, AND THEY'RE TAKING
ADVANTAGE, AND THEY HAVEN'T
CONTRIBUTED TO THE SOCIETY.
WHAT PRICE HAVE THEY PAID?
BUT THEY'VE PAID, ACTUALLY, THE
ULTIMATE PRICE.
THEY'VE GIVEN UP EVERYONE THEY
LOVE, AND THEY'VE GIVEN UP THEIR
SURROUNDINGS.
AND... AND THEY'VE DONE IT PERHAPS
WITH NO CHOICE, BUT PERHAPS WITH
A CHOICE.
AND THAT'S WHAT I WAS REFERRING
TO WHEN I TALKED ABOUT MURDER.

Nam says AND I GUESS TOO BECAUSE WE
ALWAYS MAKE IT SEEM LIKE IT'S A
PRIVILEGE FOR PEOPLE TO COME
HERE THAT MAYBE THEY DON'T... WE
DON'T GIVE THEM THE SPACE TO
ACKNOWLEDGE WHAT THEY'VE LOST.

Mohsin says ABSOLUTELY.
WE... WE GENERALLY SHY AWAY FROM
LOOKING AT THE SORROW OF IT.
WE DON'T RECOGNIZE THAT
COUNTRIES LIKE CANADA AND
AMERICA DON'T JUST HAVE THE MOST
OPTIMISTIC HISTORIES OF ALL
COUNTRIES... THEY ALSO HAVE THE SADDEST
HISTORIES BECAUSE EVERYBODY WHO
MOVED HERE WENT THROUGH AN
EXPERIENCE LIKE THIS OF LOSING
EVERYONE THEY KNOW, EXCEPT FOR A
FEW PEOPLE WHO CAME WITH THEM.
AND THAT SORROW IS SO RARELY
TALKED ABOUT AS PART OF THE
CANADIAN STORY, THE AMERICAN STORY.
BUT I THINK IT'S IMPORTANT
BECAUSE IF WE RECOGNIZE THAT
SORROW, THEN WE RECOGNIZE THAT
THE MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES WHO
WANT TO COME NOW ARE VERY MUCH
IN THE SAME TRADITION AS THE
CANADIAN AND AMERICAN MIGRATION
TRADITION.

Nam says SAEED AND NADIA ARE VERY
DIFFERENT.
SAEED IS VERY NOSTALGIC ABOUT
THE PAST, AND NADIA IS NOT.
WHY DID YOU MAKE THAT
DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE TWO?

Mohsin says WELL, THEY BECAME HUMAN BEINGS,
IN A WAY, IN MY IMAGINATION.
EACH OF THEM HAD DIFFERENT
NATURES.
SAEED, AS YOU SAY, IS NOSTALGIC.
HE'S VERY CLOSE TO HIS PARENTS.
HE'S SPIRITUALLY INCLINED.
HE FINDS, YOU KNOW, THROUGH
PRAYER A DEGREE OF COMFORT IN
A... IN A DEEPLY UNSETTLING WORLD.
NADIA, ON THE OTHER HAND, HAS
LEFT HER PARENTS, LIVES ALONE... IS RESOLUTELY FORWARD-LOOKING,
IS NOT RELIGIOUS.
AND I WANTED TO EXPLORE A
ROMANCE BETWEEN THOSE TWO TYPES
OF CHARACTERS BECAUSE I DON'T
THINK THAT THERE'LL BE SOME
VICTORY, YOU KNOW, ONE DAY
BETWEEN NOSTALGIC PEOPLE OR
OPTIMISTIC PEOPLE OR BETWEEN
RELIGIOUS PEOPLE OR NONRELIGIOUS
PEOPLE.
I SUSPECT BOTH OF THOSE TYPES
WILL HAVE TO CONTINUE TO
CO-EXIST.
AND I THINK RATHER THAN
IMAGINING SOME SORT OF, YOU
KNOW, UNPLEASANT, VERY STIFF AND
FORMAL COEXISTENCE BETWEEN THESE
VERY DIFFERENT TYPES OF PEOPLE,
IT'S MORE INTERESTING TO
IMAGINE, YOU KNOW, WHAT IF IT'S
SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL.
WHAT IF IT'S A LOVE AFFAIR?
WHAT IF IT'S A ROMANCE BETWEEN
THESE TWO VERY DIFFERENT TYPES.
NOT COEXISTENCE AS SORT OF "I
TOLERATE YOU," BUT COEXISTENCE
AS, YOU KNOW, "I AM ATTRACTED TO
YOU, AND I'M, IN SOME WAY,
ENERGIZED AND LIVENED BY YOU."

Nam says THERE ARE SAEEDS THAT ARE
NOSTALGIC AND WANT TO RE-CREATE
THE PAST, AND THEN THERE ARE
NADIAS THAT DO NOT.
DO YOU SEE THOSE TWO
PSYCHOLOGICAL POSITIONS PLAYING
OUT ON A GLOBAL SCALE TODAY?

Mohsin says VERY MUCH SO.
I THINK THAT WHAT IS HAPPENED WE
ARE... WE HAVE BEEN GRIPPED BY A
REAL FEAR OF THE FUTURE.
AND THAT FEAR OF THE FUTURE HAS
MADE US DEEPLY NOSTALGIC.
WE WANT TO GO BACK TO THE PAST.
AND THEN PEOPLE COME FORWARD
WITH A... A NOSTALGIC POLITICAL
AGENDA.
YOU KNOW, MAKE AMERICA GREAT
AGAIN.
THAT'S GO BACK TO THE CALIPHATE
OF THE 8TH CENTURY.
LET'S GO BACK TO BRITAIN BEFORE
IT JOINED THE EU.
THOSE NOSTALGIC POLITICAL
VISIONS I THINK ARE VERY
DANGEROUS.
THEY USUALLY COME WRAPPED UP IN
A QUEST FOR PURITY.
YOU KNOW, WHO IS A REAL AMERICA,
WHO'S A REAL MUSLIM, WHO'S A
REAL BRITISH PERSON?
AND, OF COURSE, ALL OF US ARE
IMPURE.
NOBODY IS A REAL ANYTHING.

Nam says WHAT IS REAL ANYWAY?

Mohsin says YEAH, EXACTLY.
IT'S AN ATTEMPT TO DENY A
QUALITY, AND IT'S FUNDAMENTALLY
REGRESSIVE.
AND WE CAN'T GET BACK TO THE
PAST, YOU KNOW?

NAM SAYS AND WAS THE PAST REALLY ALL
THAT GREAT?

MOHSIN SAYS IT PROBABLY WASN'T.

[NAM LAUGHS]

Mohsin says YOU KNOW, I MEAN, DON'T THINK
ROSA PARK'S SITTING AT THE BACK
OF THE BUS WHEN AMERICA WAS
GREAT, WOULD HAVE SAID,
"YEAH, FANTASTIC, LET'S MAKE
AMERICA GREAT AGAIN."
IF WE SHE WERE ALIVE TODAY.
SO, I THINK FOR MANY REASONS,
THESE NOSTALGIC VIEWS ARE VERY
DANGEROUS.
BUT HOW DO WE COUNTERACT THEM?
WE CAN'T JUST SAY, YOU KNOW,
THAT YOU'RE WRONG AND THIS IS
IDIOTIC.
WE HAVE TO DISMANTLE THE FEAR
THAT GIVES RISE TO NOSTALGIC
VIEWS, AND A FEAR OF THE FUTURE,
AND BEGIN TO IMAGINE NEW AND
EXCITING FUTURES THAT CAN
ATTRACT US AWAY FROM THESE
NOSTALGIC VISIONS.
AND THAT'S ONE THING WHICH MANY
PEOPLE, YOU KNOW,
PROGRESSIVE-MINDED PEOPLE HAVE
FAILED TO ARTICULATE.
WHAT IS THIS EXCITING FUTURE?
AND FOR ME, IF WE THINK ABOUT
THIS COMING WORLD OF MIGRATION,
IMAGINE WHAT TORONTO WAS LIKE
500 YEARS AGO.
TORONTO, 500 YEARS IN THE
FUTURE, WILL BE AS DIFFERENT
FROM TORONTO TODAY AS TORONTO IS
FROM THAT PLACE 500 YEARS AGO
BEFORE ANY EUROPEANS EVEN LIVED
HERE.
AND IN THAT WORLD, ALL SORTS OF
NEW IDEAS ARE GONNA COME
TOGETHER, NEW PEOPLES ARE GONNA
COME TOGETHER.
THERE'LL BE NEW MUSIC, AND NEW
ART, AND NEW FOOD, NEW
ECONOMICS, NEW POLITICS.
ALL SORTS OF CROSS-FERTILIZED,
CROSS-POLLINATED IDEAS AND
CULTURAL EXPRESSIONS... THAT WILL TAKE US TO
UNIMAGINABLY EXCITING AND
INTERESTING NEW PLACES.
AND I THINK WE NEED TO BEGIN TO
OPTIMISTICALLY LOOK FORWARD TO
THAT, INSTEAD OF CLINGING TO A
PAST THAT CAN'T GET US ANYWHERE.

Nam says WHAT DO YOU THINK IT IS ABOUT
TODAY THAT PEOPLE ARE AFRAID OF
MOVING FORWARD INTO THE FUTURE?

Mohsin says I THINK THAT PEOPLE, AS
BIOLOGICAL ORGANISMS,
ARE DESIGNED TO BE AFRAID MORE
EASILY.
SO, IF THERE IS A YELLOW FLASH
OF SOMETHING IN THE TREES... IT'S A SMALL CHANCE IT'S A
LION, BUT WE SHOULD PANIC
BECAUSE IF WE SAY A VERY SMALL
CHANCE IT'S A LION, WE COULD GET
EATEN.
NOW, WHAT'S HAPPENED TO US
IS... AND SIMILARLY, IF YOU WALK
DOWN THE STREET EVERY DAY FOR A
MONTH AND PEOPLE SAY, "HI, HOW'S
IT GOING?" VERY PLEASANT
INTERACTIONS... AND YOU HAVE ONE
RACIST ENCOUNTER... THAT ONE RACIST ENCOUNTER WILL
STAY WITH YOU IN A WAY THAT THE
500 PLEASANT INTERACTIONS JUST
WON'T.
OR A BAD REVIEW, IF YOU'RE A
NOVELIST, AND A HUNDRED GOOD ONES.

[NAM LAUGHS]

Mohsin says YOU KNOW, THE... THE NEGATIVE HITS
US BECAUSE WE'RE DESIGNED TO,
OUT OF SELF-PRESERVATION, TREAT
IT OUT OF ALL SENSE OF BALANCE.
NOW, LIVING IN THE WORLD TODAY
SURROUNDED BY MEDIA AND OUR
PHONES AND TECHNOLOGY, THAT'S
CONSTANTLY... EVERY FIVE MINUTES,
EVERY FIVE SECONDS... GIVE US A
JOLT OF, "HERE'S A PROBLEM,
HERE'S A PROBLEM.
WORRY ABOUT THIS, WORRY ABOUT
THIS."
WE HAVE BECOME HYPERSENSITIZED
TO NEGATIVE INFORMATION.
WE'RE LIVING IN CONSTANT ANXIETY
AND FEAR.
AND SO, THAT IS WHY WE'RE SO
VULNERABLE RIGHT NOW.
BECAUSE THE TRUTH OF IT IS, THE
HUMAN SPECIES IS DOING PRETTY
WELL.
WE'RE EATING MORE CALORIES THAN
WE USE TO, EVEN THE POOREST HALF
OF THE POPULATION.
YOUNG BOYS AND YOUNG GIRLS ARE
GETTING INCREASINGLY SIMILAR
AMOUNTS OF EDUCATION.
THE LIFESPAN OF PEOPLE IS GROWING.
THE POOREST PEOPLE ON EARTH ARE
LESS VULNERABLE THAN THEY HAVE
BEEN.
THERE ARE LESS DEATHS, YOU KNOW,
AS A PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION
AND VIOLENCE.
SO, WHY DOES IT SEEM TO US THAT
THINGS ARE GETTING SO MUCH WORSE?
NOT BECAUSE THEY ARE GETTING
WORSE, BUT BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN
CONSUMED BY A STATE OF
TECHNOLOGICALLY DELIVERED
ANXIETY.
AND WE HAVE TO RESIST THAT AND
CREATE NEW MODES OF LIVING AND
FUNCTIONING AND DEALING WITH
THIS SO WE DON'T WIND UP MAKING
IRRATIONAL DECISIONS ABOUT OUR
FUTURE.

Nam says I WANTED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT
EMPATHY AND MAYBE HOW THAT CAN
COMBAT THAT.
NATIVISM AND THE FEAR OF
MIGRANTS, HOW DOES THAT... HOW
DOES A LACK OF EMPATHY FACTOR INTO THAT?

The caption changes to "Literature and empathy."

Mohsin says WELL, ONE OF THE REASONS WHY I
THINK HUMAN BEINGS, AS A
SPECIES, HAVE BEEN ABLE TO GET
TO WHERE WE ARE IS 'CAUSE WE CAN
IMAGINE BEING OTHER PEOPLE.
AND...

NAM SAYS HOW DO YOU MEAN?

Mohsin says WELL, WE ARE ABLE TO... I CAN SORT
OF TRY TO PUT MYSELF IN YOUR
SHOES, IMAGINE WHAT YOU'RE
THINKING... AND WHAT YOUR WORLD VIEW MIGHT
BE, AND HOW YOUR THOUGHTS COULD
BE VALID GIVEN YOUR EXPERIENCE.
AND THAT ALLOWS YOU AND I TO
COME TO NEW KINDS OF
COMPROMISES, TO BE LESS AFRAID
OF EACH OTHER.
AND WE DO THIS IN DIFFERENT
WAYS, BUT MY CHILDREN DO IT,
FOR EXAMPLE, SPONTANEOUSLY.
MY SON WILL, AT THE AGE OF FOUR,
JUST BECOME A T-REX.

[NAM LAUGHS]

Mohsin says AND HE'LL LIKE, YOU KNOW, PULL
HIS ELBOWS IN.
HIS HANDS WILL BE LIKE THIS, AND
HE'LL STOMP VERY HEAVILY AND
JUST SORT OF, YOU KNOW, SAVAGELY
SNARL HIS WAY AROUND THE HOUSE.
MY DAUGHTER WILL DO THE SAME
THING WHERE SHE BECOMES SORT OF
A SUPER-POWERED, YOU
KNOW... SUPERHERO, REALLY.
NOBODY TELLS THEM TO DO THIS.
HUMAN BEINGS JUST DO IT.
EVERY CHILD THAT YOU'LL
SEE... ALMOST EVERY CHILD... WILL DO
SOMETHING LIKE THIS.
AND AS ADULTS, WE KEEP DOING IT.
IN THE DAYDREAMS, BUT ALSO IN
NOVELS AND IN FICTION.
WE... WE... WHEN WE'RE READING A
NOVEL, WE ENTER INTO THIS KIND
OF MAKE-BELIEVE PLAY AREA.
NOW, THAT'S IMPORTANT BECAUSE
WHEN WE ENTER TO THAT, OUR OWN
SORT OF BARRIERS OF WHO WE ARE
BEGIN TO FALL AWAY.
AND SUDDENLY WE BECOME, YOU
KNOW, A SLAVE IN THE 1860S, OR
WE BECOME, YOU KNOW, A MIGRANT
CROSSING THE MEDITERRANEAN OR A
POOR RUSSIAN PEASANT IN THE
TUNDRA.
AND BECOMING THAT, WE HAVE A
DEGREE OF COMPASSION, I THINK,
FOR EACH OTHER WHICH IS VERY
IMPORTANT.

Nam says YOU DESCRIBE THAT... YOU SAID THAT
WRITING THIS BOOK WAS A FORM OF
ACTIVISM FOR YOU.
WHAT DID YOU MEAN BY THAT?

Mohsin says WELL, THE BOOK IS A NOVEL, IN A
WAY, ABOUT THE COMING MIGRATION
APOCALYPSE.
THAT SUGGESTS THAT PERHAPS IT
WON'T BE APOCALYPTIC.
BUT IN FACT, NEW THINGS WILL
HAPPEN.
PEOPLE WILL FIND A WAY.
AND THAT LIFE, ALTHOUGH IT'S
TRANSIENT AND ALTHOUGH THINGS
CHANGE, THAT'S NOT A REASON FOR
US TO BELIEVE THERE WON'T BE
BEAUTY AND HOPE TO COME.
THAT, FOR ME, IS A POLITICAL ACT.
I THINK ONE THING THAT
STORYTELLING CAN DO AND
STORYTELLERS CAN DO IS... IS TO
LIBERATE US FROM THE TYRANNY OF
WHAT WAS AND WHAT IS, AND FREE
US TO IMAGINE WHAT COULD BE.
AND I THINK IN THIS ENVIRONMENT
WHEN SO MANY POWERFUL POLITICAL
FIGURES ARE TRYING TO FORCE US
TO MAKE WHAT IS INTO WHAT USED
TO BE... IMAGINING WHAT COULD BE IS
VERY IMPORTANT.

Nam says AND YOU SAY IMAGINATION IS VERY
IMPORTANT.
WHAT... HOW DO YOU IMAGINE THE FUTURE?

The caption changes to "Imagining a better future."

Mohsin says I THINK... WE CAN'T KNOW WHAT
IT'LL BE... BUT I SUSPECT THAT PEOPLE ARE
GOING TO MIX IN ALL SORTS OF
INTERESTING NEW WAYS.
THERE WILL BE ALL KINDS OF NEW
HYBRIDIZATIONS GOING ON.
AND, YOU KNOW, MY KIDS AND
GRANDKIDS AND GREAT-GRANDKIDS
PROBABLY WILL BE VERY DIFFERENT
FROM ME, JUST AS I AM FROM MY
GRANDPARENTS.
BUT IN THEIR OWN LIVES, THEY
WILL EXPERIENCE SOME AMAZING
HUMAN JOURNEYS.
AND I THINK THE FUTURE WILL BE
ABOUT MIXING.
I ALSO SUSPECT THAT THE FUTURE
WILL BE ONE WHERE WE DO A LOT
MORE THINGS AT A GLOBAL LEVEL
BECAUSE SO MANY THINGS LIKE
CLIMATE CHANGE OR REGULATING
BUSINESS OR COMBATING EPIDEMICS
HAS TO HAPPEN AT A HUMAN-WIDE
LEVEL.
AND WE'LL DO MANY THINGS AT A
VERY LOCAL LEVEL BECAUSE MANY
THINGS SHOULD BE DONE AT THE
LEVEL OF THE TOWN AND THE CITY
AND THE NEIGHBOURHOOD.
AND THE NATION, WHICH IS RIGHT
NOW THE MOST IMPORTANT LEVEL IN
OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM, IS LIKELY
TO BECOME A BIT LESS IMPORTANT.
AND WE HAVE AN OPTION:
WE COULD EITHER ALLOW IT TO
REMAIN AS IMPORTANT AS IT IS
TODAY, AND IT'LL INCREASINGLY
BECOME A POLICE STATE THAT
CONTROLS US IF WE DO, OR PREPARE
OURSELVES TO ADJUST TO NEW SORTS
OF POLITICAL FUTURES WHERE
NATION STATES MAY CONTINUE TO
EXIST, MAY STILL BE IMPORTANT,
BUT CANNOT BE THE ONLY THING
THAT GOVERN HOW HUMAN BEINGS LIVE.

Nam says I WISH I HAD ANOTHER HALF
HOUR...

[Mohsin CHUCKLES]

Nam says BECAUSE I HAVE
SO MANY OTHER QUESTIONS, BUT WE
RAN OUT OF TIME.
EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT READ.
I READ IT IN ONE DAY, LIKE I SAID.
Mohsin, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR
BEING HERE.

The caption changes to "Producer: Eric Bombicino, @ebombicino."

Mohsin says THANK YOU.

NAM SAYS CONGRATULATIONS.

Mohsin says THANK YOU.

Watch: Exit West