By Imteyaz Alam

The Party Worker

Title: The Party Worker
Author: Omar Shahid Hamid
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
Pages: 336
Price: Rs 399

 

When a cop writes fiction depicting the unholy nexus of crime, politics and religion, the line between fiction and fact is bound to get blurred. The Party Worker by Omar Shahid Hamid is a realistic crime thriller.

Omar Shahid Hamid, son of a slain bureaucrat is currently SSP Intelligence of counter Terrorism Department in Karachi. He studied at London School of Economics and University College London.

After his father was murdered in cold blood, Hamid joined the Karachi Police as an officer, witnessed the crime world from close quarters, survived Taliban’s attack on his office, took a sabbatical and decided to write. Omar produced three bestsellers one after the other; each overshadowing the previous ones. The Prisoner is based on the killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl; the second novel, The Spinner’s Tail is on the root of terrorism within Pakistani society and the third one The Party Worker is on the crime and politics of Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi.

The Party Worker is rich in diversity of characters and is multi-layered. The story covers the underworld, businessmen, journalists, police, intelligence agencies, politicians, mullahs. There are Shias, Sunnis, Parsi, Baloch, Taliban, fighting and colluding. Omar has skillfully woven the diverse characters together and conjured up a brilliant story. The world of crime gets murkier due to the diversity of groups involved. The writer lays bare the dark underbelly of the city where children are shown playing with human skulls. The bullet may come from a lifelong friend and the enemy can ambush anytime and anywhere. Betrayal is punished with death wiping out the entire family. There is entry to the crime world without any exit. As the author is a serving police officer, his portrayal of characters and the narration of crime story is realistic. The author’s command over the colloquial is remarkable. The language and diction of cops of New York markedly differ from that of characters from Karachi. The author’s familiarity with Karachi is quite evident in the story and the depiction of places.

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The Party WorkerThe batsman at the other end, your captain, says something to you but it doesn’t register. It doesn’t matter, it can only be some inane observation. The bowler returns to the top of his mark, licking his fingers and massaging the red ball. Here he comes again. Watch the ball. It’s tossed up. Move forward, bring the bat in a full arc and connect. There, it is now a red dot hurtling through the sky, over the bowler’s head, out of the ground for a six. The perfect shot. Suddenly, the heat doesn’t matter. Your captain’s prattling doesn’t matter. The bowler’s prior performance doesn’t matter. Your name is Asad Haider, you are nineteen years old and you are the best batsman in the world. That is all that matters.

‘That Asad Haider is the best batsman in Nishtar Park.’ ‘Arre choro yaar. That boy can only play on these dead pitches. Besides, he’s a bloody charsi. Always high as a kite. No proper coaching either. He wouldn’t survive five minutes on a real turf wicket.’

‘Still, I’ve never seen anyone with such a natural eye. And just look at the grace in his shots. And the pitch isn’t easy. The old concrete slab is falling apart. It’s not easy to maintain your technique on that surface.’

‘Arre, who ever heard of a six-foot-four-inch opening batsman. All the great batsmen were short men. Gavaskar, Bradman, Miandad. That’s what makes them compact players. This boy should have been a fast bowler with his height. But saala lazy hai. He doesn’t want to work hard. Just wants to bat and smoke charas.’

A third voice pipes up. ‘He’s nothing more than a khatmal goonda. Goes around the area with his little band of khatmals, shutting down shops and threatening the traders every time the Fiqah-e-Jaaferia decide to call a bandh.’

‘Saale badmaash khatmal thugs. Such are the times we live in, that every time something happens to one of them anywhere in the city, these pups who’ve barely started shaving start bossing around respectable people. At least, we didn’t have this kind of thing when Bhutto was still alive.’

‘Bhutto was a Shia too. He didn’t do anything to restrain them.’ ‘Yes, but all this started when Zia put his hand on the mullahs. Then this lot started acting up.’

‘It was the bloody revolution in Iran. That’s when things started going bad. Besides, these fellows have the biggest mullah. That fellow Khomeini.’

‘Don’t you dare blaspheme against the Imam! We will tolerate a lot of your rubbish but we will not accept any insult against the Imam. And you better be careful. Half of us living around Nishtar Park are Shia.’

Aleem Siddiqui walks into the small makeshift pavilion that has been set up under a bright red shamiana at the very moment that the cricketing debate turns into a sectarian confrontation. His trademark polyester shirt is plastered to his back and two huge sweat stains expand like ink blots under his armpits. It is not just the heat that makes Aleem sweat. It is fear as well.

Getting between the two offensive debaters, he ensures that neither will be able to deck the other. ‘Excuse me, sirji, I am very sorry but can someone please point me to where Asad Haider is? Has he left the ground already?’

A fast-paced novel, based on the kidnapping of an American journalist in Karachi: Mint

The most engaging examples of crime fiction show you not only how their protagonist’s mind works, but also how the city they are operating in works: the Edinburgh of John Rebus, the various Italian cities of Aurelio Zen, the Bangkok of Sonchai Jitpleecheep. With his debut novel The Prisoner, Omar Shahid Hamid lets the reader see through the eyes of deputy superintendent Constantine D’Souza of Karachi’s Central Prison and also get an insight into the city.