The unbearable heaviness of a policeman’s Life: Omar Shahid Hamid’s Jihadi Noir

New Delhi, July 6 (IANS) A policeman’s lot is not a happy one, as the old song goes. Who know this better than South Asia’s policemen, who saw criminals strike alliances with politicians to become their masters, terrorists become another implacable enemy and jealous colleagues turn out to be most lethal. This makes for a complicated life of compromised principles, conflicting loyalties and constant danger, which Pakistani policeman-turned-author Omar Shahid Hamid captures with candour and insight.

Hamid, who chose noirish fiction to tell his tale despite preferring non-fiction “so gripping that it read better than a novel”, maintains he “stumbled into writing accidentally”.

“I have never been a particularly literary person. But my experiences in police showed me that there were some tremendous stories that were waiting to be told, and I just started using those stories as material for my books,” the London-based author, whose just-released “The Spinner’s Tale” is about an ordinary youth’s transformation into an unconscionably brutal jihadi terrorist, told IANS in an e-mail interview.

“And of course it helped that I faced some extremely challenging situations in my career, providing me with rich experiences,” said Hamid, 37, whose over-a-decade-long spell in police included stints in vibrant but dangerous Karachi, where he survived being ambushed by gangsters, implicated by colleagues in a false case, and, as CID chief, barely escaped the bombing of his office by the Taliban in 2010.

His debut “The Prisoner” (2013), about a race against time mission to rescue an American journalist from jihadis in Karachi, draws considerably on his own service , as well as incorporating real-life people, outfits, and events – though with some adaptions.

Parallels with the Daniel Pearl case (save the outcome) are obvious, so is the identity of the ‘United Front’, headed by a leader in self-imposed exile abroad, as well as the real-life inspiration for killing of a politician by police (hint: a brother of a Sindhi leader in a top post). “The Spinner’s Tale” features the IC-814 hijacking, and assassination attempts on President Pervez Musharraf among others.

“I look at real life events, and often consider what it would be like to interpret them from different points of view. At times, after this consideration, the event may not fit the plot, and in other cases, it may well develop into something very different from what I had intended,” said Hamid.

Hamid enjoys a novel, “where the writer was able to suck you into his world so completely that you couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t”, such as Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” as well as works of Robert Harris and John Le Carre. But his characters, especially in “The Prisoner”, echo Raymond Chandler.

Police officer Constantine D’Souza (whose is the principal point of view), and his impulsive colleague Akbar Khan (whose exploits seem inspired by the intrepid Chaudhry Aslam) are both those walking down the mean streets without themselves being mean, tarnished or afraid – well, excessively mean or tarnished!

Complementing them are the urbane Col. Tarkeen of the intelligence services (the competing ‘Bleak House’/’Kaaley Gate’ wallahs) and police seniors ranging from venal to capable (Maqsood Mehr, ‘Hanuman’ and Dr. Death). In the second, Sheikh Ahmed Uzair Sufi (who has stared down Osama bin Laden) is in a class by himself and in his own way is his ambitious but hapless jailor, Superintendent of Police Omar Abbasi.

The books, both published by Pan Macmillan India, differ in their endings. “The Prisoner” ends satisfactorily for most but the grimmer “The Spinner’s Tale” ends on a more chilling note but this “wasn’t something planned beforehand”.

“I think it just developed that way. I started writing it to try and explore one man’s journey into evil, based on a lot of my practical experiences. I suppose that with this kind of content, it was always going to be grimmer subject matter,” Hamid told IANS.

His next work, which he is “sort of halfway through” is a sequel to “The Prisoner”, using some minor characters from it.

“While ‘The Prisoner’ showed Karachi through the prism of a police officer’s eyes, this portrays the city through the eyes of political workers and political parties.”

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