Q&A with Omar Shahid Hamid

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Omar Shahid HamidFrom the former head of Karachi’s CID comes a bone chilling debut crime fiction about Karachi’s criminal underground, The Prisoner. This interview was conducted by email specially for Curious Book Fans.

CBF: What made you decide to write this novel?

Omar Shahid Hamid: My wife. Some years ago, I was reading a book and complaining about the way it was written, and my wife, tired by my ranting, said, “if you think you have more interesting stories to tell, why don’t you get off your ass and write a book?” and so I ended up doing so. I always thought the police department had amazing stories, that were buried beneath the surface, but no one from within the police was ever likely to tell those stories and no outsider would ever be privy into that world.

CBF: How much of it is fact and how much fiction?

Omar Shahid Hamid: Most of the book is based on dramatised versions of incidents that actually occurred over the past twenty years or so.

CBF: What made the terrorist groups target you?

Omar Shahid Hamid: A number of my assignments in the Karachi police involved taking on dangerous criminal elements. For instance, I was posted in a district of the city called Lyari, where there has been an ongoing gang war for the past ten odd years. Similarly, my last posting was in CID, which is the police’s main counter terrorism wing, and our operations were focused against jihadi groups like the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan. We were successful in apprehending a number of high value targets, and as a result, our offices were bombed in November 2010. Soon after I left, in September 2011, terrorists targeted my successor’s house, and last week, they succeeded in killing him when they blew up his convoy in Karachi.

CBF: What does it feel like being bombed by the Taliban?

 The Prisoner, Omar Shahid HamidOmar Shahid Hamid: When you are working in a high pressure environment, where the risks are very high, you know that you are always on a hit list. But the thing that is always the hardest and most gut wrenching, is watching your colleagues die. People you have worked with day in and day out, and suddenly they aren’t there anymore, and you have to tell their families that their father won’t be coming home that night.

CBF: Say something about your experiences as a policeman in Karachi.

Omar Shahid Hamid: I think my comment above is relevant for this question as well. Mentally and emotionally, it becomes exhausting to have to bury your comrades again and again.

CBF: Have your colleagues read this book? If so, what did they have to say?

Omar Shahid Hamid: A few have. They quite enjoy it, and their most common response has been to try and guess which character is which person in real life.

CBF: Is this the first of many books?

Omar Shahid Hamid: I hope so. Certainly, it’s the first of two to begin with. I have just finished working on a second manuscript, and I hope to continue writing.


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The Prisoner
by Omar Shahid Hamid

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Written by Anjana Basu