As you lie motionless, a young jaundiced village boy, radish juice dribbling from the corner of your lips and forming a small patch of mud on the ground, it must seem that getting filthy rich is beyond your reach. But have faith. You are not as powerless as you appear. Your moment is about to come. Yes, this book is going to offer you a choice.
Decision time arrives a few hours later. The sun has set and your mother has shifted you onto the cot, where you lie swaddled in a blanket even though the evening is warm. The men have returned from the fields, and the family, all except you, have eaten together in the courtyard. Through your doorway you can hear the gurgle of a water pipe and see the flare of its coals as one of your uncles inhales.
Your parents stand over you, looking down. Tomorrow your father will return to the city. He is thinking.
"Will you be all right?" he asks you.
It is the first question he has asked you on this visit, perhaps the first sentence he has uttered to you directly in months. You are in pain and frightened. So the answer is obviously no.
Yet you say, "Yes."
And take your destiny into your own hands.
Your father absorbs your croak and nods. He says to your mother, "He's a strong child. This one."
She says, "He's very strong."
You'll never know if it is your answer that makes your father change his answer. But that night he tells your mother that he has decided she and you children will join him in the city.
A month later you are well enough to ride with your brother and sister on the roof of the overloaded bus that bears your family and threescore cramped others to the city. If it tips over as it careens down the road, swerving in mad competition with other equally crowded rivals as they seek to pick up the next and next groups of prospective passengers on this route, your likelihood of death or at least dismemberment will be extremely high. Such things happen often, although not nearly as often as they don't happen. But today is your lucky day.
Gripping ropes that mostly succeed in binding luggage to this vehicle, you witness a passage of time that outstrips its chronological equivalent. Just as when headed into the mountains a quick shift in altitude can vault one from subtropical jungle to semi-arctic tundra, so too can a few hours on a bus from rural remoteness to urban centrality appear to span millennia.
Atop your inky-smoke-spewing, starboard-listing conveyance you survey the changes with awe. Dirt streets give way to paved ones, potholes grow less frequent and soon all but disappear, and the kamikaze rush of oncoming traffic vanishes, to be replaced by the enforced peace of the dual carriageway. Electricity makes its appearance, first in passing as you slip below a steel parade of high-voltage giants, then later in the form of wires running at bus-top eye level on either side of the road, and finally in streetlights and shop signs and glorious, magnificent billboards. Buildings go from mud to brick to concrete, then shoot up to an unimaginable four stories, even five.
At each subsequent wonder you think you have arrived, that surely nothing could belong more to your destination than this, and each time you are proven wrong until you cease thinking and simply surrender to the layers of marvels and visions washing over you like the walls of rain that follow one another seemingly endlessly in the monsoon, endlessly that is until they end, without warning, and then the bus shudders to a stop and you are finally, irrevocably there.
As you and your parents and siblings dismount, you embody one of the great changes of your time. Where once your clan was innumerable, not infinite but of a large number not readily known, now there are five of you. Five. The fingers on one hand, the toes on one foot, a minuscule aggregation when compared with shoals of fish or flocks of birds or indeed tribes of humans. In the history of the evolution of the family, you and the millions of other migrants like you represent an ongoing proliferation of the nuclear. It is an explosive transformation, the supportive, stifling, stabilizing bonds of extended relationships weakening and giving way, leaving in their wake insecurity, anxiety, productivity, and potential.
Moving to the city is the first step to getting filthy rich in rising Asia. And you have now taken it. Congratulations.
From HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA by Mohsin Hamid. Copyright 2013 by Mohsin Hamid. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books.