Glimpses of Life in America

Review by Syed Osman Sher

Glimpses of Life in America by Arif Hussaini
Publisher: Royal Book Company, Karachi, Pakistan
Published: 2005
Pages: 266

Glimpses of Life in America is the title of the book written by Syed Arif Hussaini. The author needs no introduction. A civil servant and a diplomat, he has seen a lot of the world and acquired varied experiences of life; also, he is a prolific writer whose column appears every week in the prestigious weekly Pakistan Link, published from California.
The book mirrors the United States, popularly known as America, in its multifarious images. It reflects the various shades and colors of the American life, right from the land and its people to its political relations with the world, as well as the author’s personal encounter with life in the United States. While in this book we find the United States trying to portray its image as an overwhelming power dominating the world, we also come face to face with numerous queer aspects of life bringing the ordinary American down to earth. Yes, we view portrayals of ordinary mortals, in the streets, in bureaucratic garbs, full of ambitions and American dreams, generally laboring to live well, but trifling at the same time with sexuality and family values, and so on.
The way Arif Hussaini expresses the seriousness of life is not bland but is blended with humor. It lessens the pain of an unpleasant situation. He has the magic to turn even the personal tragedy into a breath of fresh air. He writes: “Some time back, I had received a letter from the Social Security office informing me that I had died. The letter, rather a NOTICE OF ACTION as it was called bore my name as the addressee and said: ‘Medical coverage for the above named will be discontinued effective -/-/ 1998 because we have been notified of the person’s death. There are no special death or burial benefits provided under the Medi-Cal program’ ”. When Hussaini reaches the Social Security office to understand what the Notice of Action meant, or to make the bureaucrats understand the real situation, “the moon-faced, oriental-looking lady at the window was all charm. I informed her that I was not dead but it was my wife who had passed away and I had myself informed their office of her demise. The lady kept saying Hokay, Hokay (OK) to emphasize the clarity of her comprehension. She also took some notes….Lo and behold! Within a couple of weeks of all that ‘hokay. Hokay’ I received another notice saying exactly the same thing.”
According to Hussaini, the Americans bend backwards to be nice and friendly. The blacks of the country are referred to as African-Americans, a computer is sold with label of user-friendly, a car is called diver-friendly, a laxative is bowels friendly, and lavatory is named a restroom where escaping from the rigors of the workplace one can really rest.
The United States, the author maintains, is a free society that provides ample opportunity to an individual to take whatever shape he likes. In the egalitarian American cultural milieu, nobody is devalued or overvalued because of his birth in a particular class. It is up to the person concerned to make his life or mar it. A person like Bill Clinton, belonging to a family of ordinary means, rose to the position of the President of the United States. On the other hand, Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of the multimillionaire media Mogul, Randolph Hearst, landed in jail for joining a criminal gang and taking part in a robbery.
From all over the world, the poor, deprived, uneducated, affluent, intellectuals, and freedom seekers set their eyes towards this land. It is deemed to be full of opportunities and where all the comforts, luxuries and riches of life chase a person.
This book would be a valuable asset for them in understanding the real-life in America. The book pictures the country not only in its greatness, its military might, administrative grandeur, social security network, and individual freedom, but also in shattering its image of larger than life.
The book is a collection of Hussaini’s writings that have been published earlier in journals. Here a selection has been made with the intent to focus on the American life alone. The getup of the book is wholesome, but the contents section shows some niggardliness by not giving the page number of each of the articles, which makes it difficult for the reader to locate the one he chooses to read.
Even the greater anomaly I find is with the title cover. It should portray how the reader should look at America and not the other way round. It shows in the backdrop of the American flag, a frowning Uncle Sam pointing his finger towards us saying: “You, the scum of the global society!”
Those interested in the book may contact the author at:
(Syed Osman Sher is the author of several books on Indian history and an occasional contributor to Pakistan Link)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.