From Karachi cop to “The Prisoner”: In conversation with Omar Shahid Hamid

“There’s a lot that has happened in the last 30 odd years in the city, and we haven’t really talked about it,” says Omar Shahid Hamid, best-selling author of The Prisoner, The Spinner’s Tale, and The Party Worker. This rich vein of untapped stories is where Hamid has drawn his inspiration and narratives for his books. 

In his day job, he serves the city as a senior police officer. As an author, he brings it to life, complete with the good, the bad, and the ugly – his intricately detailed characters mirroring real-life tales of gang warfare, militancy, and good old-fashioned policing. His upcoming novel, however, tackles a completely different world. Watch this interview to find out what that is. 

VCast Online sat down with the Karachi cop to talk about why he joined the police (0:28); how he came to be an author (0:56); his mentors (3:05); his most recent challenge as a writer (07:41); and what’s the need of the hour for effective policing (09:50).   

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His own proximity to the city’s dark underbelly can be traced back to a place far more personal than professional. In fact, joining the police force was a decision he made after his father’s high profile murder in 1997, which served as Hamid’s exposé into the bitter reality of life within Karachi’s criminal-political nexus, as well as his introduction to the police investigations that followed.

Before penning The Prisoner, Hamid had no ambition of being a writer. He stumbled upon writing as a means of “catharsis”, which helped him deal with the increasingly strenuous and frustrating nature of his job; during his transformation from a young officer into a seasoned veteran of the police force. Omar quickly realised that he had access to rich, human, and at times unbelievable narratives; which no one else was writing about.

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Drawing heavily from what he saw, and borrowing from the experiences of his colleagues, Hamid was able to re-construct those real stories with believable creative license, and an insider’s understanding of the nuances involved.

In fact, the main character in his debut novel is modelled after his mentor and friend, Chaudhry Aslam. Often referred to in the media as the ‘daredevil cop,’ Aslam was assassinated in a car bombing in 2014, having previously survived multiple attempts on his life. Watch this interview to hear Hamid recall that day, and how it impacted him (3:34). 

Hamid says he has no particular target audience in mind when writing his stories. And yet, his novels have resonated particularly well with young people who have grown up in the violent era he documents, and who are able to put real names to the fictional characters of his universe. In this interview, he talks about the unexpected response he has received from young people over the years (05:26).

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Hamid identifies himself primarily as a police officer and believes empathy is an instrumental characteristic to have in this profession, even if it’s the hardest thing to maintain in the face of stress and desensitisation. And empathy with the public, he says, has to work both ways for trust to be built in the community. Don’t miss the part of this interview where he talks about the greatest challenge for the police today (09:50).

After penning three novels entrenched in the world of Karachi’s police and politics, Hamid’s most recent challenge as a writer is to move away from these themes. 

“It’s an interesting challenge – to push yourself a little more and write about what’s not as familiar,” says Hamid. 

The author took on this challenge head-on, and his new book is slated for release in 2019. Here’s a hint to what the story is based on: What sport is Pakistani obsessed with?

Hamid’s currently reading The Front Runner by Matt Bai. 

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This story was published in association with JS Bank Limited

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