You're Under Omar Shahid Hamid's Word - Arrest!

What he does on a day-to-day basis doesn’t lend itself to creativity, but what his profession has done inadvertently, like it is true for most associated to the department he works for, is the ability to observe – to make subtle observations of what is in and out of place.

“It’s something you learn as a police officer, when you go to different places, especially crime scenes, and the power of observation starts slipping into your personal life as well,” says Omar Shahid Hamid, the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) in the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD). Omar also happens to be the first Pakistani policeman to have penned fiction. It was a decade back when Omar stumbled across the realm of writing. “I started (writing) accidentally; then it snowballed into writing books,” he reveals.

Omar finds it difficult at times to shift gears between the two worlds he switches across. “One of the things you need to do when you’re writing is to distance yourself, as it gives you a little bit of objectivity,” shares the writer who feels he is much more prolific when away from his job. Being on a leave for five years in London, Omar was able to focus a lot on his writing. “Since I have been back on the job for about six months I haven’t been able to write because of the information overload,” he talks about how working full-time in the police, he doesn’t get the period of reflection which is necessary for writing.

All those who have read his latest work of fiction The Party Worker, must have travelled to Karachi’s cramped alleys and secret entryways through Omar’s words. Thinking about it now, Omar shares, “I have a pretty good memory in terms of observation. For instance, I haven’t been to Lyari in at least five to six years, but in my mind I see Khadda Market, Baghdadi, Cheel Chowk or Afshani Gali and still have a vivid recollection of them which, when writing, helps a lot since I’m able to draw on those recollections.”

Being a part of the police force, Omar felt the potential difference he could make by joining the police would be substantial, when asked if he has made any difference, the spectacled officer didn’t have an answer. “It’s a job where you think you’re making a difference but honestly you can’t really tell until you do a 10-15 years evaluation of your career,” and with that the SSP goes on to retrospect the days when he was an assistant superintendent of police. “As a young officer, I thought we were doing tremendously positive work in Lyari; I thought we had done well cleaning up the gangs but that was back in 2005-06, evidently the problem of the Lyari gang has continued till this day.”

After having done policing for 10-11 years, he went on a sabbatical. “It was partially because of a series of threats to do with the Taliban as I was working with CTD at that time as well and we had conducted a number of successful operations against the senior leadership of what was then the TTP. It was at the same time that threat came along and our officers were martyred in November 2012,” but the deciding factor for Omar was none other than what would later result in his first published work, The Prisoner. “It was around that time I wanted to be very serious about writing,” says the police officer who took time off to focus fully on writing.

On returning, Omar resumed duty as SSP-CTD, on which he candidly remarks, “Apparently they don’t think I should be posted anywhere else,” as the first glint of a smirk appears on Omar’s face, he adds, “I feel as a police officer, terrorism is one of the main challenges we have faced in the span of my career.”

Being linked to the strings of fear at all times, the pensmith when asked to make ‘fear’ the intangible, turn into very much tangible, he fell short on words. “I wouldn’t know how to describe it for it’s one of those things when you are in a job [like this] where there is a high element of risk. You can either allow a feeling to hold you back, thinking about the repercussions of every action you take or you can try to push past it which doesn’t mean the fear goes away, which doesn’t mean the problems go away,” which leaves all those affiliated with Omar’s profession with one option – “to accept that’s the job, and simply do it.”

When talking about counterterrorism, Omar, being associated with the police, points out the advantage the police will always have over any armed forces. “The policemen are able to better understand the ebb and flow of the area since they come from the same communities which gives them the chance to take the lead and bring improvement in the society,” says the police officer who has always felt this issue is primarily not a military one, but a law enforcement one.

Having no formal background in creative writing, what came to him the easiest were stories about what he knew. “My first book is about the police of Karachi, a topic that I was obviously familiar with,” he talks about how he has since then ventured into other themes as well. As far as other themes are concerned, Omar is already working on his fourth book which is based on a sport dear to a lot of people of this country. “I’m about 30,000 words into it and it’s on match-fixing in cricket,” says the author who “likes to write interesting stories.”

All those who have laid their hands on Omar’s latest paperback, will have come across Suleyman who happens to be his co-writer. “He’s my son who’s very keen to be famous and whenever I had to make him do various chores I’d promise him that I’ll place his name in the book. He assisted me by doing some typing of the book,” the father of the 8-year-old shares.

This penman also points to the beauty of Karachi. “It’s a very diverse city where a bomb can be going off at one side and the rest of the city can be totally oblivious to it. It’s a city which depending on where you live, your socio-economic background, and on the perception of events, people have different realities. Potentially, there are endless worlds,” Omar shares.

As we sit in the basement of a bookshop, Omar paints the room with words. “If I were to go away and write a chapter of my next novel, where there’s a scene in the basement of a bookshop, I’d be able to recall a number of pregnancy manuals lying at the back, ISIS books and everything to do with terrorism lying in a section funnily entitled ‘fiction’,” and as if the script was being edited, an individual who was waiting to get his copy signed, adds to our conversation, “and your fan looking forward to get his copy signed by you.” In the future if you read about a chequered shirt gentleman in a bookshop, know where he resonated from in Omar’s writing. This officer of the law feels that we, as citizens of the country have a great commonality. “We have been through a lot of ups and downs but the people of Pakistan need to be as resilient as they are,” the officer signs off sharing words out of his custody.