Osman Haneef was born in Pakistan and, as the child of a diplomat, grew up in different cities in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. He studied creative writing at Yale, Stanford, Colby, Curtis Brown Creative, and the Faber Academy. His writing has appeared in Dawn, Scroll India, Kitaab, and the Yale Journal of International Affairs. He won the Frank Allen Bullock Prize for creative writing at the University of Oxford. Previously, he worked as a tech entrepreneur and strategy consultant. He was selected as an Acumen Fellow in 2016 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2017.
He lives with his family between the UK and Pakistan.
The Proust Questionnaire has its origins in a parlor game popularized (though not devised) by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A day full of writing, warm weather, delicious food, friends, family, and fun inspirational conversations.
What is your greatest fear?
Coming to the end of life and realizing I did it all wrong.
Which living person do you most admire?
Not a single individual but I most admire the community of human rights lawyers and activists in Pakistan working on overturning many of the nation’s unjust laws.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Buying more books than I can read.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Patience. Change takes time so people often extol the virtues of patience. But impatience drives people to act to bring about change.
On what occasion do you lie?
While filling out questionnaires like this Proust Questionnaire. Of course now that I have said it, we are trapped in the liar’s paradox. Am I lying about lying and therefore telling the truth (which would then mean I am lying about always lying…)?
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
This seems like an unhealthy question to answer so I won’t…I don’t give my appearance much thought.
Which living person do you most despise?
Better left unsaid.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
I want to say something lighthearted like “sense of humour” but, honestly, it’s integrity.
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Thank you.” (Though I think it’s a good phrase to overuse, and perhaps I don’t use it enough).
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Nutella (my wife has come to accept this…)
Which talent would you most like to have?
To be able to sing well. Singing badly and out of key is a talent that I mastered many years ago.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
It depends on the time of day and the task I am facing. For instance, right now I wish I was better at coming up with pithy responses (as I struggle through a questionnaire).
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Launching and scaling an insurance and health tech startup in Pakistan, and growing it to over 1200 employees serving over 3.5 million customers. It is still operating today, under new leadership, and continues to deliver affordable health and insurance services to people in Pakistan.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Ideally a vampire or wizard who could then set about living the dream YA fantasy life.
Where would you most like to live?
Somewhere warm in the winter and somewhere cool in the summer. Not necessarily the same place since I am ever the nomad.
What is your most treasured possession?
My wits… which I am all too aware of losing.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Not being able to create anything.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My inability to take questionnaires seriously. (Though my answers have vacillated between the flippant and the serious with this questionnaire).
What do you most value in your friends?
Kindness and generosity (in case any friends are reading this and want to drop by with some nutella)
Who are your favorite writers?
Tolstoy, Kazuo Ishiguro, Arundhati Roy, Julian Barnes
Who is your hero of fiction?
Hercule Poirot — for some inexplicable reason, the misunderstood immigrant who goes around helping people really appeals to me.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
The forgotten people — the colonized and the immigrants.
Who are your heroes in real life?
The human rights lawyers and activists in Pakistan working on overturning many of the nation’s unjust laws.
What is your motto?
Er, is this something that people have? Here are some off the cuff mottos.
Enjoy the journey, because we all end up in the same place.
Take risks — most people regret the risks they do not take but not the ones they do.
Failing to achieve your dreams is better than never having tried.