|Mohammed Hanif: our favourite Pakistani writer|
This streak of sardonic humour was on display as Hanif, the author of the bestselling satire “A Case Of Exploding Mangoes”, launched his second book about the love life of a Dalit Christian woman to a hall packed with book lovers in Islamabad.
Hanif, a gifted storyteller, had the audience in splits with subplots from his life. “I had no understanding of what the country (Pakistan) was about till I met full-blown civilians after leaving the Pakistan Air Force,” he said at the release of “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti” at the SAFMA auditorium.
The story of Alice, who has a troubled past, is inspired by the life of a nurse who looked after Hanif’s mother 20 years ago. Alice is a woman condemned by caste who falls in love with a man who loves violence.
“When I started writing the book the protagonist had a different name. But she wouldn’t speak to me. So I decided to call her Alice,” he said.
During the interaction, Hanif offered glimpses into various facets of his life – his reasons for writing in English instead of Urdu, his time in the PAF, and the reaction of late military ruler Zia-ul-Haq’s son Ejaz to his first book – all told in his trademark self-deprecating style.
Hanif was a 16-year-old from the agricultural city of Okara in Punjab when he joined the air force. “Life in the cantonment was like living in a different world or a different planet.” He said the only things that bothered him then were “why do I have to get up at 5 am to parade with a rifle?” or “why do I have to wear the uniform?”
The author, who faced several questions on his first book based on Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorship and his death in a mysterious plane crash, said the former dictator’s son Ejaz-ul-Haq was not happy with his book.
“I never spoke to Ejaz-ul-Haq about the book but he told a journalist that he had not read the book while his wife had, and she thought it was full of filth. He (Ejaz) thought that I had been thrown out of the PAF by his father and sent a message to me through the journalist that had his father been alive, he would have seen to it that the book never got published or sold!”
Asked whether he chose to write novels in English rather than Urdu for political reasons, Hanif said the decision was a “literary and financial choice”, just like his decision to move to Britain for about a decade to earn a livelihood.
Hanif also read a satirical piece in Urdu that had the audience laughing out loud. In a mock letter addressed to the President of Pakistan when Nizam-e-Adl (a Shariah-based justice system) was introduced in the restive Swat valley, Hanif wrote that the residents of Defense Housing Authority in Karachi should not be deprived of the benefits of the system.
He pointed out that little boys from his residential area where picking up garbage, including immoral objects like empty liquor bottles. He said this would corrupt the young boys, just like selling roses to young couples walking hand-in-hand near Karachi’s sea front.
The satirical letter suggested that Pakistan’s nuclear scientist AQ Khan should be hired to block all plans by Hindus to travel to the moon. He said the best way to convince Khan to do the needful would be to gift him a 1000-acre plot in the defence housing scheme.