Tag Archive for 'Mohammed Hanif'

The good life in the world’s most violent city

Mohammed Hanif in The New Republic:

EARLY MORNING one day this past July, a bomb went off two streets from my house in Karachi. I was asleep. “There was a bomb blast outside the Chinese consulate,” my wife informed me when I woke up. Nobody had died, I was told. It was a motorcycle bomb—as in someone had fitted a bomb into a motorcycle and parked it outside the consulate. My first reaction was, why would anyone explode a bomb outside the Chinese consulate? Since our childhood, we have been told that the Chinese are our best friends and our friendship is taller than the Himalayas and deeper than the Arabian Sea. Maybe someone was jealous of our friendship. It didn’t really occur to me that the bomb had gone off in my own neighborhood.

Then a friend wrote from London: Heard there was a bomb blast in your neighborhood, hope the family is safe, and the dogs not too traumatized. It was nice of her to write, but my first reaction was that the blast was two streets away. For me, the explosion might as well have happened in another city. None of my friends in Karachi called to check on me. They had probably seen the news on television, had found out that nobody died in the blast, and had promptly forgotten about it. I hadn’t even heard the blast. Maybe I have learned to block out small motorcycle bombs.

You live in a city not because it’s the prettiest, most peaceful place in the world; nor do you choose a place because it’s exciting. Karachi, for me, is a perpetually shifting combination of nice memories and minor tragedies, commerce and convenience, familiarity and strangeness, and, ultimately, the coincidences that brought me here. The air, as someone said, is easier on your skin. But all that the outside world sees is a bloody-minded sentimentality that keeps one in a place even when it’s blowing up bit by bit. When I visit my hometown in central Punjab, I am often asked by my family: How can you live in a city like Karachi with all its rampant violence? I can’t really confess to the folks in my village that, unlike in the rest of Pakistan, in Karachi you can buy beer without much hassle. (Alcohol is illegal throughout the country.) More:

Interpreter of maladies

Parul Sehgal reviews Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, by Mohammed Hanif. In NYT Sunday Book Review:

We need to talk about Alice. ­Alice, with her black hair and big mouth. With her beautiful body and poor impulse control. Alice, criminal and savior, the victim and heroine of “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti,” a deft, evil little novel of comic genius by Mohammed Hanif, author of the prizewinning “Case of Exploding Mangoes.”

Fresh out of prison and despite formidable odds, Alice Bhatti, a Catholic nurse in present-day Pakistan, has wrangled a job at Karachi’s Sacred Heart Hospital for All Ailments, a cesspit of gangrene and incompetence. The “delivery room is a gambling den,” the head nurse says. “Everyone comes out a loser.” The maternity ward itself goes by the grim sobriquet “baby slaughterhouse.”

But there’s something about Alice. She possesses unnerving gifts: mysterious healing powers and the ability to predict how you will die. She works miracles, is beloved by the residents of the psychiatric ward, but nothing, not even her supernatural skill set, can stem the tide of the dead women:

“There was not a single day — not a single day — when she didn’t see a woman shot or hacked, strangled or suffocated, poisoned or burnt, hanged or buried alive. Suspicious husband, brother protecting his honor, father protecting his honor, son protecting his honor, jilted lover avenging his honor, feuding farmers settling their water disputes, moneylenders collecting their interest: most of life’s arguments, it seemed, got settled by doing various things to a woman’s body.” More:

Mohammed Hanif on secrets and lies In Pakistan

By NPR staff:

On choosing to fictionalize Zia-ul-Haq’s death

“Like all young reporters, I was like, this is going to be my big story, and I started working on it. After a few months, I realized that there was no way I was going to get to the bottom of it. There were layers and layers and layers of deception and cover-ups to cover the other cover-ups. Then it occurred to me that I would just make up my own facts. If no one was willing to tell me who did it, then as a fictional character, I’ll raise my hand and say, ‘Well, I did it,’ and I’ll write a book about it. And so, basically, it was a failed journalist’s revenge.”

On people accepting his version of events

“The funny thing is, after the book came out, a lot of people — and some of them were heads of intelligence agencies — I’ve run into them at a party or at a social gathering, and they take me into a corner and say, ‘Son, you’ve written a brilliant novel. Now tell me, who’s your source?’ I used to find it a bit scary at the beginning that, my God, these people are running my country and they actually believe all the lies that I’ve written.” More:

Alice in Karachi

In The Indian Express, Dilip Bobb reviews Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif (Random House; Rs 499):

Is there a connection between the sharp rise in the suffering of a society and heightened, even inspired, creative output? Wars and conflicts have produced more great books than periods of peace and prosperity. The iconic American literature that emerged post World War-II was dominated by Jews — Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud, Elie Wiesel, IB Singer and Philip Roth. Many of them became writers, displaced writers, as a result of the Holocaust, “that beautifully sad affair for art”. A similar literary churning seems to be happening in Pakistan. As the country slides into violence and chaos, Pakistani authors writing in English have begun to illuminate the literary landscape: Mohsin Hamid, Daniyal Mueenuddin and Mohammed Hanif to name a few. The latter has added to that oeuvre with his second book, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti. His first, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, an acidic commentary on the Pakistani army under General Zia-ul-Haq, established him as a rising literary star. This one seals his reputation.

The backdrop is Karachi, a city caught in a deadly ethnic and religious crossfire, much like the protagonists of the book, Alice Bhatti, an “underpaid junior nurse in an understaffed welfare hospital”, and Teddy Butt, body-builder and goon-for-hire. She’s Christian, a Catholic who joins a squalid hospital teeming with drug addicts and survivors of bloody street battles. He’s a Muslim who haunts the dark side of the city, befriending terrorists and crooks as part of his job with a shadowy paramilitary force. They make an unlikely pair; she treats victims of violence and society’s rejects, the people he makes a living from. It’s a volatile relationship but not the only one. There’s Senior Sister Hina Alvi, the chief medical officer, Dr Jamus Periera, and Noor, Alice’s fellow ex-inmate from juvenile prison, who now works at the hospital. More:

Mohammed Hanif and his exploding books

In The Independent, Catriona Luke on what makes Mohammed Hanif the most ‘masterful novelist’ to come out of the Indian subcontinent.

Trying to recall why Mohammed Hanif’s wild head of hair rang literary bells, it dawned on me that he has a passing resemblance to Alexander Dumas, he of The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo: adventurist par excellence of the gripping yarn, across whose pages hurtle female serial poisoners, political prisoners, hashish eaters, thieves and vagabonds, those of political dark arts, women who refuse to give up.

Dumas lived through chaotic and mischievous times in France in the early 19th century of a meglomanic dictator (Napoleon), the restoration of aristocratic power, the religious bite back with the 1830 Anti-Sacrilege Act, communal violence, persecution of republicans and their socialist agenda. How did the French get through it all? Being French it appears was simply enough.

Mohammed Hanif is Pakistani, former head of the BBC’s Urdu unit in London, now Karachi resident.  He is the most masterful novelist, boulevardier and (more recently) tweeter to have come out of the subcontinent, perhaps ever in the English language. Better than Salman Rushdie, better than Arundhati Roy, in a different league to Amit Chaudhuri, Amitabh Ghose, only Vikram Chandra from my limited and subjective view comes close to Hanif magic in one particular story “Artha” from Love and Longing in Bombay. more

Midnight’s other children

Isaac Chotiner, executive editor of The Book, the online book review of The New Republic, in The New York Times:

In the spring of 1997, the literary quarterly Granta published an issue devoted to India’s Golden Jubilee. The tone was cautious but celebratory: on the cover, the country’s name was printed in bright red letters, followed by an exclamation point. Fifty years after partition, an independent India was rapidly establishing itself as an international power. The issue, which consisted largely of contributions from native Indians writing in English, was a testament both to the country’s extraordinary intellectual and artistic richness, and to one of the few legacies of British colonialism that could be unequivocally celebrated by readers in South Asia and the West: a common language. Seventeen years after Salman Rushdie’s shot across the bow with “Midnight’s Children,” a new generation of Indian writers was, in Granta’s words, “matching India’s new vibrancy with their own.”

In the ensuing years, the American appetite for Indian culture has only grown. Many of the writers who arrived on the scene in the 1980s and ’90s — Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy (whose wildly successful novel “The God of Small Things” was first serialized in Granta), Amit Chaudhuri — continued to publish fiction and reportage, and a new wave of novelists, including Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga, went on to write prize-winning, best-selling books. Readers of Roy, Desai or Adiga — not to mention the viewers who flocked to “Slumdog Millionaire” — have not been spared portraits of Indian life’s miseries (caste-based discrimination, horrific poverty). But the folkloric and redemptive aspects of the stories, already familiar thanks to Rushdie’s magic realism and the more romantic understandings of Hinduism associated with the Kama Sutra, have merely solidified Westerners’ rosy vision of India. These books and films have also complemented the work of writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, who was born in London and raised in Rhode Island and has written vividly about Indian-Americans. The Indian experience, however foreign, has become part of the American experience. More:

A case of exploded myths

Stop looking for allies in Pakistan’s elite; they are just an India-obsessed military’s civilian cousins. Mohammed Hanif, the author of the novel “A Case of Exploding Mangoes,” in The New York Times:

Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, has been accused of many bad things in its own country. It has been held responsible for rigging elections, sponsoring violent sectarian groups and running torture chambers for political dissidents. More recently, it has been accused of abducting Pakistanis and handing them over to the United States for cash.

But last week — after thousands of classified United States Army documents were released by WikiLeaks, and American and British officials and pundits accused the ISI of double-dealing in Afghanistan — the Pakistani news media were very vocal in their defense of their spies. On talk show after talk show, the ISI’s accusers in the West were criticized for short-sightedness and shifting the blame to Pakistan for their doomed campaign in Afghanistan.

Suddenly, the distinction between the state and the state within the state was blurred. It is our ISI that is being accused, we felt. How, we wondered, can the Americans have fallen for raw intelligence provided by paid informants and, in many cases, Afghan intelligence? And why shouldn’t Pakistan, asked the pundits, keep its options open for a post-American Afghanistan?

More generally, the WikiLeaks fallout brought back ugly memories, reminding Pakistanis what happens whenever we get involved with the Americans. In fact, one person at the center of the document dump is our primary object lesson for staying away from America’s foreign adventures. More:

A literary festival in Karachi

Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:

Karachi is Pakistan’s largest and most diverse city, frequently plagued by religious and political turmoil, and those headlines will not go away. This week it was in the spotlight when it was revealed that the Taliban’s military leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, had been seized by Pakistani and US operatives in a slum on the city’s edge.

But Hanif and his collaborators have a different vision of the city. Their venture means Karachi will become the latest in a number of Asian cities that host increasingly high-profile festivals, with best-selling authors participating in talks and discussions at locations ranging from Shanghai to the Sri Lankan port of Galle. One of the best known, held every January in Jaipur, is organised by the British historian William Dalrymple.

Indeed, the organisers of next month’s event in Karachi hit upon the idea after attending last year’s festival in Jaipur, which has itself highlighted a number of Pakistani writers. More:

Bachchan, Slumdog & more: a rough guide to the Jaipur Lit Fest

Posted by Namita Bhandare:

I know the organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival (Diggi Palace hotel, Jaipur, January 21-25, entry free to all) love to say that the festival is democratic and that they don’t want to pitch one session over and above the others but here’s what I think will be the star events at the Lit Fest:

1. The Indian premiere of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. That the film has reaped awards at the Golden Globe and is tipped to be an Oscar favourite has only added to the curiosity factor. And now that Amitabh Bachchan has blasted the film for daring to show the ‘murky under belly’ of Mumbai (has he taken over from where Raj Thackeray left off?), the pre-publicity hype has just got a notch hotter. As they say in showbiz, any publicity is good publicity. Anyway, to come back to the film: present at the premiere will be, no not Danny Boyle (he’ll be in Mumbai) but Vikas Swarup who wrote Q&A, the book on which the script is based, and also, apparently, Anil Kapoor. I’m a bit alarmed by the filmi flourishes which the festival’s PR guides seem to favour (they roped Aamir Khan in last year), but I guess they’re doing it because they believe it sells the festival. If you ask me, the festival (now in its fourth year) doesn’t need much selling. Continue reading ‘Bachchan, Slumdog & more: a rough guide to the Jaipur Lit Fest’

Exiles’ return

When Mohammed Hanif left Pakistan in 1996, it was ruled by Benazir Bhutto and the Taliban were being touted as the saviours of Afghanistan. Now her widower has become president, and the Taliban want to save Pakistan too. From The National:

"Pakistan army, you have pleased America a lot, let us please Allah now." AP photo

Protesters in Peshawar at a demonstration against military operations in Pakistan's tribal areas. AP photo

Two weeks ago, after 12 years in London, I moved back to Pakistan. The week I arrived, Asif Ali Zardari – who spent the last few years in a more involuntary exile, after eight years in Pakistani jails – was elected as the President of Pakistan.

As I drove out of Karachi airport, a banner strung across the road greeted me. At one end was a picture of Benazir Bhutto, taken moments after she returned to Pakistan last year: rose petals in her hair, hands raised in prayer. At the other end of the banner a smug-looking Zardari stared at me, his suppressed grin confirming the impression that he is probably the happiest widower in Pakistan. Each picture bore its own slogan: under Bhutto, a defiant chant that became popular after her assassination, “Zinda hai Bi Bi Zinda hai,” Benazir is alive. Under Zardari, something a bit more intriguing: “Respect to Asif Zardari’s intelligence.”

On my visits to Karachi in the past decade, I have seen some odd slogans on the city’s graffiti-covered walls. I have seen blood-curdling calls for martyrdom next to instant cures for impotence and promises of overnight job promotion. These days, you can read about hair-transplants-on-the-go or learn about how to make the world’s cheapest phone call.

[Mohammed Hanif’s first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, was on the longlist for this year’s Man Booker prize and is longlisted for the Guardian First Book award.]


Karachi calling

When novelist Mohammed Hanif told friends he was returning to Pakistan after 12 years in Britain, they were aghast. Why would he and his young family swap London for a city with daily power cuts and rampant gun crime? The answer proved surprisingly simple … From The Guardian:

Novelist Mohammed Hanif Twelve years ago, I arrived in London from Karachi with eight suitcases, a new wife and a three-year job contract. Before leaving for London, we had put our books, furniture and even some of our kitchen utensils at our relatives’ houses. When I told my friends and family that we would be back after exactly three years, they gave us a knowing smile and encouraged us to sell that sofa instead of putting it in their store room.

Two months from now, we are planning to return to Karachi with a container full of furniture, more pots and pans than we left behind and a 10-year-old son. Friends and family in Pakistan are aghast. From London to Karachi? Why are you coming to Karachi? Do you know what happened to Sana’s friend the other day? Do you have any idea how you’ll live without electricity for 10 hours every day? And, by the way, have you discussed this with Channan? How does he feel about it?


Confessions of an uncommon reader

Mohammed Hanif’s book, A Case of Exploding Mangoes is causing a stir in London. Here, blackly humorous, he writes of how he stumbled on books in a Pakistan military academy during General Zia’s regime. And escaped. [Excerpt in Tehelka]

Once upon a time, when I was 18, I found myself locked up in Pakistan’s military academy’s cell along with my friend and partner-in-crime Khalid. We had thought we were doing charity work but the Academy officers obviously didn’t share our ideals. We had been caught trying to help out another classmate pass his chemistry exam, something he had failed to do twice already and this was his last chance to save himself from being expelled. The logistics of our rescue effort involved a wireless set improvised in the Sunday Hobbies Club, a microphone concealed in a crepe bandage around the left elbow of our academically challenged friend, and a Sanyo FM radio receiver. We were running our operation from the rooftop of a building next to the examination hall. We were caught red-handed, whispering a reversible chemical equation into the transistor.