Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Case of Exploding Mangoes - Mohammed Hanif

And finally laid my hands on Mohammed Hanif's highly acclaimed and much rewarded book 'A Case of Exploding Mangoes' thanks to Vinod who lent it to me. The book has won the 'Best First Book Award' from the Commonwealth Foundation. This is the second book from a Pakistani writer that I have read in the recent past ('Mothsmoke' by Mohsin Hamid being the other) and in my opinion these writers deserve all the praise they are getting for writing so honestly, openly and funnily. Apart from enjoying their well evolved writing styles I am also enjoying getting a peek into their psyche, their society and what their aspirations are, what their escapes are and their references to Indians.

I found 'A Case of Exploding Mangoes' an engrossing read for its style and substance and for the insight Mohammed Hanif gives into Pakistani society, especially the military and the governance, in his irreverent and hilarious account. Told through the eyes of a young Air Force office Shigri (son of Late Colonel Shigri who was a good officer who committed suicide in the army), it is a great tale of revenge carried out meticulously, told so flippantly, so funnily and so outrageously without missing a detail that it really pushes you to find out what will finally happen to the young officer Shigri, his crazy friend Obaid (reminds one of Orr from Catch 22) as they go about with a mad plan to assassinate General Zia as revenge for the killing of Colonel Shigri (passed off as a suicide by the Army). Colonel Shigri was an upright soldier, who is forced to do things against his conscience and his methods of showing his displeasure against the large scale corruption get him killed. How the young Shirgi, with his hilarious Silent Parade, plans to assassinate the President with a bunch of cadets and their flying rifles, despite the machinations of an ever helpful Obaid who actually causes more trouble for him, how he lands in the hands of the ISI, gets out of it, meets the erudite and firebrand Secretary General of the Sweepers Union of Pakistan in jail, just as he meets the blind Zainab who is in jail for not being able to identify her rapists and how he conspires against an insecure, deeply religious, much-hated General who is shunned by the public (as the General finds out in a hilarious nocturnal visit incognito where he meets a cop who makes him sit like a chicken) and his wife, the First Lady, (for staring at the charms of an American journalist with deep cleavage), the book is extremely funny as it honestly lays bare the truth. The book ends with General Zia's flight taking off with crates of mangoes that they are planning to feast on, (minutes after the Silent Parade), the US Ambassador who is on the flight by mistake, General Akhthar who conspired the explosion, and Obaid. Young Shigri is offloaded at the last minute from the doomed plane to make space for the General who is a reluctant traveller on the plane but who cannot give any excuse to his General who is insistent that he travel with him.

It is the kind of a book that will be hard to follow up just as Catch 22 was for Joseph Heller - it is that good - but the good thing about writers from the sub-continent is that there is so much material available to them everywhere. So if you care to look, if you care to write honestly and if you know the craft as Mohammed Hanif obviously does, there will be some many more books from him in the future which will delight us in  ways that Heller did, that Wodehouse did and so many great humour writers and satirists did in the past. Absolute must read, if you get your hands on it for his style, for the layers, for the outrageous use of real people, real institutions and real incidents.  There are times when I got confused a bit despite reading every line religiously - like I lost track of what Obaid was up to flying off in his plane and what his crime was, what the original plan was - but they seem minor in the wholesome pleasure that the book gave me. Well done Mohammed Hanif!

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