Book Review: Fiction/A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif, Random House India, 377 pp; Rs250 (Paperback)
Within literary writings, fiction and fantasies most often used in a blend to establish the plots that subverts the subtle differences and effects of these two. In a random search, most of prose writings fall in this category with their impregnable steadfastness and inflexibility. Deeply influenced with the colonialist tradition, Indian subcontinental writings too have been displaying similar temptations until the advent of post-colonialist consciousness broadly after the 1980’s. That made rational impacts on English writings in particular and henceforth a clear devoid from brownish tradition a ground reality. On this front, India edged out its neighbours as the prime mover of new consciousness though in the course of time, that gap established to be narrowed down.
The new generation of Pakistan’s English writers has strengthened that notion with amazing display of concern towards nation’s suffering in past and present. Mohammad Hanif is one among the strong voice of this literary generation who overtly displayed the malignity inside the Pakistan’s authoritative regime during the time of General Zia ul-Haq with his first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes. His deep inquisition of major and silly habitual status of Military rulers, ISI-foreign officials and most noteworthy of mimic politicians portrays very well the actual scene of Pakistan in 1980’s. That was by all means a very traumatic phase for the country whose quest for a real democracy was still on. As Hanif’s novel leads its reader to every nook and cranny of Pakistan through the progress of realistically imbibed theme, at some points it also makes clear that a “paralysed democracy” couldn’t be possible without the command hijacking by big brother, USA!
Unlike the political hotspots, creative terrains are little distinct in projecting real events and even imaginative ideas. Fortunately, Hanif lets enough spaces for his readers to feel and form opinion on the resentment against General Zia that exploded his presidential plane, Pak One midway along with US Ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Raphel and few other influential officials. Figuratively, Zia’s obsession with mangoes, diplomacy and dualistic life styles are beautifully covered here, so are the intimate sides of this authoritarian ruler. Details are abundant; it seems stronger after reading past half of the book where few details were easily worth of escape albeit stylized narratives of Hanif and his close hold over the secretness till the end makes reader compelled to walk together with him.
So far Zia’s unexpected death has remains a mystery and any advance on simplifying this is possible only through the guess, the way this book has performed. Who has killed him? The impatient army generals growing old waiting for their promotions? The CIA? The ISI? RAW? Or Ali Shigri, a junior officer at the military academy whose father, a whisky-swilling jihadi colonel, has been murdered by the army? The unusual isolated huddling of Zia while boarding the last flight shows the kind of end he met was not totally unimagined for him. As in his confession, he repeatedly used to stress on his humble family background that given him lust rather inspiration to dramatically progress the ranks and his rise whatsoever its fallouts, was the crest of oddities! He rose and never fallen in true sense, which was not less tragical; he met to accident and not to a fairly exercised trail. In true introspection, only rise and rise of ruling generals have long history in Pakistan…their multitasking always harmed the democratic elements and soft socio-political fabric that could have easily possible with a proper democracy at place.
As writers’ perspectives, what is fresh and remarkable is the absence of blames towards external factors for big mess. As a writer, Hanif has a clear lead with this book; he accomplished it through relying on his long inside experiences in Pakistan’s arm force and later working as a journalist of repute for years. His writing is closer to the aspiration of pious yet subdued aspirations of a mass Pakistani and clearly separated from the hyped bandwagons that consistently made the undeserving participants, the deciding forces in mainstream. Away from the narrow prisms and consideration, this novel attracts only the genuine concern and leaving aside all non essential issues, that’s triumph of high standard. It could be solace for all realistic polemists and constructive participants of diplomacy that Pakistan’s positive side is quite resonant and it’s for good amidst all glooms of radicalism and ambiguous democratic functioning!
Atul Kumar Thakur
February29, 2012, Wednesday, New Delhi