Author: Mohammed Hanif | Genre: Political Fiction, Dark Humor | Pages: 336
Ali Shigri, Pakistan Air Force pilot and Silent Drill Commander of the Fury Squadron, is on a mission to avenge his father’s suspicious death, which the government calls a suicide.Ali’s target is none other than General Zia ul-Haq, dictator of Pakistani. Enlisting a rag-tag group of conspirators, including his cologne-bathed roommate, a hash-smoking American lieutenant, and a mango-besotted crow, Ali sets his elaborate plan in motion. There’s only one problem: the line of would-be Zia assassins is longer than he could have possibly known.
Usually, one tends to be on an alert with an author they’re reading for the first time. What if it turns out to be an absolute waste of time? What if the prose is undecipherable? What if you don’t like the writing? A thousand what ifs?
With Mohammed Hanif, all of those reservations were put to rest from the word GO and in this review I am going to tell you the why and how.
The Pakistani Prez General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, died decades ago but I had read in an article that his death was rumored to be a USSR-US-Indian conspiracy against Pakistan’s support of the jihadist group – Mujahideen.
I was curious to read this book as it seemed to shed some light on the actual nature of the General’s assassination. But when I ordered Hanif’s ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’, I did not know what to expect from say, mangoes, a VIP assassination, Pakistan’s Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, an under officer pilot, some average reviews, and oh yes, a crow.
Whether this book really does highlight the question in focus or is meant from a point of entertainment alone, is for the reader to find out. But putting all that together now, I can say this – Mohammed Hanif is a keeper and this book is a pure gem!
***There are several reasons why this book; the first I read from this author, hit my favorites shelf right away. And I am going to jump on to a happy rant here. So, if you get tired of reading, I do apologise but you cannot say you hadn’t been warned.***
Very early into the story, Hanif introduces Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ celebrated short story ‘The Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ and if you’ve read that book you know exactly what to expect from this novel. Also, if you’ve enjoyed that book, you know right off the bat that you’ll love this one too, because well, both are brilliantly and very cleverly crafted tales of deaths of a major character.
As the plot unfolds parallel to Ali Shigri’s mission of avenging his father’s murder, we see the utterly gross picture that was Pakistan’s political scenario during General Zia’s reign. We learn that it is not only Shigri, but Zia’s top officials too in the run to claim the trophy for Zia’s murder. What is astonishing is along side human narration, we have a crow who not plays an unconscious role in Zia’s killing, but is also a crucial element to add more zing to the satirical drama we see unfold through Hanif’s lens. That I felt was a really smart way to depict one’s prodigy at sarcasm and satire.
It is also a well-known fact that most curses don’t work. The only way they can work is if a crow hears a curse from someone who has fed him to a full stomach and then carries it to the person who has been cursed. Crows, notoriously gluttonous, never feel as if their stomachs are full. They are also wayward creatures, their movement can never be predicted. They never bother carrying anything anywhere.
The narrative runs in two parts divided between the daily developments that of Zia and the pilot. So, as a reader we keep flitting between two parallel universes but never does the reader feel lost. When Shigri’s gay chum Baby O disappears from the school, all blame lands on the pilot and he is immediately put under detention and interrogation.
“The gate, probably built to accommodate an elephant procession, opens slowly and reveals an abandoned city dreamed up by a doomed king.”
The narrative takes the true shade of dark when the author portrays the prison degeneration symbolical to that of the inmates. The whole sequence of Shigri’s arrest and detention, in fact, was so evocative that it promises to stay with you forever.
“The absence of any prospects of freedom in the near future hangs heavy in the air. Suddenly this plate of rich, hot food seems like the promise of a long sentence. I feel the walls of this dungeon closing in on me.”
Coming to the characters, I can’t say you’ll love them but you won’t be able to forget them any time soon. They each take turns to show exactly what they are up to and leave the scene without so much as looking back. You are left to marvel at their cunning and clever.
“What’s with books and soldiers? I wonder. The whole bloody army is turning into pansy intellectuals.”
The spiritual and political aspects of the book have some amazing weightage, so much so that it is hard to tell whether it is truly fiction, because it borders around political non-fiction with rampant advantage.
The mess and mending are rounded off to give a brilliant story with more than one possibilities, and one’s forced to stop and wonder at the sheer capability of the power of words and the writer’s prowess to bend them to his imagination’s fitting, giving us one hell of a political satire called ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes.’
“Let’s have a mango party on Pak One. Let’s bring back the good old days.”
Long after you’ve finished reading this book, you wish to draw a line between the factual and fictional contribution to the plot, but you sigh with exasperated relief because you don’t know when one begins and other ends, and vice versa. Whether Shigri’s ends his mission, or someone else gets Zia before him, hardly matters. And it isn’t bad either, because you have loved the author’s knack at presenting one of the most controversial events in history of the Indian subcontinent in a stellar epic, giving away nothing while holding back nothing.
If you happen to read ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ or have already read it, do share your thoughts below.