SAPNA SAMANT recently caught up with Mohammed Hanif, author of ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’, following the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival in May.

IT WAS TOWARDS the end of the interview that I thanked Mohammed Hanif for not writing a book that had the smell of spices. “What do you mean?”, he said. You know the books that Indian writers of English do so well. Ancient mansions in villages, landlords and upper caste types, grandmother crushing spices with her mortar and pestle, dabbing her tears with the corner of her crushed silk saree pallu, the smell of spices pervading the olfactory senses of the reader...that stuff. “Oh, I would love to read this book,” he declared. He was taking the piss. Exactly like in A Case of Exploding Mangoes. I could not stop laughing from the moment I started it. The era of Zia-Ul-Haq in Pakistan and how he forever changed the face of this subcontinental nation by imposing Sharia and other Islamic laws. God, sorry, Allah spoke to Zia much before he changed his avatar for George W. But if every word in the book formed an image, then it was dark and depressing because those years changed the world. Those years of covert U.S. operations in Pakistan, backing mujahideen, the Pakistani army and a man called Osama Bin Laden. Of course I had to tell him how much I enjoyed it. Imagine comparing Nancy Reagan’s face to an old cat’s arse! Or the imagery of Mrs Zia’s massive buttocks quivering as she turned in her sleep! “You remember all the naughty bits don’t you?”, Hanif said. Well yes, if the metaphors are so original and wild.

How did Pakistanis react to the book? Did they think it does not portray the nation well? Do they talk about the state of their nation and democracy? Is it an elitist debate within their English speaking world? Not everyday does an Indian get to ask these questions directly to a Pakistani. Democracy and the state of the nation are discussed at all levels. Pakistanis are worried about the downward spiral of their country. And no they do not look at India as a villain anymore. There are bigger problems to sort than blame India for everything that happens. “Actually”, he says, “India is a role model of sorts because of her democracy”. Really? So what does he think about the Pakistan-China-Sri Lanka nexus? China supports Pakistan’s nuclear programme and the Sri Lankan army’s annihilation of the Tamils. “They have been friends for years”, he explains. They play dirty games. So does India. Yes I know, I concede. India supported Ahmed Shah Masud covertly before he was assassinated. I mean, India and Russia-communist Russia were friends too. So geo-political games of one-upmanship and for survival are just everyday business in the subcontinent. What does he think of Imran Khan? Playboy cricketer turned new-born Muslim turned politician. I’d read Hanif’s column berating people like Imran for supporting the Pakistani Taliban and what they are doing the Swat valley. Well, Imran was a fine cricketer but has simplistic views about running a country and basically has no political standing.

And then Hanif was on his way to Sydney. I wish him well and warn him: the Australians are worse than us. After the embarrassing way Hanif was treated by Immigration when he landed in Auckland, you know, how can a man with his name, colour and curly hair be a writer? That is what he is. A writer who has written a multi-layered, meaningful, entertaining book. It is a love story, Hanif told me. I reckon. Not a love love story between two young men as is through the story. This is about, I’d like to think, Hanif’s deep love and concern for Pakistan, for the subcontinent and hence for the state of the world. The last original book that came out of the subcontinent was God of Small Things, I said. “Yes, but it still had the smell of spices,” Hanif reminded me. Yes it did. There was the pickle factory. But not in this one. A Case of Exploding Mangoes did not even have mangoes right until the end. Because it is summer and that is the season of mangoes in our part of the world and that is how the plane comes down. And that is all I can reveal. I suggest reading the book for more. A Case of Exploding Mangoes has changed the style of English writing from the subcontinent forever and Mashallah to that.