Sunday, January 15, 2012

English writing in Pakistan

Map of Pakistan
Image by Omer Wazir via Flickr
Pakistani novelist Mohammed Hanif was walking his dog on the beach in the wealthy Karachi neighbourhood of Clifton one day not long ago when he found a crowd of people gathered around the decomposing corpse of a 60-foot beached whale. "People suggested it was the nicest thing that had happened here in a while," Hanif observed deadpan, eyelids at half-mast, in a recent chat in his garden. Slight and slim, with a mop of grey curls, Hanif mutters in both English and Urdu, and has a tendency to swallow half of each sentence, leaving a listener convinced she may have missed the crucial part.

A few days before he reluctantly welcomed a visitor, Hanif's upscale neighbourhood of palm-lined streets was the site of a massive car bomb that killed 13 people, one in a series of bloody events that prompted Pakistan's leading psychiatrist to observe that the whole city has a mild case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hanif doesn't buy it. "You can only have post-traumatic stress disorder when you know it's behind you," he said. "Anyone in Karachi will tell you, regardless of their position in life, the worst is yet to come."

The unsteady state of Pakistan is the backdrop for Hanif's new book, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti (to be released in Canada in May), and political turmoil was the overt focus of his much-heralded first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangos, a thriller about the assassination of the dictator Zia al-Haq. When that book was published, Hanif, who used to head the BBC's Urdu service, would find himself at receptions in Islamabad where army generals would sidle up to him, slide an arm around his shoulders and say, "You've written a brilliant book. But tell me, what are your sources?" {Read on}

English writing in Pakistan