Saturday, March 28, 2009

A case of exploding mangoes

'A case of exploding mangoes' is a refreshing satirical novel based during the reign and death of General Zia ul-haq. The novel is part fiction, part reality and that what makes it so interesting to me. There were times when it was hard to separate reality with author's imagination. The story is based around the mysterious death of General Zia and the conspiracy theories surrounding it. The author, Mohammed Hanif, has interwoven all the conspiracies together to lead us to the eventual death of Zia.

As an Indian I always thought that Pakistan's history was very fascinating and it was more so because of the dictators that ruled the country. Although, none of the dictators had more influence on the country than General Zia (we still don't know how history will judge General Musharraf). One of my Pakistani friend in the office who is very knowledgeable in the history of his country once told me that General Zia was not only the most shrewdest but smartest dictator that Pakistan ever had. Unlike Pervez Musharraf, General Zia did a perfect balancing act between the Mullahs and the Americans. Although one of the interesting conspiracy theory surrounding General Zia's death is that it was CIA with the help of General Beg (his successor) that took him out.

The novel uses black humor to keep the story interesting. How can a rectal examination of the most dreaded dictator that makes him seem helpless not be interesting. Also, the part where General Zia's wife catches his picture in the newspaper staring at a Blonde American reporter's assets and then kicks him out of her room is hilarious. Ironically, it is a sad fact of South Asian history (and literature) that humor quotient has always been very low in its politics. Apparently not many people will find humor about the time when Indira Gandhi imposed emergency on the country. The novel does mention India and Indira Gandhi but it is her brutal death that haunts General Zia and makes him scared of his own bodyguards. I am sure that most Indians won't find the humor relating to India as funny though, whether its General Zia mentioning Gandhi as that 'Baniya' or protagonist of the novel mentioning Lata-Asha as "old, fat, ugly Indian sisters" (although the protagonist also mentions that battlelines are drawn across the country between Lata and Asha fans).

One of the most interesting characters in the novel is Major Kiyani. He is the un-official hitman of ISI and shows no emotions in killing or torturing anti-nationals. According to the novel he is on the plane that crashes killing everyone on board including General Zia. But the Google search on the incident doesn't mention his name as one of the passengers on board. Guess who replaced General Musharraf after he was removed as Chief of Army Staff. You guessed it, General Kiyani.

Before I started reading the novel, I had very limited knowledge of General Zia and associated him mostly with Islamization of Pakistan. He is even accredited with replacing words like Khudha from school books and replacing them with Allah and also drafting draconian rape laws in the country based on Sharia. And I felt that a lot of problems that Pakistan is facing these days is because of the mis-rule of General Zia. He is the one who forged the relationship between Military and the Mullahs. Infact, Red Mosque that caused a lot of trouble during the Musharraf era was the making of General Zia. This novel was not a historical reference on Zia ul-haq but it did gave some insights into the politics surrounding Zia's era.

I am a fan of fiction based in non-fiction setting and this novel found a perfect balance between the two. The novel is a fascinating read and its open-ended ending do lead to more questions than it answers. Who or What killed General Zia? Yours guess is as good as mine.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What's on your mind?

What are you doing? What are you listening to? What's your status? What's on your wall? What am I talking about? Well, I am talking about Media and how it is taken over our lives or atleast my life. I come from work and the first thing I do is switch on the TV. It is as if Mr. Obama on the news channel will solve all my problems. The next thing I do is switch on my computer and check my mails. After going through all the important mails and deleting junk, its time to move onto Facebook and reply to all the comments made on my status, photos, links, videos and the list goes on. Now its time to snoop into other people facebook pages and type my comments on their status, photos, links, videos and yet again the list goes on. Now that I have told everyone what's on my mind, its time to tell my twitter friends what am I doing. Mr Obama is here too encouraging me to volunteer in my community.

As I woke up today in the evening, I didn't switch on my TV and fought the urge to push the power button on my computer. I decided to sit on my couch and do nothing. It was hard work, doing nothing and my mind was racing from one thought to another but I sat there for almost 30 minutes doing nothing. What was on my mind? Lots of random thoughts. What was I doing? Trying to do Nothing. What was I listening to? My own thoughts.

I remember growing up in socialist India where we didn't had TV till I was almost 6 years old. The only media influence we had at home was the Akashwani Radio which I would listen for half an hour with my Mom when they will play the top ten songs of the week. The rest of the day, I would play with friends or do my homework. Then came the Black and White TV, which was an event in itself. Half the time we would be on our terrace trying to adjust the antenna to get a clear signal. I started spending more time infront of the Idiot box but was still bound by limited number of watchable shows. Then came the Color TVs and the cable channels and suddenly I had the power to choose the channel or the shows. VCR bought the cinema to my home and the value of another social event of going to movies diminished. Finally we got the computer and it gave all the power to me. Now with the advent of social media I am at a point where I interact more with people indirectly (through tweets and scraps) than directly (face to face or atleast voice to voice).

It is ironic that I am eventually using a social media, blog, to convey my annoyance at all the social media that have taken over my life. Although, it doesn't mean that after this post I will stop poking people on Facebook or stop twittering or scraping people on Orkut (remember Orkut?). This post is to remind myself to take atleast 30 minutes in a day and do nothing, to spend time with one's own thoughts and not to worry about, what's on my mind.