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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, nice to read the review but I don't like fiction based on history though I read few.

10:44 PM  
Anonymous preeti.prasad said...

I have very limited knowledge of Pakistan's rulers and its history :(

2:53 AM  
Blogger Chakoli said...

ur choise looks to be quite different....

pakistani history... :))

10:55 PM  
Blogger Rain Girl said...

wow. sounds so interesting. cant wait to get my hands on it.

12:36 AM  
Anonymous Purple Prose said...

have been reading a few blogs by Pakistani fellows and must say, they are a freakin good read (pun intended)
and now u mention this book...guess we know very less about this phenomena called Pakistan and maybe we shud start readin up a bit to be able to comment the way we otherwise do!
thanks fr the review, sounds very interesting B)

12:41 AM  
Blogger Khamakha said...

hmm, thanks for sharing in such details!!!shows how much u ve delved into the subject:)

my fisrt reaction was, yeh kya tomatoes mangoes par atak jaata hai hamesha:P but ur choices are always so "fruit"ful ;) in terms of gaining insighful knowledge

7:40 AM  
Blogger sid said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:54 AM  
Blogger sid said...

You have made me curious to buy and read this book. Nice post!!!.

Do visit my place for a new post

12:55 AM  
Anonymous preeti.prasad said...

lickky uncul kuchh naya ho jaaye :P

1:19 AM  
Blogger Chandu said...

woooo.. my mouth was watering at the begining of the post, but at the end of it, my mind was watering to grab a copy of this book(lemme stop the watering-s here)..interesting review ricky bhai

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12:58 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've read the book. Its quite interesting. I'm from Pakistan. By the way I disagree with you on one point, the past about India is not funny, the bodyguards thing shows the fear General had near his death. And its not necessary that Major Kiyani is the present Army Chief General Kiyani. And General Beg could have been the one responsible for the crash but I dont agree that he must have done this in accordance with CIA, because he was the only Pakistani Army Chief who was against America and CIA. Rest your review was okay.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You were told right. He was very smart. It was due to his ability that Pakistan managed to be a Nuclear Power. The eleven year Soviet-Afghan waq which bled soviets to death economically was totally due to the tireless and outstanding performance of ISI, which General Zia made quite powerful and influencing. Though the victory would have been impossible without General Akhtar heading the ISI.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Ricky said...

@Hasseeb - Good to see people still reading my blog posts randomly. As I said, I had very limited knowledge about General Zia though would love to read more about that era since it seems that Pakistan is paying the price for mistakes made during that time.

And I agree that General Kiyani may not be the same but the name has been cleverly chosen by the author.

Thanks for visiting.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Pakistan is not suffering due to General Zia's rule. Pakistan is bearing the consequences of General Musharaf's policy. Who succumbed to American Pressure to fight Afghans, and it was his decision to stop infiltration into Indian Occupied Kashmir after the Parliment Attacks in 2001. Those freedom fighters turned against Pakistan for halting their movement and started carrying out blasts in Pakistan. Interestingly Pakistan was quite peaceful before this decision of Musharaf's.

6:08 AM  
Blogger Ricky said...

All I can say is you reap what you sow...the so-called freedom fighters are today called terrorists just because they are killing innocents on the other side of border.

10:53 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

We have a different point of view, if we had the same, partition would have never happened. Killing innocent kashmiris is also an act of terrorism. Anyways may both nations live in peace!

5:50 PM  
Blogger Ricky said...

Every country has its demons, for every Kashmir one could quote Baluchistan. I am currently reading a book on Kashmir and am not proud of some of the things I am reading but another side of the conflict is that hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Hindus had to leave their homeland because of terrorism. I also hope that both countries can leave in peace, it will be the best thing for all.

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