Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Case of Exploding Mangoes




I bought this book for the title and the cover visual- Usually I try to buy books just based on gut feel, visuals, and some backdrop of the story. This time, the title, “A case of Exploding Mangoes (ACOEM)” killed me. Needless to say, I do have a prejudice for mangoes as I just cannot resist them.

Coming to this book, Mohammed Hanif, the author of ACOEM really has exploded in the area of wit and satire. There have been numerous times where I chuckled, laughed, rolled in laughter over the choice of his words, wit and the portrayal of characters.

The plot is fairly simple- It goes off in 2 threads: One narrated by Ali Shigri, Air Force Junior Officer in the Pakistani Military where he plots to kill General Zia and avenge for his dad’s suicide and the other one is the day to day chores of General Zia, General Akhtar, ISI [Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence], Brigadier TM, First Lady, Pakistani Military, Zia’s fear of his security et al. It meets in the air crash where General Zia along with the American Ambassador, Arnold Raphel gets killed on August 17, 1988 where a crates of mangoes are placed in the C-130 aircraft. Along the way, there are numerous incidents depicting on how Americans view Pakistan as an ally in their war, Blind Zainab’s rape case, Pakistan’s First Lady suspecting on General Zia having an affair, General Beg’s Rayban glasses, insights about Pakistani military etc.

I did not like the climax of the book as it goes off in a different tangent and the connection was never made between multiple things- Maybe Hanif wanted it that way but full kudos to the author for his satire in this debut novel. I am quite sure that context plays a major part in enjoying this novel -Folks in India and Pakistan would have seen some of these characters on media and visualizing these characters in the novel at funny encounters makes the day!

Hanif has a gift with words, wit and satire- Let me take some pearls here from the book:

Ali Shigri was suspected of a plot even before he committed any crime and he was subjected to torture. So when the plane crashes, he believes that there is“poetry in committing a crime after serving your sentence and punishment before crime has a sing-song quality”. :-)) I love this!!

While Ali Shigri was tortured, the things that were going on his mind were, “ There is something about these bloody squadron leaders that make them think that if they lock you up in a cell, put their stinking mouth to your ear and shout something about your mother they can find all their answers”….What an interplay of words?

On the medals of military folks, “ Look at the arrangement of fruit salad on a uniform shirt and you can read his whole biography. The 40th Independence Day medal. The Squadron Anniversary medal. Today-I-did-not-jerk-off medal.” :-)) :-))

On one occasion, Hanif does not leave the Indian musical sisters as well- Lata and Asha. “ Old, fat, ugly, Indian sisters who both sing like they were teenage sex kittens- But across the country battle lines are drawn between those who like Asha and those who like Lata. Tea or Coffee? Coke or Pepsi? Maoist or Leninist? Shia or Sunni? “

On General Akhtar’s devotion to his boss General Zia, “ This is not a ordinary 3-star devotion to a 4-star general. Theirs was a bond between two dogs stranded on a glacier, each sizing up the other, trying to decide if he should wait for his comrade to die before eating him or do away with the niceties and try to make a meal of him immediately”

1 comment:

ram said...

Very good review, Prakash. Well written. Now my curiosity is kindled and have to read this. Good one.