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Friday, 11 July 2008

Mohamed Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) at South Bank

by Suzan Abrams in London

Last evening, I was at the Royal Festival Hall at South bank here in London to hear the prestigious journalist and head of the BBC's Urdu service, Mohammed Hanif speak on his first novel, a black comedy titled A Case of Exploding Mangoes on the much-humoured imagined last days of General Zia ul Haq.

Perhaps it best serves to say that there will always be room for smiles even in pain or a slight call to laughter that may linger even at tragedy's door.

The small room at Level 5 Function Room was crowded as many admire Hanif's work. The session also proved to be a lively and intimate one as Hanif who is so clearly the optimist, chose to playact the classic comedian banking on a winning formula in the way he chose to engage in entertaining dialogue as regards modern-day Pakistani politics, read excepts of his story with high comic exaggeration, brooded on his colourful life as a journalist covering coups in his homeland and the writing of the novel itself. In fact, an eager fan would later request that Hanif read a second excerpt of his novel as she had so enjoyed the first, and the author would happily oblige.

The satrical
A Case of Exploding Mangoes was originally intended to be a murder mystery, similiar in vein to that of the famed Murder on the Orient Express. "Everyone on that train had a motive for murder," reflects Hanif. "It was only when I tinkered about with my own plot that I realised that back in the Eighties, almost everyone in Pakistan had a motive too." The crowd roared and Hanif beamed. "I wanted to escape to a place in my head where the BBC couldn't get me," he finished with a big grin.

It was also announced to the crowd that earlier in the day, Rushdie had once more scooped the Best of the Booker. This snippet of information would immediately trigger off informal and highly interesting conversation on the sudden burst of contemporary Pakistan literature and how swiftly it had risen to the scene.

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