Meet Mohammad Hanif – author of Exploding Mangoes
What’s the story of the 3 covers, Mohammad Hanif was asked, at a ‘breathing-space-only’ reading of his book “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” at The Second Floor on Sunday. He confessed that he had provided little input on the covers – it was mostly the publishers decision.
His personal preference is the one in the middle which is the one published in Europe (I thought that one was the most creative one too). The Americans are too literal, he said, with the dynamite sticking out of the mango. And of course the Indian publisher decided that Zia ul Haq’s face would get recognition in South Asia so we are tortured with the cover on the extreme left!
Mohammed Hanif was born in Okara, Pakistan. He graduated from the Pakistan Air Force Academy as a Pilot Officer but subsequently left to pursue a career in journalism. He has worked for Newsline, India Today and The Washington Post. He has written plays for the stage and the critically acclaimed BBC drama, What Now, Now That We Are Dead? His feature film, The Long Night has been shown at film festivals around the world. He is a graduate of University of East Anglia’s creative writing programme. Mohammad Hanif is currently head of BBC’s Urdu Service and lives in London. That is the official intro from the T2F website. Now for my impressions.
A pleasant, witty, down-to-earth, no-airs individual who seems a little taken aback and embarrassed at all the compliments and the glory being showered on him. He didn’t try to make the book into anything it wasn’t. There was no mystery surrounding it, no bigger mission, no courage involved. He wanted to write a Murder mystery, said he was too lazy to come up with an original plot, so he decided to pick up on the fated crash of the Hercules C130 but since he had no luck getting any facts from any quarters, he decided to turn it into a fictional piece of work. The only fact in the book is the plane crash. The rest is all the product of his imagination. That was the simple explanation the author gave for having written the book. No hidden agenda, no hatred of the army, no revealing of secrets that became known to him through Deep Throat or anything like that.
It took him two years to write the book, he said and it was not that difficult because we are so good at conspiracy theories in Pakistan. I picked up stuff from friends and acquaintances and from my own personal experiences, and then exaggerated them a bit, he said.
Why did you write the book in English, he was asked, to which he answered “Well I don’t know really. I had always thought when I became a journalist that one day I would write an Urdu play, an English novel and I would make a Punjabi film. So I guess it was a translation of that dream.”
Why did you make Zia ul Haq’s wife so interesting, asked one young man, when we are told that in reality she was quite a boring character. To this his response was, “Well, by this time Zia was too paranoid to leave Army House much so the book is set mostly within the parameters of his residence. If she hadn’t been interesting, then the book would have been quite boring.”
Have you received any threats from Zia’s family, the Army or the Intelligence Services he was asked. “No,” said Hanif. “I don’t think they are into reading books.” 🙂
Hanif read parts of the book out loud that evening, answered all the questions put to him, in very good humour, even the most stupid ones. He signed everyone’s copy of the book and paid tribute to colleagues and mentors from the Pakistan Journalism scene – people like Razia Bhatti and Rehana Hakim who had given him the opportunity to work in Herald Magazine when he was but a kid with little knowhow of journalism. He was modest throughout and said hello to many in the audience whom he had known personally through his early career in Karachi – people like Babar Ayaz, Beena Sarwar and Sahar Ali who were all there, as were Ardeshir Cowasjee and Abbas Hussain, a long time colleague of Hanif’s from BBC Urdu.
If people were expecting Hanif to provide them with a formula for becoming a successful novelist, they didn’t get any. He said he didn’t follow any discipline, scribbled most of what he wrote in a notepad before finally typing it out.
What was his experience with the Editor? Was it a close relationship? Did it involve a lot of to-and-fro of chapters from him to the editor and back. Nope, he said, “actually I only met him once for a few hours. Other than fixing all the punctuations which I really mess up quite badly, he didn’t really make or suggest any changes. I was lucky I guess.”
Nice guy, brilliant author, modest human being. I hope he continues to write. We could do with a lot more wit in our lives. Good luck Hanif. We await the next book.
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