slightly Mutilated version Published in Daily Times
The evening is a blur. Nothing works. Neither the mike - nor the trusty recorder. When the electricity bails – no one is really surprised. Karachi is here for a chance to witness M Hanif’s trademark irreverence, sample some delicious irony and get copies of his new book - ‘Our lady of Alice Bhatti’ - (and perhaps a dog-eared ‘Case of Exploding Mangoes’) signed in the bargain. So what if the world keeps collapsing around them.
M. Hanif - an award winning author who also served as the head of BBC Urdu service is here for a book reading/discussion/interrogation. Unlike his highly acclaimed debut novel - ‘The Case of Exploding Mangoes’ – which features a military academy and a high profile cold case (President Zia’s crash) - this one is not drawn from memory. Hanif pleads guilty to being a cadet once. He denies being a nurse.
Apparently he changed his mind about interviewing a real caregiver for fear of her forever looking for a faithful rendition of a nurse’s life. Hanif has not met Teddy’s of the world either unless one counts the scary encounter with a wretched body builder, at the mention of whom the lights, as if on cue - go out.
He reads an excerpt that hurls readers down the rabbit hole - all the way to downtown Karachi. Anyone familiar with Hanif’s writings will not be deceived by the demure looking cover or ‘Alice Bhatti’s’ seemingly harmless premise. This wordsmith is capable of unleashing a devastating tsunami with just a few brutal strokes from a world fashioned out of grainy images and stray bits of conversation.
‘…Alice Bhatti’ features at least one familiar face from Hanif’s literary past. Muneeza Shamsie - writer and critic extraordinaire who presides over the session wants to know about this cameo appearance by a character from his first novel. He is delightfully vague. Could it be nostalgia that prompted this sudden interest in time travel - a yearning to explore an old, forgotten character arc or a maybe it is just ploy to fill a void? He cannot (or will not) commit himself.
Memorable moments from the event have been duly captured on film and a requiem for the lost audio file has already been held. Attendees will remember that there is a waft of mischief in the air. That both Hanif and Muneeza were good sports during the ‘can you hear me now’ game. And that no nurses were harmed during the making of this book. It is best to forget the mike which has a mind of its own – a mind that goes ta tum, ta tum ta tum, prompting the guest of honour to wonder if he could keep pace with the beat. Maybe he could. We will never know.