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With tale of love, Mohammed Hanif escapes Pakistan's realities

Wednesday, October 06, 2010 11:29:20 AM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

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Kovalam (Kerala): It's not always easy to do so, but Pakistani journalist-writer Mohammed Hanif of "A Case of Exploding Mangoes" fame has turned his mind off from the grim truths confronting his country with a love story that touches on terror and trauma.

An extract from Hanif's new novel, "Butt and Bhatti" was published in the Pakistan Granta 112, a special issue of the magazine devoted to the country. The roller-coaster tale weaves itself around a policeman, Teddy Butt, and a nurse, Alice Bhatti.

"This is the first time I am trying to write a love story. It is one of those great Pakistani civilian love stories," Hanif, who was in Kerala to attend the Kovalam Literary Festival, told IANS.

The book will be published next year in Britain and India. The inspiration for the book comes from what is going on in the country.

"I am a journalist by profession and I am grounded in realities. I have to write 1,200 words about them often. But when you are writing a book - in a way you are trying to escape what is happening around you, our darker side. It is a grown up thing to do, because one can't really go back to being a child - not at my age," said Hanif, born in 1964.

For Hanif, the core issues troubling Pakistan have not changed much over the "last 1,000 years".

"The issues have blown up on our faces. You cannot keep denying. There is a tremendous economic deprivation in both India and Pakistan at the bottom. Millions and millions of people who grow food for you have suddenly become the slave of the middle class who want to live like people in rich countries.

"It is not the way society is organised here - it is an extremely exploited society. The middle and upper classes in India and Pakistan tend to forget that their lifestyles are completely at odds with reality," Hanif said.

"We refuse to see what is happening around us - we refuse to acknowledge it. The majority of people don't have basic healthcare and education - and we pretend that they are not the problem by talking about insurgency in Kashmir and terrorism in Pakistan. We pretend that the people do not exist," he said.

Hanif believes "that if Kashmir had been resolved to the satisfaction of the Kashmiri people it would take away the major arguments from the headlines on both sides".

"Every year, India spends billions and billions of dollars in maintaining arsenals trying to address the crisis. I don't think we care about the fact that we pay our government to kill our own people," he said.

Hanif, born in 1964 in Pakistan, left a career in the air force to pursue writing and journalism. He works for the BBC in Pakistan. His last book "A Case of Exploding Mangoes" was a novel based on the plane crash that killed Pakistan president Zia-ul-Haq.

The writer said "the literary scene in Pakistan has not changed enough over the last decade but for the fact that the focus is more on writing in English now".

Hanif finds it exciting to write in Urdu and Sindhi too. "The third generation of vernacular writers is producing more compelling works. They are not stuck in any particular literary tradition," he said.

He regretted that "vernacular literature from Pakistan was not being translated to reach out".

"Local publishers are trying to carry forward indigenous language publishing, but no translation," Hanif said. "I may write an Urdu novel some day," he said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at






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