A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
Reviewed by Isfandyar Zaman
August 17, 1988. I was merely a boy of 10, vacationing in Sri Lanka where four memories stick out; spotting a giant crocodile-sized lizard in the north; catching my first fish in Kandy Lake, stumbling upon my auntie in her pink nightie at 2am in the kitchen devouring the case of mangos I had brought from Pakistan, her jaws shimmering with mango fluid; and lastly, instantly jumping in joy when I learnt the news about bloodied metal rain over Bahawalpur (while my hosts shed tears – a typical divorced view of life of home any Diaspora has). Well, 20 years later somehow Mohammad Hanif was able to capture that day for me and millions of others. He does it in a way that mixes our emotions, our hopes and our fears.
The great general Zia serves merely as a backdrop to this novel which is framed around the fateful day when his C-130 hawa may phaat gaya (exploded in the air). The title itself manages to convey how something as implausible as a cheap wood planked case of ripe mangoes ripping apart by dynamites, can actually happen, resulting in merely the same result when you willfully devour this king of fruits, with the juices dripping all over you. The book has all the trappings of a beauty; sex – where and with who you least expect, mystery – even when you think you solved it, glee – when you ponder on the possibility that some things may be true as the looming image of a brooding Mrs. Zia glazes in front of you, sadness – when you realise that blind women in this country can still be stones for being raped and contentment; when you feel satisfied at the end, despite all that is wrong.
As Pakistan raced downwards in a spiral, A Case of Exploding Mangoes rekindles hope, even in the most unfortunate times some forces may be working to ensure a better future for us. The book glimpses into the world of a military cadet, dribbles into the Afghan conflict, latches onto the dirt of the dreaded ISI and exposes the personal conflicts all of us face. It humanises the demons that walk this earth and exposes the hidden devil in all of us.
Kamila Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid speak of a world that is familiar and they capture it beautifully; Hanif, however, speaks of a world we know exists but a world we shield ourselves away from. In a country of 150 million, at the cross roads of history, a country that is sadly too strategic, there are many forces at work and by constantly keeping our eyes shut we miss all the shooting stars; the book encourages the reader to at least blink.
A Case of Exploding Mangoes is highly recommended for all the reasons a book should be read, but most importantly, it should be read because it leaves you strangely, sadly happy.