A CASE OF EXPLODING MANGOES – the new Pakistani novel

When was the last time we heard that what this country needs is another Zia?”

– Mohammed Hanif

By Nadir Hassan 

 Born in Okara in 1965, Mohammed Hanif served in the Pakistan Air Force before deciding to take up a career as a journalist. Hanif worked as a reporter for Newsline for six years and is now the head of the BBC’s Urdu World Service. He also graduated from the creative writing programme at the University of East Anglia.

           Q: As a first-time novelist, was it hard to find a publisher in Britain? And given your portrayal of Zia, will it be even harder to find a publisher in Pakistan?

           A: I know it is notoriously difficult to find a publisher for a first time novel, even more so for a so-called literary novel (“a gamble against destiny” as someone put it) but I have to say that luckily it proved to be quite simple in my case. I guess the trick is to get an agent who believes in the book and in whose judgment the publishers have trust. After I signed up with my agent, the publishers were literally lining up, which was a bit surreal. She made the first sale within 48 hours of submitting in Canada. And the rest of the countries followed within a week or so.

          I don’t think there are very many Zia-lovers left in the country. When was the last time we heard that what this country needs is another Zia? I am talking to a couple of publishers in Pakistan and, hopefully, will have one very soon.

          Q: Do you think Ejaz-ul-Haq is more likely to lob a libel suit or hand grenade your way after he reads the book?

          A: We all know that Ejaz-ul-Haq is a peace-loving politician, so let’s not incite him into violence. Ain’t there enough blasts in our country that now you are encouraging people to go after poor writers? This is a work of fiction and comes with a disclaimer, and that, lawyers tell me, should make it libel-proof. But some friends who, like me, grew up during the Zia era and have just read the book have actually accused me of turning Zia into a sympathetic character. Also, do you think the younger Haq is much of a reader?

           Q: Were the characters of Ali Shigri or Obaid based on your own experiences in the military (excluding the homosexuality, of course)?

           A: Of course not. Everyone knows that military life is incredibly dull and nothing much happens there. Why do you think the army keeps barging into civilian affairs? Because it’s much more fun running the country than marching up and down a parade square. It’s all made up. If my life in the army had been remotely interesting, I would have probably stuck around. Homosexuality in the army? That is unthinkable. It’s about two boys who are in a bit of trouble.

          Q: Was writing a novel more difficult than your work as a journalist or is it easier to make stuff up rather than rely strictly on facts?

           A: I think you use a different muscle. We have all seen many journalists who come up with improbable fiction every day. And we have seen novelists who can conjure up incredibly realistic worlds. I think the main difference is that you have to learn to live within a book for a very long time, whereas with journalism you file your copy and you are done. You get instant gratification. Or someone writes a letter to the editor. As someone said, it’s the difference between a one-night stand and a marriage. Also, a good editor can fix a badly written journalistic piece but no fiction editor is likely to go beyond the third page if they are not hooked. Basically working in a fictional world, you are pretty much on your own.

          Q: Do you feel it is easier for a Pakistani novelist to be published if his work is political, given the interest the western media has in terrorism of the Islamic variety?

           A: I don’t think Exploding Mangoes has anything to do with terrorism of any variety. And I don’t think it has become any easier. People who write in English, people like Amir Hussain, Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid and Nadeem Aslam, have been writing since the last century. Back then, terrorism was a vaguely romantic term that not very many publishers were interested in. There is another book of short stories coming out next year by Daniyal Mueenudin, I have read two stories and there isn’t a single beard or bomb in there.

          I work in the media and I know we journalists are desperate to spot a trend. I wish it was easier for Pakistani writers to get published but I am afraid it isn’t. I am sure it’s not very different in Urdu fiction either. I think the only recent Urdu novel that has really dazzled me is Mirza Athar Beg’s Ghulam Bagh. The one before that was Abdullah Hussain’s Nadaar Log, which came out about a decade ago. I have heard that there has been some brilliant fiction in Sindhi recently but we don’t have many translations. So I would say there are not enough good novels, in Urdu or English or any other language in Pakistan. But yes, there is much more non-fiction being published about our part of the world now. There are at least half a dozen books working their way through the publishing machine, all attempting to explain Pakistan. I hope there will be many more.

          Q: Should we be awaiting a second novel? And will it tell us who killed Benazir Bhutto?

           A: I thought we all knew who killed Benazir Bhutto. Wasn’t it the man with the dark glasses? I guess one could start a mini-genre by writing books about all the unsolved mysteries in Pakistan. Why is Musharraf so moronic? Who stole all our electricity? Was Shaukat Aziz a human or a software invented by Citibank’s IT department? All potential bestsellers. But I think I am done with conspiracy theories for the time being and scribbling something which sounds like a very straight, very civilian love story. But then I guess love is the ultimate conspiracy


Filed under Books, culture, Fiction, History, Literature, Writers

21 responses to “A CASE OF EXPLODING MANGOES – the new Pakistani novel

  1. Khalid Latif

    Mohammed Hanif sounds like another one of our pseudo-intellectual cocksuckers, forever spotlighting Pakistani literature, the way it’s meant to be.

  2. Amna Minhas

    I haven’t read the book yet but the reviews look highly entertaining and I absolutely loved his take on our countries conspiracy theories!!! Would love to get my hands on book. Best of luck for any future endeavors.

  3. shahab

    I just finished the book and found it pretty funny and entertaining. As long as you take it for light reading and don’t try to figure out larger meanings from it, should be enjoyable.


  4. faizaabi

    Interesting interview.

  5. faizaabi

    I welcome a novel from a pakistaniwriter and sorry to hear him already be labelled pseudo.They who are good at labelling should do something creative.

  6. shah

    Hi Hanif ,so glad to see Pakistani Writer on the British Scene.Interesting that you have written about Pakistan…….Need to read the book though……
    Like your interview above and best of luck with the love story………..

  7. M Khan

    read an article by this writer, in the guardian (24th june) and loved it, was fast becoming a fan. he had me until he called musharraf “moronic”. i guess i’m a bigger musharraf fan.

  8. M Khan

    i’m all for constructive criticism, but the supposed moderator on this thing really shouldn’t allow filthy language, as used by “khalid latif”.

  9. Is it possible for me to get e-mail contact of Muhammad Hanif. I too am a published writer . I write for newspapers in Pakistan. I thoroughly enjoyed Muhammad Hanif;s novel

  10. I need Muhammad Hanif;s e-mail address

  11. shahbaz

    i am cusion of m hanif i know very well about my brother i live in belgium write me in french

  12. Rashid

    Mohammad Hanif was not in PAF, to be exact in PAF college Sargodha, Tony (a Christian flight cadet in 78th GDP, from Saffi squadron) the real homosexual character in his novel ‘A case of exploding mangos’. I was present in that assembly that clapped out (equivalent of drum out in PMA, Abbottabad) Tony, and he was terminated from PAF.

    Hanif’s claims that are characters are fictional in his novel are a fiction.

  13. Rashid

    Mohammad Hanif was not in PAF, to be exact in PAF college Sargodha, when Tony (a Christian flight cadet in 78th GDP, from Saffi squadron) the real homosexual character in his novel ‘A case of exploding mangos’ was terminated from PAF. I was present in that assembly that clapped him out (equivalent of drum out in PMA, Abbottabad).

    Hanif’s claims that are characters are fictional in his novel are a fiction.

  14. YLH

    Ah… Hanif is a Sargodhian…like me.

  15. Rashid


    You have my email address. plz contact me.

  16. NiloferSultana

    I really enjoyed the novel. It was full of suspenseful details. What is Hab nif writing these days

  17. Hayyer 48

    It was a fine piece of writing. Superior probably to Moth Smoke which I also enjoyed very much. There is a passion in Pakistani writing in English absent in the Indian variety.

  18. Hasan

    People should know what they are talking about before they put down words for the world see and read. It is bizarre to see people commenting on a book they have not read, and yet have the audacity to call its author a pseudo-intellectual and a cocksucker? With such aficionados, no wonder Pakistan finds itself these days under ten feet water.

    Here are my two cents on MH’s absolutely beautiful book. It is a satire – not a history, not a documentation – about Pak army (the Military Inc.?) and its absolutely crazy former supremo Zia ul Haq. It is hilarious to the point that I found myself roaring in laughter inside the E train, drawing curious glances. Most importantly, with brutal honesty, it piece together a picture of an army that can best be described as a nightmare and national misfortune.

    He writes as beautifully as someone like Rushdie, or even better, like Amitav Ghosh.

  19. following the blog, good stuff!

  20. good thinking to write this kind statement….

  21. As an Indian who has no animosity towards Pakistan and also happens to be a published author, I’ll just say that the book struck me as too theatrical by half. There was far too much of Salman Rushdie in it, and if Hanif hasn’t read Rushdie, I’ll eat my hat.

    Some parts – those to do with Ali Shigri – were OK. Some parts – the Zia bits – were great, especially the ISI. Some parts were nothing less than stupefying, and as for the alleged biology of tapeworms and Krait venom, don’t get me started.