Date: 11th April 2012
A case of Exploding mangoes was a master piece authored by Mohammad Hanif. It was so interesting and amazing that I was compelled to read his second fiction novel “Our lady of Alice Bhatti.” It proved no short of previous novel standards. It’s equally well written and has the ability to absorb the reader. I was fascinated by this book and I am compelled to share my positive views about it.
Previous novel of Mohammad Hanif was about general Zia-ul-Haq and corruption in Army. That had double attraction, one for portraying evil side of General Zia and secondly for the extraordinary style and expression used in writing that novel. “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti” on the contrary was not on as attractive topic as was the last novel. This novel is about a Christian girl and her life, as a nurse in a hospital, in the volatile Metropolis of Karachi. It was like ordinary story of a girl next door which is written in so appealing way that one just can’t ignore it as a normal story.
This novel is made up of 30 chapters and different characters and storylines are discussed in each chapter. There is not any specific sequence in chapters but generally all storylines build up to converge at a point. Mohammad Hanif has excellent observational skills and He has shown that in describing the features of hospital and its components in vivid details. Any person who reads this book will get to know a lot about hospitals and the normal life in them. Author has also pointed out flaws in the health-Care system and criticized a lot of things constructively in a comical tone.
Alice Bhatti, a Christian nurse is the leading character. Others include, Teddy Butt; Husband and lover of Alice, Joseph Bhatti; father of Alice, Dr. Priera’ Owner of the hospital where Alice works, Noor; Assistant of Dr. Priera and prison fellow of Alice and inspector Malangi; Head of G squad, a police group for which Teddy butt works. There are other small characters as well. The beauty of this novel is that all characters are inter-related and this has been done impeccably by the author.
“Our Lady of Alice Bhatti” includes an insight look on Christians, their way of life and worshipping in churches etc. The novel enriches the reader with Knowledge about what it feels being a Christian in Pakistan. However, Author in different chapters of the book, has made some comments which can offend sensitive Catholics. Comments made about Churches and Jesus Christ in particular can be considered unfair by certain readers. However, Author has made these comments in a comical sense and definitely has his explanation for them.
This novel is very bold in sexual context. It contains many terms and references which can be considered as vulgar and might not be suitable for young readers. However these were to provide comical relief and were demand of the plot of the novel. The affair of Alice with a communist doctor as mentioned in this novel only reflects the reality in hospitals of Pakistan. The methods of abortion explained also can’t be denied to exist in reality. Other sexual fantasies by different characters used in this novel are also not very far from reality. Such thoughts usually harbor in the minds of all growing teenagers.
The sad ending of this novel makes the reader unhappy. It highlights a social evil of throwing Acid on face of women. This novel was written last year but the Acid throwing phenomena gained prominence when Pakistani Film Maker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy won an Oscar for “Saving Face.” It was a documentary based on Acid Thrown victims. This sensitive issue is now under intense debate after Oscar awards. Mohammad Hanif had the Hindsight, awareness and audacity to raise the issue much earlier through this novel. This is one of the strongest points of this novel.
The main thing about any novel is the message conveyed through it to readers. The message delivered through this creative Master Piece is the need to improve the lives of lower class Christian citizens, ending the extra Judicial killings by police, decisions should not be made in haste without thinking, corrupt police system breeds more crimes and violence and last but not the least, the act of acid throwing on women should be stopped. Author has left an irremovable footprint on the minds of readers and every reader will impatiently be waiting for his 3rd novel, which will hopefully surpass the higher standards set by first two novels.