Shruti Ravindran in Open:
In 2008, Mohammed Hanif blazed onto the literary scene with his exuberant, anarchic first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, much like the mysterious plane crash in which Pakistan’s General Zia ul-Haq was killed in 1988, and which served as the novel’s peg. Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, the story of a nurse in a psychiatric ward in a Karachi hospital, is the follow up to his award-winning debut. A novel somewhat tenebrous in tone, its laughs feel sharp and foreboding, like spasms in the chest. One Pakistani critic appears to have felt the pain acutely, calling parts of it ‘grotesque’. Hanif, however, says he’s “pleased” with the charge, and talks of writing influences, the misery of living amid “good stories”, and about wanting to write the script of Pirates of the Caribbean 12.
Q What was the earliest clue you had that you wanted to write?
A Reading scraps of paper. Reading postcards addressed to other people. Reading and rereading a reproductive health magazine called Sukhi Ghar.
Q Is journalism the profession most suited to writing? What are the pitfalls?
A Journalism makes you sloppy and self-important; you are always in a hurry, you don’t get time for self-reflection. But if you are lucky, you might get to meet some interesting people and learn how to write a paragraph.
Q Which authors did you enjoy reading at a younger age?
A All Urdu writers. Colonel Muhammed Khan. Ibne Safi. Ismat Chugtai.
Q Which authors do you enjoy reading now?
A Bret Easton Ellis. Hanif Kureishi. Alan Bennett. Lorrie Moore.