Superb Blurb: A Case of Exploding Mangoes

A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

Having one grandfather devoted to the Pakistan Navy with all its bells and whistles of rules and protocol and another grandfather devoted to poking fun at everything, including the government and the military, I found this irreverent satire to be interesting but unfamiliar. As usual, my favorite bits were pithy one-liners (“Any man who has the ability to read a newspaper cannot have the will to throw himself between you and your assassin’s bullet”; “[He wanted to give] her a Foggy Bottom evening in Islamabad . . . He was determined to create a little bit of the East Coast behind the barbed wire-topped walls of his eighteen-bedroom ambassadorial mansion.”) but it’s always the broad-brush snapshot blurb that grabs me in any book:

Behind the cordons set up along the road by the police for this VIP procession, people stood and waited and guessed: a teenager anxious to continue his first ride on a Honda 70, a drunk husband ferociously chewing betel nuts to get rid of the smell before he got home, a horse buckling under the weight of too many passengers on the cart, the passengers cursing the cart driver for taking this route, the cart driver feeling the pins and needles in his legs begging for their overdue opium dose, a woman covered in a black burqa–the only body part visible her left breast feeding her infant child–a boy in a car trying to hold a girl’s hand on their first date, a seven-year-old selling dust-covered roasted chickpeas, an old water carrier hawking water out of a goatskin, a heroin addict eyeing his dealer stranded on the other side of the road, a mullah who would be late for the evening prayer, a gypsy woman selling bright pink baby chickens, an air force trainee officer in uniform in a Toyota Corolla being driven by a Dunhill-smoking civilian, a newspaper hawker screaming the day’s headlines, Singapore Airline’s crew in a van cracking jokes in three languages, a pair of home-delivery arms dealers fidgeting with their suitcases nervously, a third-year medical student planning to end his life by throwing himself on the rail tracks in anticipation of the Shalimar Express, a husband and wife on a motorbike returning from a fertility clinic, an illegal Bengali immigrant waiting to sell his kidney so that he could send money back home, a blind woman who had escaped prison in the morning and had spent all day trying to convince people that she was not a beggar, eleven teenagers dressed in white impatient to get to the field for their night cricket match, off-duty policemen waiting for free rides home, a bride in a rickshaw on her way to the beauty salon, an old man thrown out of his son’s home and determined to walk to his daughter’s house fifty miles away, a coolie from the railway station still wearing his red uniform and in a shopping bag carrying a glittering sari he’d change into that night, an abandoned cat sniffing her way back to her owner’s house, a black-turbaned truck driver singing a love song about his lover at the top of his voice, a bus full of trainee Lady Health Visitors headed for their night shift at a government hospital; as the smoke from idling engines mixed with the smog that descends on Islamabad at dusk, as their waiting hearts got to bursting point with anxiety, they all seemed to have one question on their minds: “Which one of our many rulers is this? If his security is so important, why don’t they just lock him up in the Arm House?”

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2 responses to “Superb Blurb: A Case of Exploding Mangoes

  1. “Any man who has the ability to read a newspaper cannot have the will to throw himself between you and your assassin’s bullet”; “[He wanted to give] her a Foggy Bottom evening in Islamabad . . . He was determined to create a little bit of the East Coast behind the barbed wire-topped walls of his eighteen-bedroom ambassadorial mansion.”

    spell it out for me (yes, i’m slow). what do each of these lines mean?

    my experience… and my perception… always seem to be out of step with writers of the region who write of the region.

    i used to think they were frauds. as i’ve gotten older, i’m looking for reasons to think otherwise… but keep failing.

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