Sunday, 17 August 2008
KRAIT venom is a deadly neurotoxin that kills seven out of 10 victims.
But that's not what laundryman Uncle Starchy tells Under Officer Ali Shigri in A Case of Exploding Mangoes.
It's a stoner, he says. It's only deadly if it touches metal. Then it will kill an elephant. First the elephant dances, then he drags his feet, then he dies.
Shigri has reason to be venomous. His father, Pakistan president General Zia Ul-Haq's sidekick and security boss, committed suicide.
Like a lot of Zia's friends who got a little too powerful, Shigri senior died suddenly.
In this tremendously entertaining novel, depiction of the fictional Zia steers close to his real-life counterpart, though perhaps more loveable.
A religious maniac who decides that there should be no name for God but Allah, Zia bans all other names, even the pet names mothers use in children's prayers.
He's been collecting enemies throughout his career, since he hanged his predecessor, prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
His generals bug his rooms. The US ambassador can't stand him. But his most dangerous enemy is a mild-mannered blind woman, awaiting stoning to death (because she can't identify her rapists, so she's obviously an adulteress).
The Maoist head of the mango producers' union is cursing him from his jail deep underground. And like every assassin, Zia is paranoid of his apprentices.
Even God is out to get him, sending him messages through the Koran.
Young Shigri, his camp friend Baby O and a CIA man brought in to teach them the famous Silent Drill are all too innocent.
As A Case of Exploding Mangoes opens, we already know that we're looking at a bunch of dead guys. Hanif's consummate skill is in showing us how the guys got dead, and making us laugh the whole way to the kill.