For Brigadier TM, an all-woman gathering was a security nightmare even when he wasn’t implementing Code Red. All those loose shalwar qameez dresses, all the flowing dupattas, the bags, the jewellery that sent the metal detectors wild and then the bloody burqas! How did you know weren’t carrying a rocket launcher under that tent? How did you even know they were women?
“I know these burqas look good on television and I know the President likes them but our security level is red and I can’t allow in any ninjas whose faces I can’t see”
There are precious few books where the humour of the narration resonates closely with my own, the little know A Very Peruvian Practice by John Lane is one, and this is another.
Ali Shigri is the son of a Colonel, and one of the potential causes of the death of General Zia Ul Haq, Pakistan’s military dictator, in 1988.
Shigri’s deadpan narration is inter-sped with what’s happening to and around General Zia, reminiscent of Mario Vargas Llosa’s Feast of the Goat, which Hanif mentions in his acknowledgements. But this is much lighter than the dark and troubling world of the Goat.
Shigri’s sarcastic wit courses through the story as the numerous plots build up to a rousing crescendo at the end. Yet there is more than humour, a satircial look at power and it’s corrupting influences, the intrigues of international relations, and of course, class struggle.
“They are fighting so that their feudal lords can keep them in their shackles. They are subverting the genuine class struggle of workers like me and you”
I am relieved. I am finally in the fold. I am a worker and my struggle is genuine.
Underplaying all this is the touching relationship between Shigri and Baby-O and the slow trickle of information about Shigri’s Colonel father.
Mohammed Hanif has crafted a rolling, darkly comic book that seems to just about balance intrigue, the art of silent drills, plot, code red security, fate, mangoes and humour into an enjoyable blend.
I caught them whispering during the silent drill practice and now I am administering a lesson on the virtues of silence. They are groaning like a bunch of pansies. Probably the coke bottle tops that I have put under their heads are causing some discomfort.