Few writers manage an equally powerful second book after a brilliant debut. Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, Mohammed Hanif’s second novel, is as compelling as his debut, A Case of Exploding Mangoes. Many things at once, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, is a scathing social commentary, morbid, absurd, comic, and horrific. It has been short-listed for the 2013 edition of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Over email, the author tells DNA about the book and more.
How would you describe Our Lady of Alice Bhatti?
I wouldn’t. It’s readers’ job to describe the book. Someone called it ‘gorgeously wackadoodle’. I like the sound of that.
Writers often lend pieces of themselves to their characters. Did bits of you go into any of your characters—Alice Bhatti, Sister Hina Alvi, Teddy Butt, Joseph Bhatti, Dr. Pereira?
Not at all. but since I dreamed them up, so maybe.
Among them, whom do you agree with most?
I don’t agree with any of them. They are all slightly wackadoodle.
You describe life at the rock bottom, closest to the sewers, stinky, dirty and gory. Tell us how you researched for the book.
I just made up shit.
The book reads like a live creature. How was writing it like?
Thank you. I hope this creature is not too cute and not too creepy. Writing it did seem like cohabiting with a beast.
Did you do quite a bit of exaggerations and omissions while creating this world of Alice Bhatti?
It’s nothing but omissions and exaggerations. That is one way of telling a story.
“Cutting up women is a sport older than cricket but just as popular and equally full of obscure rituals and intricate rules,” you write. Again and again you talk about the butchery of womenkind in Pakistan. Are you a feminist?
On most days of the week.
Are you disappointed by the world around you? What makes you write?
I gave up on the world when I was about 14. And then I started thinking about writing.
Are you a pessimist?
Of course not.
What do you believe in?
My dogs need to be better disciplined.
Your tone is highly irreverent. How did you develop it?
I did tell you what happened when I was 14.
How did you come to write your first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes?
I wanted to write a book and nobody had written a book with that title.
How have you changed as a writer since then?
I hope so. I hope not.
What are you working on right now?