Saturday, March 09, 2013

Mohammed Hanif - Our Lady of Alice Bhatti

The book reminded me of a game of billiards.  The cue hits a ball which nudges several other balls and finally kisses one teetering on the edge, and pushes it into the pocket.  We are not solely responsible for all that happens to us.  It is a game of cause and effect, the actions of others tell on us and often improve or worsen our situation.

Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is the story of Alice Bhatti of French Colony daughter of Joseph Bhatti, the prince among chooras. He is the go-to guy when a clogged drain flummoxes all the other cleaners.  Her sainted mother died when she fell down the stairs in the house where she was employed as a maid.  The mourners at her funeral were intrigued by a fellow servant from that same household who kept saying 'murder murder' as he cried.  Some people were of the opinion that he was actually crying 'martyr martyr'.

What chance does Alice have of getting on in life when...

1.  She is an untouchable, a choora

2.  She is a Christian in the land of Muslas

3.  She has just served time in jail

4.  She is a woman

Alice tries to rise above her station in life by studying Nursing.  With some help from Dr. Jamus Pereira she finds work at the Sacred Heart hospital of All Ailments.  The grim looking Sister Hina Alvi comes to her rescue when she is stuck.  The young jailbird Noor, another of Dr. Pereira's proteges, is working at the hospital so his mother, who is cancer ridden, can get medical aid there.  

Alice has just started work at the hospital when Teddy Butt walks into her life.  Captivated by the pretty nurse, Teddy starts wooing her with determination.   Teddy Butt is body builder and also a peripheral police helper.  His boss, Inspector Malangi has caught Abu Zar, a terrorist.  Teddy is given the task of making him talk.

All these characters impact the life and times of  Our Lady of Alice Bhatti.  Alice is a victim of a society where it is a crime to be a woman, let alone being an untouchable and a Christian.

Mohammed Hanif draws a realistic portrait of life in Karachi and at a big busy hospital, Sacred Heart.  In fact the life at Sacred Heart is so self sufficient, that the novelist steps outside it just a few times, when he needs to show how the events happening outside will impact the lives of those who live within the hospital.

This is a skillfully written story.  It is replete with dark humor and compassion.  I won't say the book was unputdownable for me.  There were times when its starkness disturbed me and I had trouble continuing with it.  But the story of Alice and Teddy made me pick it up, and I must say, the end of the book is superb.


harveypam said...

The book may not be unputdownable, but it has something, which makes it very intriguing. The curiousity to know how these two persons so incompatible will go on ahead gives us a rush and then as the various aspects of the protagonists start unravelling, it was like... I don't know the word for it.
Hanif knows how to build his characters. They are anything but simple, anything but one-dimensional!
Looking forward to his next book. Wonder if he would write another novel similar to his first one, this time delaing with the assassination of Bhutto. Would love it.

Ava Suri said...

I loved the whole cause-and-effect of the plot. And the way he presents the story.

It was good actually, that he does not 'gloss' the story to make it palatable. It may make it hard to read at times, but was much more rewarding.

Thanks for recommending the book to me dear.

Raja Swaminathan said...

Excellent review, Ava. As you know, I normally read only non-fiction but the way you write a review, you draw the reader into the book so skilfully that you create an urge in the reader to read the book.

Ava Suri said...

Thank you Raja :)

That is the whole purpose of writing a review.

dustedoff said...

I liked A Case of Exploding Mangoes a lot, so I'd been tempted to buy this one too. But only when I've finished the pile of unread books lying at home... perhaps in a couple of years? ;-) Your review makes it sound as if I should probably go for it sooner than that.

Ava Suri said...

A lot? I should get that ASAP in that case.

Yes Madhu, so many books so little time :(

dustedoff said...

A Case of Exploding Mangoes was funny and grim and grimy all at the same time - and very fast-paced. A great example of black humour.

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