I was conflicted. I was horrified. I veered between admiring Hanif’s craft and balking at his frank prose. But I was glued. Hanif makes fun of everything in the city I grew up in and every sentence has a sneaking horror laced to it. He captures Karachi like a photographer with a death wish. His prose is irreverent, cynical and so delicious.
The story follows a feisty, too beautiful for her own good Christian nurse Alice Bhatti’s traumatic life as a woman in Pakistan and also a minority which entails double jeopardy for her. I followed her with a sense of impending doom as if she was walking a mine field and the only thing saving her was luck, which she doesn’t attract much off. She falls for an idiotic body builder and as her instinct warns her in the beginning, he turns out to be her nemesis. There are a host of other apt stereotypes lighting up the dark (pun intended) Karachi streets, like the crooked Inspector Malangi with his walrus moustache who likes to dole out murderous tips to his proteges, the tough as nails Head Nurse Hina Alvi who is a closet Christian and Teddy, the body builder who is only eloquent when he talks about cricket and finds his confidence wielding guns.
I loved Hanif’s poetic flourishes. Below are some examples that stayed with me:
“Love is not just blind, it’s deaf and dumb and probably has as advanced case of Alzheimer’s it’s unhinged.”
“First love is like first heart attack. Chances are that you will survive it, but you don’t outlive it. That first gasp of air is beginning of the end.”
“She knows what faith is; it’s the same old fear of death dressed in party clothes”
“Normalcy limping back to the city,’ as if normalcy had gone for a picnic and sprained an ankle”
“Any man who reaches for a book when he thinks about you is a man that you should think about”
“A thick March cloud has cloaked the sun outside. The perfect spring afternoon is suddenly its own wintry ghost”
A tough as nails but at the same time vindicating read.