Finding Hanif.

CURRENTLY, Pakistan is deeply polarised, its peoples' freedoms heavily suppressed, and its current affairs in a perpetual state of one-crisis-after-the-next. But if you're looking for some solution to this mess, I've got news: you might just find it in a novel about a talking dog.

Red Birds was published by Mohammed Hanif in 2018. It's a story of multiple narrators; an American fighter pilot crashed in the desert while on his way to bomb a village, a 15-year-old boy from that same village that rescues him, and the boy's loyal but heartbroken companion - a stray dog named Mutt.

The book is bold. It's audacious. It's a brutal satire about the planet's most powerful military. Set in a country that both is and isn't Afghanistan, it takes aim at American foreign policy in a way that hits where it hurts; by depriving it of the seriousness and gravitas that it craves with an addict's desperation. And in narrating the madness and stupidity at the heart of every war, Hanif manages to convey just as many messages between the lines as within them.

This wasn't the only time his writing took aim at a big target. When I first read his debut novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, it challenged my preconceptions of what a book could even be. See, almost all forms of Pakistani media are constrained by some sort of handicap that holds them back from foreign counterparts - budgets, censors, fragile egos, etc.

Whoever decided they were above all criticism?

But for a novel, the only constraint is its author's imagination. So Hanif was free to explore the sudden death of Gen Ziaul Haq, in all its mystery and grandeur, with an artist's creative liberty. There were bombs, betrayals, and of course, lots of mangoes. But most of all, there were observations. 'The generals who had called Zia a mullah behind his back felt ashamed at having underestimated him: not only was he a mullah, he was a mullah whose understanding of religion didn't go beyond parroting what he had heard from the next mullah. A mullah without a beard, a mullah in a four-star general's uniform, a mullah with the instincts of a corrupt tax inspector.'

The word for this is 'irreverent'. Hanif took the most exalted, untouchable figures in society - those against whom any dissent was unfathomable - and pulled back the curtains. His world is devoid of the self-defeating niceties that have become ubiquitous to Pakistani society. Beneath every facade of limitless power, behind every 'sahib' and 'sir jee' is...

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