Bonding with an ex-Karachi Jew against the Indians in Israel

Published: February 7, 2011
Mohammad Hanif

Mohammad Hanif

Mohammad Hanif Jean-Luc Racine Naveen Naqvi Kamila Shamsie

KARACHI: Writer Mohammad Hanif shared anecdotes from Israel and announced the title of his new novel at the Karachi Literature Festival on Sunday evening.

The ascerbic author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes had the entire audience in fits of laughter as he described his sources of inspiration, his experiences in Karachi and his recent trip to Palestine where he was on a creative-writing teaching assignment.

Once as a reporter for an international media organisation he was sent to Israel, where he was asked to address an event. “When I mentioned Karachi, I noticed that a man at the back row began to weep,” he said. “At the end of my address, I inquired and learnt that he belonged to the generation of Jews who once used to live in Karachi.”

The man told Hanif how life in Karachi was for the Jews during Ayub Khan’s time and asked from him the state of the city under the then new dictator Gen Musharraf. Hanif said the man recalled the names of cinemas and places he used to visit as a child despite decades passing by. When the writer asked him where he was living now, the man said a new colony called Ramlay had been built by the Israelis for them. “Here there are only two families from Pakistan, while all the rest are Indians,” the man complained, before going on to add that the Indians won’t allow them to live in peace anywhere. “And there I was in the middle of Israel, bonding with another Pakistani complaining about these Indians,” Hanif said as the crowd burst into another round of laughter.

Although Hanif announced the title of his upcoming novel “Our Lady Alice Bhatti” he remained tight lipped about the plot and only said: “It’s a love story, where there’s also a marriage gone bad.”

He read out passages from his new writings, some of which were autobiographical as they drew from his own experiences of living as a single man in Karachi. “I used to rent out different places from time to time and learnt many different things,” he said. For example, in the chapter titled Agay Samandar Hay (Ahead lies the Sea), Hanif describes the nauseating ‘piss-like’ smell of the beach. In Sabzi Mandi kee Sair (A Tour of Sabzi Mandi) someone borrows the character’s churridarr payjama whenever a trip to the MQM’s Nine Zero was planned. A womaniser in Empress Market Kay Badshah (King of Empress Market) wanted to score his 264th girl in his apartment.

And the Dead Poet’s House inspired by the late Salim Elahi’s apartment where the character inherits all the books left behind as the family simply wasn’t interested in them anymore and left it to the tenant.

Hanif, whose first novel is being translated in 19 languages, said it was very important for Urdu literature to be translated into Sindhi, Baluchi, Punjabi and vice versa.

He described his novel-writing endeavours as an act of ‘frustrated journalistic revenge.’ “As a journalist many a time we come to a point when we know that the kind of information we are seeking is just beyond our reach,” he said, adding that fiction gave him the liberty to imagine the truth behind the story.

The funny thing was that people told him that his fiction was actually very close to reality. “I met a general the other day who took me to the side and asked how did I get to know about the exact details of Zia’s plane crash.”

He advised aspiring writers to first develop the habit and love for reading. “Reading and reading well is the first step,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Zeeshan Hyder
    Feb 7, 2011 - 11:44AM

    Mohammad Hanif is hilarious! I can’t wait for his new novel!Recommend

  • ali
    Feb 7, 2011 - 11:54AM

    what an obnoxious title to the reportRecommend

  • Noble Tufail
    Feb 7, 2011 - 12:14PM

    great advice Hanif .. good writinig stems from rich reading. Keep up the good work!Recommend

  • N
    Feb 7, 2011 - 12:58PM

    When is it getting released?Recommend

  • Rationalist
    Feb 7, 2011 - 1:35PM

    There are around 15000 Jews living in India. BTW how many Jews are currently living in Pakistan ? Mr. Mohammad Hanif can you please share some information on that ?
    Fanatics have always persecuted Jews starting from Banu Qurayza days in Saudi Arabia to
    present days. Given this Jews are much better off in India when compared to Pakistan.Recommend

  • Afridi
    Feb 7, 2011 - 2:17PM

    I wish I have not heard it at this stage when its not available in market, I am restless Hanif, I love your writing, and off course the truth imagined behind the fictions. Recommend

  • Ammar R
    Feb 7, 2011 - 3:31PM

    Funny stuff. Hanif always is.Recommend

  • Ammar R
    Feb 7, 2011 - 3:32PM

    @Rationalist: Calm down. We realize that. The man was being ironic.

    @Author and Eds: Ascerbic? Seriously?Recommend

  • Talha
    Feb 7, 2011 - 4:25PM


    Grow up, this was meant to be light hearted banter and your insecurities made you fail to realise that.Recommend

  • Asif Maalik
    Feb 7, 2011 - 5:19PM

    I congratulate to Mr. Mohammad Hanif upon completion of his second novel hope to be released soon. I am also an admirer of his writings and his debut novel, “Exploding Mangoes” now be rated as classic. Fortunately I have met Mr. Hanif sometime before and I found him a perfect person to be a writer and an intellectual.
    As for as his meeting with a Jew, who once used to live in Karachi, is concerned, I would like to adjoin that few years back I had worked on the same topic and I find out that there were some dozens families lived in Karachi but they left for Israel, India and other countries after fanaticism arose here but I also learnt that there was an possibility if some Jews still live in Karachi who pose themselves as Parsi to hide their identity. There was a Synagogue situated near Sind Assembly and in Pak Colony you may find a Jew graveyard that still exists. It is also interesting to know that around twenty to thirty thousand Jews still lives in Iran.Recommend

  • SUB
    Feb 7, 2011 - 6:19PM

    @Rationalist: It was not so serious however you are free to take all the Jews from Israel and move them in India since it’s so serene out there and “much better off in India”Recommend

  • Samuel
    Feb 7, 2011 - 6:54PM

    Indian Muslims dislike Pakistani Muslims,
    Christian Indians dislike Christian Pakistanis, ( Im Christian)
    Indian Jews despise the Pakistani Jews

    @Rationalist : dude grow up. i was born in the 80’s. I didn’t scream out Freedom the day I was born. Indians should really get over this obsession.
    We Pakistanis are such bad taste! INDIA, GROW UP!Recommend

  • Danish+S.
    Feb 7, 2011 - 8:22PM

    Indians (assuming Rationalist is one) some how manage to make everything about them. Dudes and dudettes please! the world does not revolve around you, at least not just yet. Recommend

  • Ravi[India]
    Feb 7, 2011 - 8:44PM

    but you are certainly revolving around the world for alms (BHEEK) and promised money for being part of war against terrorism gone wrong (BAKSHEESH)Recommend

  • Raqib Ali
    Feb 8, 2011 - 2:11AM

    I find that Indians are getting too touchy about everything. It is a sign of weakness, not confidence.

    Did England ever care about a fictional story (film Lagaan) which was presented as an ‘historical’ incident. No, because England doesn’t give a damn. They are confident!Recommend

  • Feb 8, 2011 - 4:21AM

    @Salman Siddiqui: Unless you revel in mismatched urban jargon, you surely mean acerbic and NOT ascerbic!

    @Danish+S. Yes, for Pakistanis it is all about India. They can’t live with it and can’t live without it. Indeed, it seems India bashing is what keeps Pakistanis united.Recommend

  • kumar
    Feb 8, 2011 - 4:24AM

    Hey, i think @Rationalist appears to be doing a little lighthearted banter himself, indian flavour and we probably need to appreciate it in a completely different way!Recommend

  • Feb 8, 2011 - 6:42AM

    good stuff :)Recommend

  • lol
    Feb 8, 2011 - 7:38AM

    @Asif Malik, now that you have given details about many Jews still living in Pakistan, won’t be surprised if they are all driven away soon…lolRecommend

  • Tony Singh
    Feb 8, 2011 - 4:32PM

    Poor guy even in Isreal no one wanted to accomodate the man and his family, except Indians, And yet he is complaining! Typically Pakistani. Blame it on IndiansRecommend

  • My Opinion
    Feb 9, 2011 - 6:38AM

    First of all, I dont agree with heading of the article,”Bonding with an ex-Karachi Jew against the Indians in Israel”.The heading would have made everything very clear from the start if it was,”Bonding with an ex-Karachi Jew against the Indian Jews in Israel”.I never heard of Jews of Israel going against each other(Now they are Israelis).
    Secondly,did M.Hanif visit any Palestinians(who by the way are both Muslims and Chritians) during his visit to Israel or due to his Jewish hairstyle, he only prefered to meet Jews of Israel,who are illegally occupying Palestine and enslaving its people?
    Thirdly, did M.Hanif try to find out, “why did the Jews of India leave for Israel” since the Jews in his words left Pakistan for Israel due to their ill treatment by the Pakistani authorities.(Ex PM of Israel Ariel Sharon was Jew of Mumbai,why did he leave India for Israel?).
    Fourthly,this is what the first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion said about Pakistan in his speech(1948) to the Israeli Parliament,”The world Zionist movement should not be neglectful of the dangers of Pakistan to it. And Pakistan now should be its first target, for this ideological State is a threat to our existence. And Pakistan, the whole of it, hates the Jews and loves the Arabs. This lover of Arabs is more dangerous to us than the Arabs themselves. For that matter, it is most essential for the world Zionism that it should now take immediate steps against Pakistan. Whereas the inhabitants of the Indian peninsula are Hindus whose hearts have been full of hatred towards Muslims, therefore India is the most important base for us to work there from against Pakistan. It is essential that we exploit this base and strike and crush Pakistanis, the enemies of Jews and Zionism, by all disguised and secret plans. —-David Ben Gurion, the first Israeli Prime Minister Jewish Chronicle, 09 August 1967″.Any questions? This is why Pakistan always keept a close watch on its Jewish population.
    Last of all,to all the Indians who posted their comments about this article,I know anything bad or critical thats written or said about Pakistan you Indians love it especially if its written or said by traitors among us Pakistanis.To name a few (Ahmed Rashid,Pervez Hoodbhoy,M.Hanif etc).You Indians think we Pakistanis give a damn what you say or think about us.(Keep Dreaming).Recommend

  • Waqqas Iftikhar
    Feb 9, 2011 - 5:52PM

    man….this article brought out the worst in all of us….it was brilliantly written….but we have the snide comments by the indians followed by over the top emotional ….ummah drivel by us……..

    it was a humorous article…thats all….take it on face value.Recommend

  • Balwinder Sandhu
    Feb 9, 2011 - 7:10PM

    An Indian butting in. Found NOTHING OFFENSIVE in this article, in fact it was a humorous take on mock moaning about a ‘common enemy’.

    Here in London, I along with my Pakistani punjabi friends, take digs at the mohajirs from Pak and the non punjabis from India- we call them MQM– before you start shooting me, the subject of our jokes like it and give as good as they get. My Gujrati friends here say, for example, that punjabi culture is an oxymoron. Geddit ??

    To my Indian brothers, guys, get a life. It was humorous.

    btw- rationalists comment, although a bit tetchy was spot on. Indian hindus and sikhs are the ONLY documented community worldwide to have no anti-semitismRecommend

  • Raza
    Feb 10, 2011 - 1:40AM

    very well written story Mr. Salman and excellent title Recommend

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