Whisky Magazine Issue 121
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Snake pits or snake bites? That is the question
Before morning prayers on 15 June 1988, General Mohammad Zia ul-Huq's index finger hesitated on verse 21:87 while reading the Quran, and he spent the rest of his short life dreaming about the innards of a whale.
These aren't the first words of Mohammed Hanif's 2008 novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes, but they might as well be. Mangoes is both a pitiless satire and a whodunnit revolving around the real-life Pakistani president-cum-despot who died in a never explained plane crash on August 19, 1988.
One of the main suspects is Ali Shigri, the son of a former Pakistani military hero who blames Zia for his father's apparent suicide and who narrates half the novel. If Mangoes is a Pakistani Catch-22, then Shigri is its Yossarian. Shigri gets arrested after the plane crash but that doesn't affect his sardonic tone:
With people like Major Kiryani there are no identification cards, no arrest warrants, no pretence at doing something legal or for your own good. There is a cruel stillness about him. The stillness of a man who lights up in a hospital room and doesn't even look around for something to use as an ashtray.
Shigri is about to be subjected to a potentially very unpleasant interrogation, and to make matters worse, he did indeed conspire to kill Zia – although perhaps not in a plane.
But he's not the only suspect.
Not surprisingly, Zia had possible enemies galore, including everyone from his subordinate generals to CIA Director Bill Casey, who also makes a cameo appearan...