THE raid on Maktaba-i-Daniyal is as disturbing as it is baffling. Indeed, the truth could not be any stranger than the fiction in the pages of Mohammed Hanif’s own tragicomedies.
Late last year, the publisher released the Urdu translation of Mr Hanif’s debut novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, a satirical account of the last days of Gen Ziaul Haq’s rule and the aftermath of his death.
On Monday, according to the author’s statements on Twitter, some individuals claiming to be from the intelligence barged into the publisher’s office, confiscated all copies of the book and said they would return for a list of its distributors.
A week prior, the author wrote, they had received a defamation notice from the late general’s son over the 11-year-old novel.
Such retrospective umbrage — that, too, for a work of art that makes no pretence of masquerading as fact (and, ergo, is not libellous) — might be interpreted in a number of ways, none of which are flattering to the belligerents.
Mr Hanif, a Sitara-i-Imtiaz recipient, is an internationally renowned writer and journalist whose work stands on its own merit.
Phat’tay Aamon Ka Case would have surely enjoyed modest success without the gauche intervention of ‘well-meaning’ individuals seeking to provide it free publicity, particularly given that its contents include plenty of intrigue as it is.
If, however, certain elements have taken it upon themselves to serve as Pakistan’s literary police, one can only wonder what they might make of other famous texts.
Would these exalted critics read novels like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as cautionary tales or as instruction manuals? Or Kafka’s The Trial as a template for obscuring the state’s machinery from scrutiny and accountability?
In the absence of clarity from the authorities, a pessimist might view a raid on a publisher’s office in a far more sinister light: a sign of growing intolerance, perhaps, or an attempt to whitewash opinion of Pakistan’s most vulnerable demographic — the disgraced dictator.
Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2020