New Delhi: For Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif, humour is one of the basic survival techniques for our times and he always tries to entertain himself as he gets bored easily.
His new book “Red Birds” is also written with his trademark wit and a keen eye for absurdity, and tells important truths about the world today.
An American pilot crash lands in the desert and takes refuge in the very camp he was supposed to bomb. Hallucinating palm trees and worrying about dehydrating to death isn’t what Major Ellie expected from this mission.
Still, it’s an improvement on the constant squabbles with his wife back home. In the camp, teenager Momo’s money-making schemes are failing. His brother left for his first day at work and never returned, his parents are at each other’s throats, his dog Mutt is having a very bad day, and an aid worker has shown up wanting to research him for her book on the teenage Muslim mind.
The book has Major Ellie, Momo and Mutt as its narrators.
Hanif describes his book as a family saga, a love story, love between humans, between humans and animals.
“It’s also about growing up in the aftermath of a war and television and football,” the author of “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” and “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti” told PTI.
Asked how important humour is for his books, he says, “I try to entertain myself because I get easily bored. And humour is one of the basic survival techniques for our times. It’s also a god’s gift. And I read somewhere that it’s the best medicine. Now I am old enough to know that there is no cure for me so hey I can laugh.”
Hanif says he lost very close friends: some to state violence, others to other non-state violence.
“And then I started thinking that since I was born, the only constant thing has been death, and war. The year I was born, India and Pakistan were at war, when I was in high school the Afghan War started.
“Now my son is in university and we still have India, Afghanistan and Pakistan all at some kind of war. And we have become quite used to horrendous violence because we think we are safe in our living rooms,” he says.
Hanif graduated from the Pakistan Air Force Academy as pilot officer but subsequently left to pursue a career in journalism.
In the book, he writes: “We used to have art for art’s sake; now we have war for the sake of war.”
Asked what he thinks about satire, Hanif says, “I think sometimes we state the reality as it is we think it’s satire. I think the most wars are fought on the premise that it will make us safer. Afghanistan, Kashmir, Syria, Yemen, and many other places; we can’t make our kids life safer, by killing other people’s children.”
Hanif tried to write “Red Birds”, published by Bloomsbury, without giving Mutt a voice for a very long time but it wasn’t coming together.
“Mutt is that rug which ties the room together,” he says about the dog being used as one of the narrators.
“I think my heartbreak with dogs, their companionship, the desire to cuddle them, the desire to kick them and then what do they think of us. I think the character Mutt is quite personal.”
Hanif says the characters were born “in my head, mostly. But you draw up on everyone and everything you have seen and heard. How people talk on the bus, power equations within our houses and our streets.”
Asked about his dream project, he says, “Doing nothing and get paid to do it”.