Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif on Monday alleged that all Urdu copies of his 2008 satire A Case of Exploding Mangoes were seized from his publisher’s office by some people claiming to be from the country’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence.
“This afternoon some people claiming to be from the ISI barged into my Urdu publisher Maktaba Daniyal offices, confiscated all copies of Urdu translation of A Case of Exploding Mangoes,” Hanif said in a series of tweets. “Threatened the manager, wanted information about our whereabouts. Coming back tomorrow to get lists of booksellers.”
The novel was originally published in English in 2008 and was translated to Urdu in November 2019. The book was met with international acclaim on publication. Hanif, who served in the Pakistani Air Force before becoming a journalist, satirises the military, the government, and the former President General Zia-ul-Haq in the book.
“Last week we received a defamation notice from General Zia’s son demanding [Pakistani] Rs 1 billion for maligning General Zia good name,” he said. “Our lawyers are preparing a reply. Is ISI acting on [Pakistani politician] Ejazul Haq’s behalf?”
Hanif added: “A Case of Exploding Mangoes has been in publication for 11 years now. Nobody has ever bothered me. Why now? I am sitting here, wondering when will they come for us. ISI is World’s No 1 spy agency. I am sure they have better things to do.”
Hanif told the BBC that alleged security agents seized the books from the offices of the Maktab-e-Danyal Publishing House in Karachi as well as bookstores in Islamabad and Lahore.
“They claimed to be from the ISI but did not produce any official ID to prove that,” Hanif said. “They just took away all copies of the book. They hurled threats at the manager of Maktab-e-Danyal, sought information about me and said they’ll come back to get lists of outlets to which the book has been supplied. It looks like they want to scare the few people who still want to read old books.”
The novel pokes fun at General Zia-ul-Haq, the sixth President of Pakistan, and the country’s military agencies. In 1988, Zia and 30 other people were killed in a plane crash. The crash remains one of Pakistan’s most enduring mysteries, with theories ranging from a Soviet assassination to a play for power from within the government.
A Case of Exploding Mangoes is set in the few months before the crash and adds to the mix of conspiracy theories with comical aplomb. The book is based on a rumour that a crate of mangoes that was gifted to the president had a hidden bomb, which blew up the plane.
It won the Best First Book Award in the 2009 Commonwealth Book Prize as well as the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize in 2008. It was also longlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.