Dream

“OUR LADY OF ALICE BHATTI” – By Mohammed Hanif

Posted on: October 16, 2011

 

A blurb from India Today on the cover of “Our Lady Of Alice Bhatti” reads ‘Brilliantly executed….. At last we have a Pakistani writer who faces up to his political ancestry with explosive brio.’  Well, after all this is a second novel from a writer who is the Winner of the Commonwealth First Book Award for his debut novel “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”. So having gone through this much lofty background I started reading ‘Our Lady Of Alice Bhatti’ with lots of expectations.

Mohammed Hanif tells the story of Alice Bhatti in present tense. The story reads like a part thriller and a part monologue on how the Christians are treated in Pakistan. Alice Bhatti is a born fighter who has an uncanny knack of landing up at the wrong places at the wrong times. She has served her time in prison for ‘causing grievous bodily harm with intent to murder’ to a famous surgeon. After serving her time, she looks forward to making a fresh beginning.

She gets a job as a Junior Nurse at the Sacred Heart Hospital where he meets Teddy who works for the police and the reader remains confused to the last page what he actually does for the police. Teddy falls in love with Alice Bhatti and finally they get married in a submarine in a dream like situation that seems plucked directly out of some Hindi film. They both are a mismatch. She is a Catholic and he is a Muslim. The marriage is doomed to fail is obvious from the first day of their married life.

Apart from Alice Bhatti, Teddy and Joseph Bhatti (Alice Bhatti’s father) who cleans the streets of the city and performs miracles when he is not abusing Muslims, there’s this boy Noor who works at the Sacred Heart Hospital in return of a bed and the cancer treatment for his ailing mother. He is a secretary, a peon, a trouble shooter – all rolled into one for the Sacred Heart Hospital. While introducing Noor, the novelist goes on extolling all his virtues in such a way that readers feel Noor is the main protagonist who will take “Our Lady Of Alice Bhatti” forward in her mission. Sadly, there is nothing much Noor does except worrying about and caring for his ailing mother and receiving deadly blows from Alice Bhatti’s angry husband and a-friend-turned-foe Teddy who suspects Noor and Alice Bhatti of cheating on him.

In the opening chapter of the novel, Alice Bhatti surprisingly comes across as a timid girl. After a couple of chapters readers are made aware of what a strong and brave girl Alice Bhatti is when she nearly slices a Kalashnikovs wielding toughie’s penis with a blade who forces her to give him a blow job by pointing a gun to her head. The novel is full of such absurd situations. Most of these situations feel as unreal as the characters. The way patients at the Psychiatric ward are described leaves the readers feeling that the novelist has never taken the trouble to tour the Psychiatric ward before writing that chapter. There is a dark humour in the novel but neither it invokes any laughter nor it provokes any serious thoughts. We don’t feel any genuine sympathy for the main protagonist despite of her various sufferings. She is reduced to a caricature with big bosoms that get stared at wherever she goes.

“Our Lady Of Alice Bhatti” has the potential to really cause grievous cerebral harm to its readers.

 

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