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Our Lady of Alice Bhatti: A Review

I have been on sort of a reading spree. In the past one month alone I have managed to finish reading the Grey series, The Time Keeper, A Thousand Splendid Suns, After the Darkness, as well as a Mary Higgins Clark suspense thriller All Through The Night (Though I neither found it suspenseful nor thrilling.)

I had started Our Lady Of Alice Bhatti (OLoAB) before all of these. I read about ten pages and thought it to
be one of those books that I would not be able to read or even skim. After putting it down for a month I picked it up to lend it to someone who wants to read it and I thought I might as well take out my bookmark. As I was taking out the bookmark I read the page it was placed on and for a strange reason I was hooked to the book. This re-affirms my faith in the fact that it is neither too late nor too early, everything happens in its own right time- a point that echoes in Mitch Albom's The Time Keeper (I loved the book and found what creative writing is about, but that is another post).

So back at OLoAB. I had heard about Mohammed Hanif. When a friend was pestered for a gift this birthday she asked me to name two books I was dying to read so I got her to send me both, A Case of Exploding Mangoes as well as OLoAB. History and Satire were the reasons I was interested in Mr Hanif. I liked A Case of Exploding Mangoes, his first book that was even listed for Man Booker, but not to the extent that i had hoped that I would like it. And so I had come to keeping the decision of reading OLoAB pending.

Anyway, now that I have read it, here is what I think.

It is a class apart. This book is everything that great reviewers at great places say it is a ''deft evil little novel of comic genius" and much more. It is brilliantly written and one can see how the author has evolved since his first one. The story is irreverent. The heroine Sister Alice Bhatti is irreverent. The tale is consuming once you have managed to sink in your teeth which happens after good 20 pages when you get a good idea of what this is all about. The others- Noor, Teddy, Inspector Malangi- are all well-etched out with the rhymes and reasons spelt out for the reader. These reasons are the circumstances that have led to the way the charcacter behaves. These are also very apt commentaries on the state of affairs.

Sample this, near the end of the novel the Inspector is shot, the writer describing his end writes: As he bleeds to a quick death, Inspector Malangi has the same thing on his mind as that on the lips of all the impatient drivers stuck behind the car" when will our nation learn some road manners?

There is another lot of characters like Zainab, Dr Periera who though do not contribute to the story in any constructive way but there stories are told so well that you feel that you know them intimately.

The conditions describe of the Sacred hospital where the story largely unfolds or the French Colony could very well be somewhere in India. Maybe that is the reason that a familiar echo emerges out of the writings of authors from across the border.

The satire is very much dripping out of every page in the novel.  I could imagine the author reading what he wrote during the edits and then look in the distance with a smug smile on his face.

Yes you must read Our Lady of Alice Bhatti and then maybe also give A Case of Exploding Mangoes a shot.

This might also be a very interesting read for those who have read the book or intend to read it.

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