Mohammed Hanif (who authored A Case of Exploding Mangoes) has painted a dark comedy that explores the underbelly of a city divided over caste, religion and trade.
An airforce pilot turned journalist, Hanif, who is currently the Karachi-based special correspondent of the BBC Urdu Service, spins a powerful narrative around the lives of the choorahs (janitors- bhangis) of French Colony, a Christian slum in the heart of Karachi.
Alice Bhatti, the educated daughter of a choorah cum part-time healer, tries to rise above the caste distinctions that have ensured that she stays at the bottom of the totem pole in a deeply divisive society.
Although founded on the basis of an egalitarian religion, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is anything but. It is steeped in the rigours of a caste system inherited over the centuries as part of undivided India.
A Christian trying to eke out a living in an Islamic society, Bhatti is unable, despite her education, to rise above her choorah-bhangi status. Being a trained nurse in a Catholic hospital means little in a society that refuses to release her of the shackles attached her father’s profession.
Daily existance for Alice and her father Joseph Bhatti is brutal and stark as is described by the fleeting moment of pride Bhatti feels when he brings home a filthy feces-caked peacock rescued from one of the cities sewers.
Alice does all the right things-gets an education, a decent job, she even marries a Muslim to escape the prejudice of the caste system that has relegated her to the bottom of the heap. Not anything short of a miracle will help her escape the viscous circle of poverty.
An absolute must-read if you want to know the real Karachi, where the millions live and love, beyond the manicured gardens and Spanish villas of the privileged neighbourhoods of Defence and Clifton.
Our Lady of Alice Bhatti
Author: Mohammed Hanif
Publisher: Bond Street Books- A division of Random House of Canada Limited