This blog has moved home, I’ll now be showing all my articles on my swish new website here. I would really appreciate it if you could all come over and give me a follow (of course the favour will be reciprocated)
As the inimitable lady with the lamp, Florence Nightingale once said “Nursing is an art: and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is the having to do with dead canvas or dead marble, compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s spirit? It is one of the Fine Arts: I had almost said the finest of Fine Arts.” I know from friends and relatives that nursing comprises of two emotional components, elation and frustration. The majority of the time it involves thankless tasks, mired in dirt, grime and excrement or pointless administrational busy work, until the next cavalcade of sick pass through the front entrance, on a procession of rusty trolleys and squeaky wheelchairs. However, those moments of real nursing, those of which all nurses dream of, caring for the sick and injured, offer something that makes the miniscule and superfluous acts more palatable. In Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, published in Britain and Pakistan respectively, Mohammed Hanif’s writing is as electrifying as ever.
The setting of his latest tale is Karachi, where a noxious atmosphere of ethnic, religious and caste tensions are steadily drowning this bustling metropolis, there is no hint of exoticism or rainbow tinged fantasy, just the stark reality of everyday life in a run-down hospital – The Sacred Heart. The absence of sweet smelling mango trees, sprawling chambeli and Ghalib references makes room for explorations into the personal and working lives of Pakistan’s Christian Choorah’s, those at the bottom end of a complex caste-system.
The Sacred Heart hospital, where all manner of life, from the good to the bad, deceivers to moralists pass through, each ruled by a set of social moirés and moral amnesia, is the ideal repository in which to tell the story of modern Pakistan, free from decorous frippery. The whole structural system of the hospital is diametrically opposed to how one would think such an institution is run, with the building, Catholic in origin, entrusted into the hands of a rather imperious and intellectually fragile man, who inherited it from his father. Nurses, Ward Sisters and Doctors show routine moral failings, yet are, in their own way, dutifully devoted to keeping the Sacred functioning, to a slightly acceptable degree at least.
We are introduced to Alice Bhatti, a Christian and former borstal inmate, who hails from French Colony, a small Christian community of labourers in Karachi. Longing to be a nurse, we are first introduced to Alice waiting for her interview, fastidiously going over her preparations and fears about securing this once in a lifetime opportunity. Alice Bhatti has the perfect brassy attitude, volcanic emotional complexity and fiery personality to carry her through all this energetic madness with relative ease, even when she is assigned to the ominous Charya Ward, where mental patients of various levels of mania reside, as the blunt Sister Hina Alvi explains “those who bugger their sisters and bury them alive, because some God told them to”; the wretched souls range from a potential terrorist to a deranged yet oddly verbose old man, who takes pleasure in having his underwear around his ankles.
Hanif’s writing is immediate, in the best kind of way; he takes typical literary and philosophical subjects, such as love, politics, society and religion and turns them into comical and easily digestible couplets. Most of these beautiful nuggets emanate from Alice’s mind, she muses, quietly yet with a comical timing and phonetic quality worthy of the best wordsmith. This is not simply a novel about nursing, nor is it a philosophical attempt at analysing wider Pakistani society, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is a novel that tells the story of modern Pakistan, through the lives of a small collection of people, united in serving the public. Chronicling the trials and tribulations, loves and loses, hopes and dreams of ordinary people caught up in an ideological tornado.
The novel is fortunate in that every chapter explores something new, but with the themes of religion and duty remaining ever present, culminating in a very tearful and tragic conclusion. One truly feels empathy and a great deal of love for this little Choorah Alice, this Christian in a Muslim world, this woman in a male dominated society.
A stalwart of the Royal Court Theatre, Mike Bartlett’s latest play Love, Love, Love is a heady mixture of nostalgia, relationships and bitter disappointment. Focusing on the love life of two baby boomers, starting with their courtship, fuelled by lies and betrayal in the 1960’s to the docile suffocation of a less than blissful middle age in the 1990’s and finally the irksome on set of retirement in the present day. A richly decadent and evocative play which teeters precariously on the edge of hilarity and misery Love, Love, Love stars Ben Miles and Victoria Hamilton in the lead roles, supported by Claire Foy, George Rainsford and Sam Troughton. Spanning five decades of a marriage, that is as tumultuous as anyone could wish for, Love, Love, Love is a play which exposes the darker side of the middle-classes.
In September 2011, Granta, the worlds most prestigious literary magazine, dedicated an entire issue to Pakistan. Bringing together a diverse selection of writing, what was made this specific addition of Granta memorable was its cover, inspired by that most ubiquitous, yet endearing, cultural curiosity – bus art.
From the ornate horse-drawn carriages of the Raj to the pioneering craftsmanship featured on the Kohistan Bus Company’s fleet in the 1920s, Pakistan has a long-established tradition of decorating vehicles. The idiosyncratic designs serve as both moving advertisements and indicators of cultural affiliation. Truck artists transform village rickshaws, city buses and commercial trucks into a procession of moving colour.
The cover for Granta 112 was created by Islam Gull, a truck and bus artist of Bhutta village in Karachi, as part of a greater collaboration with Pakistani artists for the issue. Gull, born in Peshawar, has been painting since the age of thirteen. Twenty-two years ago he settled in Karachi, where he now teaches his craft to two young apprentices. In addition to trucks and buses, Gull decorates buildings and housewares and has worked for several consulates in Karachi, as well as travelling to Kandahar, Afghanistan to paint trucks there. Commissioned with the assistance of the British Council in Karachi, Gull produced two chipboard panels to be photographed for the magazine’s cover, using the same industrial paints with which he embellishes Pakistani trucks.