A Case of Exploding Mangoes
The central theme of the book is a fictional story behind the real-life plane crash that killed General Zia, President of Pakistan from 1977 to 1988, about which there are many conspiracy theories. After witnessing a parade of tanks in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, on August 17, 1988, Zia leaves the small town of Punjabi in the designated “Pak One” C-130 Hercules aircraft, along with several of his senior army officers, the US Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphel. And some boxes of Shortly after a smooth takeoff, the control tower loses contact with the aircraft. Witnesses who saw the plane in the air later claimed it was flying erratically, before plummeting and on impact, killing all 31 on board. Zia had ruled Pakistan for 11 years before his death.
The lazy and irreverent Ali Shigri tells the story. Ali’s father, Col. Quli Shigri, has recently died in what was called a suicide, but Ali discovers that his father was killed by a rogue ISI officer, Major Kiyani, under Zia’s orders. The story takes place in the months leading up to the plane crash, hopping back and forth between Ali’s plans for revenge and his third-person observations of Zia’s life. Ali attends the Pakistan Air Force Academy with his fellow cadets and his instructors. His best friend is cadet “Baby O” Ubaid, his roommate and his lover.
In one subplot, General Zia sentences Zainab, a blind woman, to death by stoning for being the victim of gang rape. According to the Zia sharia court, she has committed adultery. By convicting her, Zainab casts a curse on Zia. The curse is picked up by a raven obsessed with sugar. In another subplot, Arnold Raphel celebrates a 4th of July party in Islamabad. He assists a young bearded Saudi man known as “OBL”. OBL works for Laden and Co. Constructions, making this a clear reference and cameo for Osama bin Laden.
Ali’s plan for revenge involves stabbing Zia in the eye with his noncommissioned officer sword, a move he secretly practices daily. But Baby O invents a new plot to kill Zia by crashing a kamikaze-style plane. He even goes so far as to steal a plane for work, but in doing so he accidentally leads Ali to prison at Lahore Fort, a torture center. While there, Ali hears the screams of his tortured fellow inmates and speaks through a hole in the wall to the “Secretary General” who has been in solitary confinement there for nine years. Ali eventually learns that his own father is responsible for turning Lahore Fort into a torture center (“Good job, Dad,” he responds). Meanwhile, Major Kiyani appears on the scene with the intention of torturing Ali. There is a sudden change in command of the ISI and Ali is released in time to avoid torture. Upon his arrival back at the Pakistan Air Force Academy, he learns that he has been chosen as part of the squad that will perform a silent instructional salute for Zia. Ali will finally get a chance on him, and decides to bet his plan of revenge on the use of Uncle Starchy’s snake venom, injected into Zia’s hand through Ali’s sword. After the silent greeting of the drill, Zia boards the doomed Pak One. The novel does not confirm whether or not Ali is successful in his attempt to assassinate General Zia. Rather, several alternatives are offered: the curse-bearing crow that crashed into the plane’s engines while chasing the planted in the by All Pakistan Sweepers Union in revenge for the death of its secretary general at the hands of the Major. Kiyani, or one of Zia’s confidants, each with his own secrets and motivations. The book even speculates that it could be the work of the CIA.