Twenty years after Pakistan President General Zia ul-Haq died in a plane crash in 1988, a debutant author, in his humour-filled work, does a whodunit pursuit to re-imagine the conspiracies and coincidences leading to the mysterious crash of the world's 'sturdiest' plane after a mango party on board.
In the satirical novel "A Case of Exploding Mangoes", pilot-turned-journalist and playwright Mohammed Hanif looks at the last days of Zia and touches on subjects -- considered taboo in the Islamic country -- like ISI torture, homosexuality in the army and also claims on the general's killers.
The book, which has mention of slain prime minister Indira Gandhi and singing sensations Lata Mangeskar and Asha Bhosle, also has al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, referred to as OBL, in a cameo.
The story is set in a period during and just after Zia's stewardship of Pakistan.
At the centre of the novel is narrator Ali Shigri, a Pakistan Air Force pilot, whose father, one of Zia's colonels, committed suicide under suspicious circumstances.
Ali is determined to find out the reasons of his father's step and also avenge his death, Hanif, who heads the BBC's Urdu service, says.
What he quickly discovers is a snarl of events -- Americans in Pakistan, Soviets in Afghanistan, dollars in every hand. But Ali remains patient, determined, a touch world-weary and not surprised at finding Zia at every turn.
He mounts an elaborate plot for revenge with an ever-changing crew that includes his 'silk-underwear-and- cologne-wearing roommate', a hash-smoking American lieutenant with questionable motives, the chief of Pakistan's secret police who mistakenly believes he's in cahoots with the CIA, a blind woman imprisoned for fornication, and strangely a mango-besotted crow, writes London based Hanif, who graduated from the Pakistan Air Force Academy.
In the novel, Zia tells his generals how he was moved when he witnessed the last rites of Indira Gandhi. He thanks Allah for "giving us Pakistan so that children didn't have to witness this hell on earth every day".
OBL or Laden wears a suit and sports a beard in the book where he tells a journalist "his bulldozers and concrete mixers were instrumental in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan".
OBL also meets ISI head Gen Akhtar and the CIA chief in the novel.
During the last few months before his death, Zia had this premonition that something very bad was going to happen to him, the book says. He read the Quran every morning and wished the holy book acted as his daily horoscope.
And on that fateful day of August 17, 1988, when the Hercules C130 -- the world's sturdiest plane, carrying several of Zia's top officials and US Ambassador Arnold Raphael -- turned into a giant ball of fire, he was no more.
"First, there is the thunder of 78 tonnes of metal and fuel and cargo propelled by four 4300 HP engines colliding, skidding, against the hot desert sand...Fuel tanks, full to capacity, boil over at impact and then burst. It lasts no more than four minutes. Medals go flying like a handful of gold coins flung from the sky, military boots shining on the outside and blood dripping from severed feet, peaked caps hurled through the air like Frisbees," Hanif imagines of the mishap.
Was it due to mechanical failure, human error, the CIA, generals of Zia not happy with their pension plans or Shigri? The real cause of the explosion is yet to be established.
After boarding the Pak One aircraft, Zia said to his co-passengers: "People always talk about the past, the good old days. Every week my bicycle-owning neighbour would take me to a mango orchard near our school and wait outside while I climbed the boundary wall, went in and came back with stolen mangoes. Look at me now, brothers. Allah has brought me to a point where I have my own ride and my mangoes gifted by my own people. So let's have a mango party on Pak One (in fact, there were 20 crates of the fruit gifted by Pakistani farmers)."
And then there is the crow that is madly in love with Indian mangoes.