October 15, 2011 12:03 am

Small talk: Mohammed Hanif

What does it mean to be a writer? You can stare into space and claim you are still working

Mohammed Hanif’s acclaimed first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes (2008), which was awarded a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, was a satire on Pakistani politics. Born in 1964, Hanif graduated from the Pakistan Air Force Academy before deciding to pursue a career in journalism. He moved to London in 1996, studied creative writing at the University of East Anglia and later became head of the BBC’s Urdu service. Hanif moved back to Pakistan in 2008, where he now lives with his family.

Who is your perfect reader?

Someone who prefers movies over books.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Midnight All Day by Hanif Kureishi.

What book changed your life?

Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

When I failed at potato farming.

What is your writing routine?

A routine would be a good idea.

Where do you write best?

Public places: trains, airport lounges.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

Read bits of the Bible in Urdu.

How do you cure writers’ block?

Pubs in London. Parks in Karachi.

How do you relax?

Sorry, that’s illegal in Pakistan.

What music helps you write?

Brit-Asian pop. Anything that I don’t understand.

What do you snack on while you write?

Roasted chickpeas. Cigarettes.

Who are you literary influences?

Truman Capote, [Indian writer] Saadat Hasan Manto, Calvino, Hanif Kureishi.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

[British-Indian actress] Katrina Kaif.

When were you happiest?

Karachi, circa 1990. I had my first motorbike, first job and first love.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

You are not as clever as you think.

What would you go back and change?

I’d tell them not to get out of the caves.

What book do you wish you’d written?

Moby-Dick.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

Dairy farming.

What does it mean to be a writer?

You can stare into space and claim you are still working.

Mohammed Hanif’s latest novel is ‘Our Lady of Alice Bhatti’ (Jonathan Cape)

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