MUNICH, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 24:  Mohammed Hanif speaks to the audience during the annual Corine awards at the Prinzregenten Theatre on November 24, 2009 in Munich, Germany. The Corine Awards are considered as one of the most prestigious German prizes for literature.  (Photo by Hannes Magerstaedt/Getty Images)
Mohammed Hanif will be a panellist at the fair today. Hannes Magerstaedt / Getty Images

Mohammed Hanif’s goal is to search for meaning rather than find the truth



Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif is considering the unique challenges of writing about his home country. In his two novels, A Case Of Exploding Mangoes and Our Lady Of Alice Bhatti, he found a sweet spot between the profound and the absurd. In his journalism – he has a column in the New York Times – he's not afraid to pierce the contradictions apparent in Pakistan.

“Sometimes people say I give Pakistan a bad name, and I always reply ‘hang on, this is what is happening around us,’” he says, almost indignantly. “So to say we can only talk about these things amongst ourselves is totally illogical.

"When you live and work in Karachi there are happy moments and there are bad moments. But that's not to say you don't laugh."

Which is a nice way to sum up Hanif's entire career. In the Booker-longlisted A Case Of Exploding Mangoes (2008), the real-life plane crash that killed Pakistan's military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1988 is the basis for an enjoyably cynical political thriller full of wit and slapstick. And Our Lady Of Alice Bhatti has at its heart a love affair framed around a ridiculous three-day riot in Karachi's streets.

His new novel, Red Birds, due next year, promises "a dark comic absurdity of tone… telling deep and important truths about our crazy contemporary world." That line comes from his publisher, by the way – Hanif won't say anything about it other than it's set "in my head".

But as a novelist and working journalist, he's perfect person to discuss cultural heritage and the impact of current affairs on writing in a session at Sharjah Book Fair today with the IPAF-winning Saudi author Abdo Khan and British journalist and author Sarfraz Manzoor. "I don't consciously set out to explore a culture when I try to tell a story," he says. "But writers, like everyone else, are born into a culture, grow up in it and are shaped by it. There's no escaping where you're from, and though in writing you're creating a fictional world, reality always creeps into your work.

“The key then, for me, is to try to find a deeper meaning rather than the exact truth of a situation,” he says.

It's very much how Our Lady Of Alice Bhatti ends, the twist reframing everything we've once held to be true of our heroine. And there's a similar approach in his libretto for a new opera based on the life of Benazir Bhutto, created with composer Mohammed Fairouz. An ambitious undertaking – not just in terms of how it might go down in Pakistan – as Hanif admits he was new to the form.

"Mohammed Fairouz got in touch after reading my books," he says. "We'd discuss ideas and I decided to give it a go. So it was his idea, but I have always considered writing about the Bhutto story in the past – simply because it covers most of my grown-up life.

“It’s a steep learning curve, absolutely. But I think this is the perfect medium for the Bhutto story. It’s always seemed to me that whatever happened to that family was so over the top, on this grand scale. Huge passion, death after death after death – it’s the stuff of great opera.”

Perhaps because of his time as a pilot in the Pakistan air force or his fearless writing, Hanif has a slightly wry, devil-may-care attitude to life – there's plenty of laughter in our conversation from Berlin, where he's a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg. When I ask what his time there involves, he says with a chuckle: "Not much. I take some time off, come here and pursue my own personal project and get to hang out with other fellows."

And when I ask him why it's taken so long to write the follow-up to Our Lady Of Alice Bhatti, he's disarmingly honest. "I'm very lazy and slow. I kept starting and stopping. But finally it's finished now."

Of course, it's not as if Hanif has been sitting around. He regards himself as a working journalist and it seems like the concept of Red Birds may have kept him occupied, particularly when it seems to have such contemporary relevance.

“Sometimes, I think to myself, look, there are lots of good, nice, lovely people in the world, why don’t you concentrate on that?” he says. “So I try, and then on page five someone dies and I think, no, my beautiful world has come crashing down. It is difficult to escape from your reality.”

Mohammed Hanif is at the Book Forum, Sharjah Book Fair, today at 6pm. 

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The bio

Studied up to grade 12 in Vatanappally, a village in India’s southern Thrissur district

Was a middle distance state athletics champion in school

Enjoys driving to Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah with family

His dream is to continue working as a social worker and help people

Has seven diaries in which he has jotted down notes about his work and money he earned

Keeps the diaries in his car to remember his journey in the Emirates

What to watch out for:

Algae, waste coffee grounds and orange peels will be used in the pavilion's walls and gangways

The hulls of three ships will be used for the roof

The hulls will painted to make the largest Italian tricolour in the country’s history

Several pillars more than 20 metres high will support the structure

Roughly 15 tonnes of steel will be used

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

Company Profile 

Founder: Omar Onsi

Launched: 2018

Employees: 35

Financing stage: Seed round ($12 million)

Investors: B&Y, Phoenician Funds, M1 Group, Shorooq Partners

ENGLAND SQUAD

For Euro 2024 qualifers away to Malta on June 16 and at home to North Macedonia on June 19:

Goalkeepers Johnstone, Pickford, Ramsdale.

Defenders Alexander-Arnold, Dunk, Guehi, Maguire, Mings, Shaw, Stones, Trippier, Walker.

Midfielders Bellingham, Eze, Gallagher, Henderson, Maddison, Phillips, Rice.

Forwards Foden, Grealish, Kane, Rashford, Saka, Wilson.

WHAT IS THE LICENSING PROCESS FOR VARA?

Vara will cater to three categories of companies in Dubai (except the DIFC):

Category A: Minimum viable product (MVP) applicants that are currently in the process of securing an MVP licence: This is a three-stage process starting with [1] a provisional permit, graduating to [2] preparatory licence and concluding with [3] operational licence. Applicants that are already in the MVP process will be advised by Vara to either continue within the MVP framework or be transitioned to the full market product licensing process.

Category B: Existing legacy virtual asset service providers prior to February 7, 2023, which are required to come under Vara supervision. All operating service proviers in Dubai (excluding the DIFC) fall under Vara’s supervision.

Category C: New applicants seeking a Vara licence or existing applicants adding new activities. All applicants that do not fall under Category A or B can begin the application process through their current or prospective commercial licensor — the DET or Free Zone Authority — or directly through Vara in the instance that they have yet to determine the commercial operating zone in Dubai. 

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

Long Shot

Director: Jonathan Levine

Starring: Charlize Theron, Seth Rogan

Four stars

Water waste

In the UAE’s arid climate, small shrubs, bushes and flower beds usually require about six litres of water per square metre, daily. That increases to 12 litres per square metre a day for small trees, and 300 litres for palm trees.

Horticulturists suggest the best time for watering is before 8am or after 6pm, when water won't be dried up by the sun.

A global report published by the Water Resources Institute in August, ranked the UAE 10th out of 164 nations where water supplies are most stretched.

The Emirates is the world’s third largest per capita water consumer after the US and Canada.

MATCH INFO

Uefa Champions League semi-final, first leg
Bayern Munich v Real Madrid

When: April 25, 10.45pm kick-off (UAE)
Where: Allianz Arena, Munich
Live: BeIN Sports HD
Second leg: May 1, Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

MATCH INFO

Real Madrid 2

Vinicius Junior (71') Mariano (90+2')

Barcelona 0

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3

Director: James Gunn

Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper

Rating: 4/5

The Saga Continues

Wu-Tang Clan

(36 Chambers / Entertainment One)

In the Restaurant: Society in Four Courses
Christoph Ribbat
Translated by Jamie Searle Romanelli
Pushkin Press

Common OCD symptoms and how they manifest

Checking: the obsession or thoughts focus on some harm coming from things not being as they should, which usually centre around the theme of safety. For example, the obsession is “the building will burn down”, therefore the compulsion is checking that the oven is switched off.

Contamination: the obsession is focused on the presence of germs, dirt or harmful bacteria and how this will impact the person and/or their loved ones. For example, the obsession is “the floor is dirty; me and my family will get sick and die”, the compulsion is repetitive cleaning.

Orderliness: the obsession is a fear of sitting with uncomfortable feelings, or to prevent harm coming to oneself or others. Objectively there appears to be no logical link between the obsession and compulsion. For example,” I won’t feel right if the jars aren’t lined up” or “harm will come to my family if I don’t line up all the jars”, so the compulsion is therefore lining up the jars.

Intrusive thoughts: the intrusive thought is usually highly distressing and repetitive. Common examples may include thoughts of perpetrating violence towards others, harming others, or questions over one’s character or deeds, usually in conflict with the person’s true values. An example would be: “I think I might hurt my family”, which in turn leads to the compulsion of avoiding social gatherings.

Hoarding: the intrusive thought is the overvaluing of objects or possessions, while the compulsion is stashing or hoarding these items and refusing to let them go. For example, “this newspaper may come in useful one day”, therefore, the compulsion is hoarding newspapers instead of discarding them the next day.

Source: Dr Robert Chandler, clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia

Zombieland: Double Tap

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Stars: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone

Four out of five stars 

Sanchez's club career

2005-2006: Cobreloa

2006-2011 Udinese

2006-2007 Colo-Colo (on loan)

2007-2008 River Plate (on loan)

2011-2014 Barcelona

2014–Present Arsenal

if you go

The flights

Emirates offer flights to Buenos Aires from Dubai, via Rio De Janeiro from around Dh6,300. emirates.com

Seeing the games

Tangol sell experiences across South America and generally have good access to tickets for most of the big teams in Buenos Aires: Boca Juniors, River Plate, and Independiente. Prices from Dh550 and include pick up and drop off from your hotel in the city. tangol.com

 

Staying there

Tangol will pick up tourists from any hotel in Buenos Aires, but after the intensity of the game, the Faena makes for tranquil, upmarket accommodation. Doubles from Dh1,110. faena.com

 

SPECS

Engine: 2-litre 4-cylinder petrol (V Class); electric motor with 60kW or 90kW powerpack (EQV)
Power: 233hp (V Class, best option); 204hp (EQV, best option)
Torque: 350Nm (V Class, best option); TBA (EQV)
On sale: Mid-2024
Price: TBA

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
Living in...

This article is part of a guide on where to live in the UAE. Our reporters will profile some of the country’s most desirable districts, provide an estimate of rental prices and introduce you to some of the residents who call each area home.

Company Profile

Company name: Cargoz
Date started: January 2022
Founders: Premlal Pullisserry and Lijo Antony
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 30
Investment stage: Seed

Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others


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