For some people, humanity is the biggest religion in the world. This teaches us to think beyond our cast and religion. Through this way, we would all be able to be the light in another person’s life. Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Muhammad Hanif is an effort to put this lesson into the lime. Now our world is a global village, but there is to some extent all the nations are not giving space to other nations. For all of us, the only important thing is our own self and things related to us.
Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, set in Karachi, Sacred Heart Hospital formerly recognized by the Catholic Church, in addition to led by a Catholic chief medical officer but staffed by Muslim doctors and nurses. Karachi is the place of different sects and creeds, but all there is no love and respect between these groups. From the very start, there is a tussle between different groups due to their different viewpoints. All the groups consider themselves as the superior nation and are not giving the position to other nations on the same ground.
The novel is a journey of a French colony girl from Alice Joseph Bhatti to Our Lady of Alice Bhatti. The novel centers on Alice Joseph Bhatti, a newly hired nurse who trained at Sacred Heart, but was forced to leave due to her outspoken Christian beliefs and a trumped up conviction of attempted murder. Alice Bhatti, the daughter of a part-time healer in the French Colony, untouchable Choorah among other Choorahs. Alice experiences the stigma of being an “untouchable”. Her reputation as a healer quickly spreads across and she is looked upon by many as a “holy spirit”. Later she is murdered by her suspicious husband in the hospital itself where she dies with the baby still in her arms. Although her father appeals to the highest authorities requesting them to consider her as a saint in lieu of her service to many needy patients, Alice does not receive any official recognition because of her “Choora” class.
The primary concern of the writer is to highlight the dark side of society. Alice joined Sacred hospital but before joining she’s just been released from the Borstal Jail. People never let such people live in society who once victimized by police. All this becomes more severe in the case of women. Same is the concept upon which this story line builds up.
Muhammad Hanif is the author of the acclaimed A Case of Exploding Mangoes. He is one of the writers who always spoke about the hot debates. He highlights the issues in his works which are not only related to Pakistan but the universal ones. There is always a conflict between different religions and followers of one religion never allow others to mix with them or even come closer to them. Alice is a Christian in an Islamic world, she’s attacked at nursing college by a group of Muslim girls for being a “kafir” and later jailed for an operational procedure gone wrong that was not her fault. She is sexually assaulted by a rich, gun-toting man from an “old money” family in the VIP room of a hospital, with a casualness which is sickening.
For Muhammad Hanif women are the strong enough to bear the entire burden. His all female characters are unique in one way or the other. Women are not the poor souls suffering all the time but they themselves are the torch bearers for many others. Our Lady of Alice Bhatti also depicts the same. Alice Bhatti is introduced as a strong woman, who is fighting against the chauvinistic society throughout her life. Bumping a doctor, slashing the penis of a ruffian elite are the most important examples of her courage and extraordinary valour but somewhere, Hanif has again stereotyped her through the politics of dependency. The male dominated society, where every male member is depicted as a killer, exploiter or an oppressor her lingering sense of insecurity brings her to choose one of these killers. All the tragedies in Alice’s life are making her stronger. Alice fights back against all injustices. She once fights back, attacking her assaulter with a razor. She had faced a lot of physical tortures and these tortures are printed on her body like a moon shaped scar of the bullet on her left cheek, a cut on her right eyebrow, a bite on her shoulder and sign of cigarette torture on the side of her left breast. Even Alice’s mother Margret Bhatti died, when was young, her mother’s death was not a natural death but a murder by bourgeoisie rapist. But she does not complain to God nor does she finger towards any person for her plight. She always praises “Yassoo” and feels a strange divine spell around her.
Sometimes there are not only challenges on one level but most of us have to face challenges on several levels. Along with other hurdles in her life, Alice’s love relationship was also a challenge for her. Teddy falls in love with Alice, who suddenly agrees to marry him after rejecting his initial advances. But as the novel advances readers can sense Teddy’s troubled activities with the G Squad. Teddy Butt pours one-liter Sulphuric acid on the face of Alice Joseph Bhatti. This excruciating occurrence gives her ticket to paradise. She climbs to Heaven with Holy Mother and does not experience the ill effects of the agony.
There is Sufism side of religion also in the novel. At the end Alice meets the Holy Spirit. “She hears a door creak behind her and she opens her teary eyes slowly. Before she can turn around she sees a little blood bubble pop out of the dead baby’s left nostril, then the toes on his right foot start twitching, as he is trying to walk in his death sleep.” The hearing of door creak indicates the presence of Holy Spirit in the room. Without a doubt God addressed the petition to God of Alice Joseph Bhatti.
Superstitions are also another dark side of most of the societies. Muhammad Hanif took a step in highlighting such superstitions of ignorant people. The news about infant’s birth reaches to the world like a wide spreading infection. The people come to see her amid her daytime obligation. They kiss her hands yet she doesn’t give them a chance to kiss her feet. In her absence, the patients also detect her presence in the Sacred Heart Hospital for All Ailments. Alice is praised as a holy person in the letter of Joseph Bhatti thusly: “My daughter did not suffer the pain that her estranged husband meant to cause her by pouring half a liter of sulphuric acid on her angelic face. Instead, she ascended to heaven with our Holy Mother.”
Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is a reverberating affirmation of Mohammed Hanif’s blessings of narrating and of extremely sharp social parody. Hanif’s shows the reader how Alice adjusts to the serious choking influences of her life…some of them peculiar and others social. At the end, Alice Bhatti is stripped off her identity completely by Muhammad Hanif. Alice returns in the real world as a strong female figure breaking all the pre-established stereotypes of a woman but Hanif‘s Alice Bhatti cannot leave the Horror land as an alive soul, a passive woman who questions the tyrannies of the society but unable to defend herself at the end.