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When Fatima held everyone’s gaze

columns Updated: Apr 26, 2010 17:16 IST
Khushwant Singh

"I have been to dozens of book launches, but I have yet to see one on as grand a scale as this one,” said my daughter Mala Dayal as she came home from the launch of Fatima Bhutto’s Songs of Blood and Sword (Penguin Viking). She continued “There must have been nearly 1,000 guests; it was a packed house. On the stage sat William Dalrymple in white kurta-pyjama and the Bhutto girl. She is a stunner. She was very craftily dressed to please her Indian audience and also maintain her Pakistani identity. She was draped in a sari instead of salwar-kameez and wore a red bindi on her forehead. That warmed the hearts of her Indian audience. Her sari was green — the colour of Pakistan. She spoke in flawless English about her country.”

My daughter had not read her book. No one in the audience had till after the launch. But some of her history is known. She introduces herself on book jacket in a few lines printed in red:

Grand-daughter to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto — executed 1979

Niece to Shah Nawaz Bhutto — murdered 1985

Daughter of Mir Murtaza Bhutto — assassinated 1996

Niece to Benazir Bhutto — assassinated 2007

On these four skeletons Fatima Bhutto fleshes out the saga of the Bhuttos.

Their forefather Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto, Diwan of Junagarh, migrated back to his ancestral town, Garhi Khuda Baksh in district Larkana. His son Zulfiqar Ali rose to power in Pakistan before being hanged. Zulfiqar’s daughter Benazir out-manoeuvred her brother to grab her father’s political legacy and acquired vast amounts of real estate in Europe and America, to which her husband Asif Ali Zardari added a lot more. He came to be known as ‘Mr 10 per cent’ because he is said to have charged this as commission for brokering deals between the government and investors.

The assassins of Benazir Bhutto remain unidentified. But Fatima has named Asif Ali Zardari for four murders and having himself acquitted by a subservient judiciary. She has invited trouble, as if she harbours a death wish. She is as gutsy as she is beautiful.

She did me the honour of calling on me before she took her flight to Karachi. I could not take my eyes off her. I kept gazing at the pin-head of a diamond sparkling on the left side of her nose and her long jet-black curly hair falling on her shoulders. I hope I see her at least once more before my time is up.

Fatima ends her book in memorable prose: “Amidst all this madness, all these ghosts and memories of times past, it feels like the world around me is crumbling slowly, flaking away. Sometimes when it is late at night, I feel my chest swell with a familiar anxiety. I think at these times, that I have no more place in my heart for Pakistan. I cannot love it any more. I have to get away from it for anything to make sense, nothing here ever does. But when the hours pass, and as I ready myself for sleep as the light filters through my windows, I hear the sound of those mynah birds. And I know I could never leave.”

Incidentally, I also added a new word to my vocabulary which fits both Pakistan and India. It is ‘saprophytic’, which means feeding on decaying organic matter.

Both nations rely on all that is rotten in their past.

All that went wrong

Sania’s marriage,
Shah Rukh’s statement,
Husain’s paintings,
Something’s terribly amiss.
You should have known better, Sania,
Than to choose a Pakistani.
Shah Rukh, how could you even
In word support Pakistan?
Husain, your vision of India is flawed.
Venerable old Mr. Thackeray
Had to kindly step in to stop this
lunacy of sleeping — oops, sorry! —
Supping with the Pakis.

(Contributed by Sami Rafiq, Aligarh)

Three imponderables

If swimming is a good exercise to stay fit, why are whales fat?
Shall I say that there is racial discrimination in chess as the white piece always moves first!!
Why does a round pizza come in a square box?

(Contributed by JP Singh, Waterford, Ireland)

The views expressed in this column are personal