Watching her breeze into the hotel lobby and seat herself at a table at the coffee shop — almost as though on cue — you cannot tell her apart from the other guests.
The Bhutto aura does not —as yet, perhaps — waft around Fatima. Her handshake is firm.
“People seem to be surprised, disappointed, when I tell them that I have an ordinary life,” she begins in English that sounds American — picked up, probably, during her life as a student at the University of Colombia. “But I do have a normal life. I don’t live like James Bond, you know.”
It is a little wilting to hear that from the 28-year-old who comes from a family that has seen more violent deaths than natural ones. The journalist, true to family tradition, completed her education at Oxford and is the granddaughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, daughter of Murtaza Ali and niece of Benazir.
Her memoir, her “journey of remembering”, Songs of Blood and Sword (Penguin, Rs 699) was released in Mumbai on Tuesday evening.
“She [Benazir] was 52 when she was killed. That’s one of the oldest anyone got in the family and that is disturbing.” Her voice, though, does not betray any emotion apart from weariness of the “whirlwind” that her book – the first from the political and feudal family pulled apart by power struggles between Murtaza and Benazir – has pushed her into.
The violence that has trickled through the branches of the Bhutto family tree is one, she thinks, that has defined the politics of Pakistan.
“It is really not about ethnic diversity or unity. India is far more diverse ethnically. But it is the way in which matters are dealt with in Pakistan that makes the difference. It does something to psyche of the country.”
And yet, Fatima repeats, none of the political drama and upheaval — to which the Bhutto family contributed enormously, Benazir was the only prime minister elected twice to office — touched her and her brother as children.
“To us, our father was just Papa. He was enormously fun at home and had the ability to keep out what was happening all around us. He was a great mimic. And his favourite was Margaret Thatcher. You know, with that slow drawl?”
But the ghosts were there all right: “That we were in exile, that we couldn’t go back to Pakistan… the feeling was like the third person at the table.” Returning to Karachi was not a life that could shake free its past either. The weight of the family’s legacy sat as heavy on the children as pieces of furniture that could not be touched, even moved, without permission from her aunts. To her, her residence in Karachi is “70 Clifton”. It is not ‘home’.
“There was a lot of baggage that came along with the house. The imprisonments, the murders…,” she says, as her index finger — and its impeccably manicured scarlet tip – circles over the salt cellar and her ever-restless eyes move from the table top to the leg of the chair next to us to the waiters hovering discreetly in the distance. “We had to work very hard to make it home.”
Photographs in her memoir show — like most photographs of most families — smiling siblings and happy parents on holiday, at home. It is only when you identify John F. Kennedy in one and Chou en-Lai in another that you realise it is really not just any other family.
And the fact that most of those smiling faces had their lives abruptly — and violently — cut short, shows that all happy journeys don’t have happy endings.