The catch-22 of the presentation of a statement that is defensive in its connotation: damned if you speak, damned if you don’t. Or as Mehr Tarar mentions in one of her articles: “How much is to be added to minimise the damage that’s already been done to your life, your reputation, your sanity?” The Pakistani columnist who became a known face in India after the death of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s wife Sunanda Pushkar, tells HT in an interview about how she regrets breaking her silence and in turn how life has changed post the incident. In Kasauli, to attend the Khushwant Singh Litfest and to talk about her new book, Leaves from Lahore, Tarar says the warmth shown by Indians on such occasions is what keeps her going.
What made you pen down Leaves from Lahore?
It is simply a compilation of about 84 print articles, blogs and essays, especially those that connect India and Pakistan. It starts with one about my son. As I have mentioned in the text itself, they represent the ideas and ideals of a normal, regular person who exists in a world that is deeply scarred, yet undergoing a contsant process of healing, discovery and rehabilitation. I am no celebrity or journalist… and hence the book reveals the thought processes of that ‘ordinary’ person. I write about Piku, about Bajrangi Bhaijaan, even the Anushka and Virat linkup. While working on one of these articles, the Har-Anand publishers made contact with me one day and that is how the book happened.
There are some references to the Tharoor episode in the text, be it his ‘cool words’ or ‘mesmerising voice’. Was it a conscious call?
The book mentions him in passing, and ideally I would have wanted to stay away from mentioning any of this but like I said before, these are a collection of certain articles that I wrote and since the incident did have an impact in my life, it is there. It is not about Tharoor or Sunanda, but about how the media trial affected me.
For someone whose name has been at the heart of the Tharoor storm, has life changed for the Pakistani columnist?
Of course it did. The incident shook me in ways more than one. Except for my son who didn’t get affected by this because he knew this wasn’t true, it bothered others including my relatives and friends in Pakistan, especially my nieces whom I am very close to. I remember when I received the news about Sunanda’s death from a friend in Delhi, I went into depression and didn’t eat anything for three days, because I never thought this could be the intensity of the situation. Being bombarded by TV channels, reporters; a home-oriented woman like me didn’t know how to deal with it. Even though I have been projected as an elitist and someone who loves partying, I like being home and writing, there is no office that I go to. I love being with my son and meeting the few close friends that I have, once in a while.
In your text you claim that ‘ you can only save yourself the harm of being attacked online by keeping quiet. Once you counter-attack, you become an accomplice in your own virtual lynching,’ do you blame the media for what happened?
You watch your life being discussed by strangers who do not have the remotest idea of who you are. At first I wanted to remain quiet, but there came a point where I realised I needed to speak up. It, sure, was like a media trial. Either way, you’re doomed. I regret having opened my mouth because no matter what I say they won’t believe me. So, I might have as well been silent and maintained my peace and let people make all the conjectures they wanted to. However, when a Shobha De or a Nalini Singh accuse you and make strong statements, you want to question them about their own lives. Talking about social media, I have always been active on Twitter. Infact, I don’t watch TV and hence whatever updates I get are always via the people I am following on Twitter. Many people like sharing pictures and I, too, love commenting or sharing my views on things. But one has to be cautious about someone’s privacy, let alone messing with facts.
At the same, there are also people like the lady in the audience who interrupted when the moderator questioned you about Tharoor during a session on your book, saying this wasn’t a space for personal questions at the litfest. Was that consoling?
To be honest, I was very touched that there are people like her in India who respect a woman’s privacy, but I went ahead and answered the question regardless, because I am not lying. At this fest I have made many friends. There have been so many instances where people who were prejudiced about me realised how harmless I was after meeting me (laughs). I feel overwhelmed by the warmth I get by Indians regardless of what happened and that keeps me going. Om Puri ji was so affectionate towards me because he considers me as another friend from Pakistan.
About the book
Leaves from Lahore, as the author claims, is a compilation of Tarar’s essays that were published as op-ed articles and blogs in different publications and their online portals. The subjects range from responses to certain personal incidents to in-depth observations, reactions and analyses of contemporary issues in Pakistan to perspective on social issues, and to commentary on popular cinema.