Reginald Massey FRSA, is an authority on the culture, religion, music and dance of India. Some of his books are standard works and used by international bodies such as New York's Lincoln Center. In 2002 he delivered the keynote address to inaugurate the Indian Classical Dance Season at the Edinburgh Festival. He wrote and narrated the BBC's well known documentary on Kathakali, the dance drama of Kerala. Later he wrote and produced “Bangladesh I Love You”, a new style travel-docu that starred the boxing phenomenon Muhammad Ali. He has written for leading papers such as The Times and The Guardian and has been a critic of The Dancing Times of London for nearly four decades. [ Background of Reginald Massey FRSA , as compiled by the BBC.]
Fatima Bhutto, Jonathan Cape, London, 2010. £20.00
It says volumes about the subcontinental elite when it has to wash its dirty linen, particularly blood drenched domestic linen, in what they sanctimoniously insist is the decadent west. It is possible that water in the west, being infinitely cleaner, does a better job. This is not a new phenomenon. In earlier times it was said that Motilal, Jawaharlal’s haughty pater, used to send his suits and shirts to be dry cleaned and laundered in Paris. This was before father and son in nationalist fervour burnt their western clothes and donned homespun Gandhian garb. Even Jawaharlal, the prototypal Englishman, understood that you can’t convince the starving Indian peasant while dressed in your Savile Row suit and displaying your gold cuff links. But today the upwardly mobile in Delhi, Dhaka, Mumbai, Karachi, Lahore and Colombo, even Khatmandu, sport their Rolexes and Calvin Kleins with unashamed arrogance. This memoir is a prize picture of the malaise that affects the entire region.
Mind you, Fatima Bhutto (FB), a Barnard College girl, has much to complain and shout about and no publisher in Pakistan, where she is based, would risk his neck to publish her story. Asif Zardari (AB), known as ‘Mr Ten Percent’ and several other juicy epithets, who has cloaked himself in the convenient mantle of the grieving husband, is not a man who forgets insults. AZ has been accused of several scams and misdemeanours; he even, it is alleged, told a tale about his college degree.
It is no wonder that the Bhuttos have been likened to the Borgias by Bob Geldoff, the cursed house of Atreus of ancient Greece by Khushwant Singh and to the Jacobean tragedies by Max Hastings. Let me append another parallel. The Bhuttos are not unlike the Nehrus: Jawaharlal killed by the tragic failure of his India – China policy; his daughter Indira assassinated; her son Rajiv also assassinated; her wayward son Sanjay killed in a suspicious flying accident (at the time it was commented that Sanjay’s death was mourned the most by Mohammad Yunus, a long time friend of Sanjay’s mother). It is amazing, when one surveys the scene, how much the two foremost political families of the rival countries – India and Pakistan – have in common.
This family history inevitably ties up with happenings in Pakistan since ZAB joined the dictator Ayub’s cabinet. I can’t vouch for it but I’ve been told that
ZAB addressed the self-promoted Field Marshal as ‘Daddy’. ZAB’s, own father Shahnawaz Bhutto (Knight, Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire, Officer of the Order of the British Empire, etc.) had died in 1957 having amassed vast wealth apart from his inherited estates. The honours were bestowed on him by the British government for his loyalty and service. Sir Shahnawaz’s wife was one Begum Khurshid, the mother of ZAB. But who was she? Many claim that she was a low caste Hindu dancing girl named Lakhi Bai, a rare beauty, who hailed from the Parel district of Mumbai. She converted to Islam, became ‘Begum Khurshid’, and married her protector by whom she produced three sons and three daughters. The elder two sons died young, the second of cirrhosis of the liver. ZAB, her favourite, was the youngest son. FB confesses that ZAB’s elder brothers were Lotharios, in others words, libertines and womanisers. Apparently Lakhi Bai’s family and descendants still live in India.
Shahnawaz became Dewan of Junagadh (mis-spelt ‘Gunaghar’ in the book) which is now a part of India’s Gujarat State. FB has inserted an unintentional touch of humour here. ‘Gunaghar’ translates as ‘House of Sin’. However, what advice Shahnawaz gave his master the Nawab in 1947 is still not crystal clear. If the ruler had judiciously opted for India his descendants might still be living in the Junagadh palace. But the ruler emptied the treasury and scuttled off to Pakistan as did his Dewan soon after.
Roti! Kapra! Makaan! were heady slogans that the illiterate and gullible masses swallowed hook, line and sinker. But how much bread, clothing and housing was there actually delivered to the people of Pakistan? Indira Gandhi, ZAB’s counterpart in India, also took to sloganizing in a big way. To this day in both countries millions upon millions are denied even clean drinking water. So much for the Oxbridge educated socialists who lord it over their poverty stricken people.
FB endeavours to make a strong case for both ZAB and her father Murtaza, the elder of ZAB’s two sons from his second wife Nusrat, a glamorous Iranian. She claims, that her grandfather was a masterful tactician who steered Pakistan away from American domination and cultivated China. He took to wearing a Mao cap. However, after Pakistan’s humiliation by India in 1971, and the creation of Bangladesh, it was ZAB who charmed Indira Gandhi in a garden in Simla. He persuaded Gandhi to repatriate over 90,000 Pakistani POW’s without any loss of face to either her or Pakistan. Gandhi, then riding high as the empress of India, could afford to be generous to ZAB even though many Indians felt that she could have easily made ZAB sign on the dotted line and make him accept the Indo – Pak border moving nearer to Lahore by about ten miles.
Secondly, she could have insisted that ‘Azad Kashmir’ be handed to India and that Pakistan recognize unconditionally Kashmir as a part of India. ZAB, then fighting for his political life, would have had to consent because if he failed to get back the Pakistani POWs there was no future for him in Pakistan. The so-called ‘Simla Agreement’ was ZAB’s crowning achievement.
My late father was in Simla at the time and told me that the Pakistani delegation headed by ZAB flaunted themselves on the Mall in their black sherwanis and flowing white shalwars as if they owned the place. An official whom my father knew from his days in Lahore recognized my father and they started talking. He informed my father with a broad smile: ‘Massey Sahib, we vowed that we’d land in India one day. And here we are !’ ZAB, the instigator of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, had infected his team with the notion that they were the victors, not the defeated.
Arrogant in the extreme, the dapper ZAB was a Christ Church man with an Oxford degree. But he could be foul-mouthed, vindictive and vengeful. He personal posse, known as the Federal Security Force, sorted out those who had crossed his path. Also he could not hold his drink. At the same time he was extremely well read and an avid collector of books. His letters to Murtaza at Harvard are sage, well crafted pieces of prose and it’s a pleasure to read some of the examples that FB has quoted. They compare favourably with Nehru’s well known letters to his daughter. But if only he had followed his own advice. But who does? He came to a very sticky end. His hubris was his downfall.
Like father, like daughter. Benazir (‘Pinky’ to her doting father) cast herself as a latter day Joan of Arc and promptly fell out with her brother Murtaza. And thereby hangs the tale. In ordinary circumstances it was Murtaza, the elder son, who should have stepped into ZAB’s shoes. That was and still is the feudal custom in Pakistan. But he did not. You’ll have to read the book for a possible answer.
Murtaza and some of his guards were gunned down in Karachi not far from Clifton 70 and 71, the very posh addresses that the Bhuttos used as their Karachi town houses. FB was a girl then and she and her half-brother (son from her father’s second wife) heard the shooting while huddled together in trembling fear. That traumatic experience has obviously left its mark on FB. She is convinced that her aunt BB and her husband AB had a hand in the murder. Her father, she makes out, was a true socialist who believed that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had been hijacked by vadheras (feudal lords), rapacious industrialists and crooked politicians thanks to BB and AZ. Most interesting. And yet she confesses that her father was a dandy who when at Harvard did not know how to wash his own clothes in a washing machine. An American friend had to coach him in the mysteries of washing and ironing. We can only shed tears for the Third World’s spoilt and idle rich.
BB’s younger sister Sanam lives in London (where else?) in the same city where General Musharraf, the last military ruler of Pakistan, also flourishes. Sanam has lambasted FB’s book in a letter to Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English language paper. She writes: ‘My sister always said that our family should not blame Fatima for the outrageous accusations she makes against us. Benazir said: Don’t blame the child, blame those who poison her. But Fatima Bhutto is not a child any more, she is a grown up woman and at some point we must be held accountable for what we do and what we say. Her book is an assault on my family, on reality and, above all, on the truth.’
Strong words which must be taken seriously. But not quite convincing either.
The truth, after all, has many versions. FB’s brilliant book is by no means the last will and testament of the Bhuttos; many more will be written in the years to come. Let us not forget that the young Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, AZ’s son and heir and co-chairman with AZ of Pakistan’s ruling party is at Oxford, at his grandfaher’s college, being groomed for a future role. Just like Sonia Gandhi’s son Rahul in Delhi whose father, grandmother and great grandfather were Prime Ministers of the ‘world’s largest democracy’.
This book has its errors certainly but it’s a rollicking read. Highly recommended to all those who wish to get some idea of what Pakistan is all about.