“I think, at these times, that I have no more place in my heart for Pakistan. I cannot love it more I have to get away from it for anything to make sense; nothing here ever does. But then the hours pass, and as I ready myself for sleep as the light fi lters in through my windows, I hear the sound of those mynah birds. And I know I could never leave.” Fatima Bhutto
Born in Afghanistan in 1982, Fatima Bhutto studied at Columbia University and the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Her heart, however, lies in Pakistan, where she lives in Karachi.
“I’m against America’s imperial tendencies, their violation of my country’s sovereignty, of their constant (and historical) penchant for backing corrupt and criminal governments around the world”
Excited about this opportunity to connect with Fatima Bhutto, many readers wrote in with questions they wanted us to ask. Below are highlights from that interview. All questions are from readers, some anonymous and some by name.
Libas: What made you want to write a book about your family and your life?
Fatima Bhutto: Memory. Milan Kundera once said that the struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. There is a great justice in memory, in archiving, in refusing the dictates of silence.
L: Why did you choose this title: “Songs of Blood and Sword”?
FB: It’s from a poem by Khusro Golsorkhi, an Iranian poet and marxist who was killed by the Shah’s regime due to his vocal criticism of the regime’s corruption and violence.
L: How did you fi nd writing the book? It’s very fluid and honest.
FB: It was easy in that I promised myself I would write honestly and openly, I wouldn’t self censor; once I did that things came naturally.
L: What was it like writing about friends/family/people you know?
FB: That was difficult. It’s always hard to distance yourself from people you know and love, but even harder to write about people who were complex beings with very strong personalities.
L: Has anyone you’ve written about gotten angry?
FB: Those who benefited financially and politically from my family’s name or from my aunt and her husband’s graft certainly have, but that was to be expected. The usual suspects, basically.
L: Some pages of your book are scorching. You’ve led a challenging life, do you think you are
an angry person?
FB: Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not an angry person. That said, corruption, injustice,
government sponsored violence and malfeasance, I think those things should always be
L: What do you want your readers to get out of this reading experience?
FB: That isn’t for me to say, reading is a democratic exercise – I hope the readers find a narrative that speaks to them though.
L: Are you still seeking justice for the murder of your dad; what are you doing to that end?
FB: Yes, it’s a battle we have been fighting for the last 14 years.
L: Some people have accused you and your book of being paranoid. What would be your response to them?
FB: Paranoid of what? That the man who leads my country was standing trial in four murder cases, including my father’s, before he ascended to the office of the presidency? That he was facing corruption cases in the UK, Spain, France – not counting a conviction in Switzerland – amounting, according to The New York Times, to somewhere between two to three billion dollars? That’s reality, sadly, not paranoia.
L: What is your clear-cut philosophy for life and what would you say to guide young people wanting to live an honest, soul-fulfilling life?
FB: I like what my father and his friend Ashiq Jatoi used to say – it’s simple. You need clean hands, a warm heart, and a cool mind.
L: Would you consider entering politics? And if so, why or why not?
FB: No. You know why.
L: If not you, then who do you think should be the political head of Pakistan?
FB: Out of 180 million people, I’m sure we can find some new options.
L: What is your vision for the future of Pakistan?
FB: A transparent, sovereign, just country where politics serves the people whose civil liberties and human rights can no longer be eroded by unmandated rulers.
L: Our reader Chris Jones wanted us to ask, “What are the priorities as you see them for Pakistan’s involvement in the renewable energy space?”
FB: I’m from a pretty green family, Chris. That we haven’t yet put efforts behind renewable energy – that solar or wind energy isn’t being tapped in a country that suffers 24-hour blackouts (but is a nuclear country) frustrates me to no end.
L: Our reader Ambreen Rahman, who attended Barnard College, wanted us to ask, “What was it like studying at Columbia (Barnard) and living in NYC?”
FB: I had professors at Barnard who changed my life, it was an overwhelmingly inspirational experience. New York, at the time that I was there, was going through very diffi cult transitions, I was a sophomore when 9/11 happened, and I’m fortunate to have seen the survival and resilience of New Yorkers and the anti-war movement that they pushed throughout a city that might have otherwise asked for vengeance.
L: You’ve been described as a ‘classic third world liberal, with a reflex against America’. Please comment.
FB: There’s no such thing as a classic reflex when you watch America and its unmanned predator drones invade your airspace – with the complicity of the government – kill your citizens and then answer no questions. I’m against America’s imperial tendencies, their violation of my country’s sovereignty, of their constant (and historical) penchant for backing corrupt and criminal governments around the world. I’m not against America. Or Americans. And I’m proud to be a liberal, nothing wrong with that.
L: You’ve said, “I think I’m prominent enough. I wouldn’t want to get more prominent.” Do you
think you are so prominent because of your family history or your own vocal commentary on it?
FB: You tell me. I try not to spend time thinking about my prominence.
L: Do you fear for your life? Your family history is full of blood and sorrow. Do you think of leaving Pakistan? I know you end the book saying you feel you never could, but does that answer keep changing or is Pakistan always home?
FB: Rumi once said that though my travels take me all over the world, my compass always points towards home. Karachi is and always will be my home. There may be times I am separated from it, but it is the country under my skin. My answer doesn’t change, the fact that there are those in power who will stop at nothing to obscure the truth, that does put me at risk. But I believe that silence is more dangerous in countries like ours than speaking out is.
L: Our reader Noelle Ibrahim wanted us to ask: “How does she see the relationship between the lives of poets and artists who pursue and express their experience of the truth and the lives of politicians who must manage diverse views, often in direct opposition to their own, in order to generate consensus and direct political action?”
FB: Poets are honest. That’s the hugest difference. Politicians depend on votes, poets survive on integrity, that’s the crux of the difference as I see it, Noel. That said, political activists and those outside the stranglehold of establishment politics have a freedom and independence that politicians, power politicians with capital Ps, forsake very easily. I don’t mean to tarnish everyone with one brush, of course there are very notable exceptions.
L: Our reader Liz Chong wanted us to ask: “How do you feel about the corruption that your aunt and uncle were embroiled in and their dishonouring your family name?”
FB: They dishonoured Pakistan and its people first and foremost. That, more than anything that their corruption did to my family’s name, is unacceptable. Corruption, more than anything else, has destroyed so much of our beautiful, brave country.
L: In your book, you romanticize things a fair bit. Was that conscious on your part or is it your raw viewpoint?
FB: What do I romanticize? Clearly your answer then is the latter, I spoke openly and honestly about issues very close to me, I do hope they appear as passionately as I feel about them.
L: Do you get sick of people offering you their condolences for the assassination of your aunt Benazir? You weren’t exactly close.
FB: No, Benazir’s death was a great shock to the nation. She was a figure who dominated Pakistan for many years.
L: Our reader Fatimah Baeshen wanted us to ask, “How do you assess Pakistan’s current interpretation of Islam and progress? That is, do you consider the concept of an ‘Islamic modernity’ in this Islamic republic to have successfully manifested in various aspects of society (for example economically – given that Pakistan has one of the very few Islamic economies around the world or even with respect to gender politics – as in the case of women holding high official positions)?”
FB: So long as Pakistan keeps the Hudood laws and the blasphemy laws on the books, we cannot claim to be progressives or modern Muslims in any sense.
L: Our reader Sabeena Jalal wanted us to ask, “Where do you draw your strength from? Would
you say it is inherited or what do you think?”
FB: My mother. My two brothers. From the many, many people who live with violence every day and who persevere and survive.
L: Our reader Sabeen Obaidullah wanted us to ask, “Have you ever thought of changing your
name…it’s not that hard!”
FB: Why would I change my name? My actions, work and ideas defi ne me, not anything else.
L: Our reader Kelly Hoey wanted us to ask, “What’s the question you want to be asked or wish people would ask you?”
FB: To speak more about writing, rather than dynasty, that would be nice.
By T. U. Dawood
Twenty-seven-year-old Fatima Bhutto’s latest book “Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir” is full of both rage and respect. The author is angry at the world that killed her beloved father Mir Murtaza when she was just 14-years-old, and she’s simultaneously so respectful of his memory that at times she waxes poetic.
This dichotomy is the basis for the heart of the book and sets its tone as the focus shifts from Mir Murtaza’s desire to avenge the death of his father to his rivalry of his sister Benazir for their father’s political legacy.
Murtaza is portrayed as passionate and idealistic while Benazir is presented as calculating and ruthless. Although Fatima did not actually witness any of the key political events that are the focus of the book, she provides a detailed narrative from secondhand accounts of his friends and colleagues
She portrays her grandfather as a demanding, ambitious patriarch. Her description of her father who she calls affectionately ‘Papa’ is romanticized, full of love and protection of his memory. In many ways, this is an ode to Murtaza, a monument to someone she idolized. In reality, Murtaza was like all of us, a flawed human being. Believed to have had an affair with glamorous Greek Della Roufogalis, widely accused for the murder that followed the Pakistan Airlines plane hijacking, accused by many of being an aspiring terrorist and so forth, he was much more complex than this memoir hints at.
Her writing of her aunt Benazir, however, transforms from pure loving as a child to damning as a woman. Her disdain coats her words as she even derides Benazir’s reading tastes, capturing a different side to the former Prime Minister when she writes of her love of Mills & Boon romances, and her coveting of Versailles.
Fatima recounts two key moments in her aunt’s life: the first being her decision to participate in the 1986 elections, and the second being her marriage in 1987 to Asif Ali Zardari, a man Fatima clearly loathes.
The fascinating evolution of her relationship and feelings toward her aunt is a key element of this book and is the essence of its Good versus Evil ideology
In fact, it was Zardari’s acquittal in 2009 of the policemen accused of killing Fatima’s father that prompted her to write this book in order to present and publicize evidence correcting the official version of Murtaza’s death.
The author also blames the mysterious poisoning of her uncle Shahnawaz in 1985 to Benazir, the CIA and the Zia regime. The charm of “Songs of Blood and Sword” is the human element Fatima reintroduces into the politically-charged remembrances of the deaths of Zulfikar, Shahnawaz, Murtaza, and Benazir. Fatima recreates Nusrat Bhutto’s heartbreak at the death of her youngest son and relates how her mother Ghinwa wept at her husband’s bloody deathbed.
Fatima is very conscious of her legacy. It is part of her world consciousness, her relationships with people and her understanding of life. At one point, she writes of the several days it took British officers doing a census in Sind during the Raj just to detail the Bhutto lands.
She is also conscious how in other ways she does not come from an ordinary family. Descriptions abound of how the family communicated through smuggled notes and whispered messages in the late 1970s and how they tormented each other with political machinations by the 1990s. We learn of how the brothers kept vials of poison with them to kill themselves with in case they were apprehended by government agents; sort of a cross between Hamlet and the Addam’s family.
Fatima stands by her claims in “Songs of Blood and Sword,” insisting that all the details and anecdotes in the book have been double-checked over the six years it took her to write this memoir. She has even included 15 pages of sources listed at the end of the book.
There is passion and sincerity fueling this memoir and the author’s sincerity can be felt on every page, with every word. It couldn’t have been an easy book to write, but it’s clear it was an important one for her.
Fatima is the quintessential poor little heiress, but one with talent and spunk.
A journalist by profession, Fatima’s writing is lucid and engaging; this is not a book you will want to put down. It’s also a potent book full of secrets and nuggets of information that make it pertinent and vital.
While it is on the surface a cathartic need-based book, in reality it is fuel to an even greater fire. That being said, it’s well worth reading and very readable.
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