My dear friends, it is time once again to bring out our Ghalib. I confess that as we try to make sense of the spiralling series of events that threaten to disintegrate our nation (Pakistan on brink of civil war scream the newspaper headlines when I wake up this morning) it is only Ghalib who manages to put into words our combined heart ache
Dard-e- dil likhoo kab tak jaoon un ko dikhlaoo Ungliyan figar apnee khama-khoon-chuka apna (Ghalib).
Translated as, and very loosely translated as, by me “When do I stop writing of the pain that wrenches my heart. Should I show my Beloved these bruised fingers of mine—the writing-reed that drips of my blood?”
So I ask of you how much blood has to flow in this long night of ours, for how long do the blood-shot eyes of my compatriots beseech of the heavens for dawn to come for them? Others in this era of globalization have articulated it in the very New York words of “Today we are all Bhuttos”. Or borrowing from the People Party’s jiyalas rallying cry of Zinda Hai Bhutto (Bhutto is alive, Bibi is alive).
We all remain conflicted on the issue of how we viewed her over the years, as one can conclude from the tone of obits and elegies appearing in the global media; hopefully history will judge her with fewer contradictions. Benazir, may her soul rest in peace, was a complicated person therefore making it not so simple a task to explain what she meant for us in the end. But undoubtedly, united we stand in our immense grief regarding her untimely demise.
Others can explain it as perhaps her mercurial personality, for she seems to shift form in my memory of her. I remember her sedate self as she called on the then President (Ghulam Ishaq Khan) to be finally invited upon to form government in 1988 and then the youthful exuberance as she literally bounded up the steps to be sworn in. Perhaps it could be that this period overlapped with my generation getting into our teens, a time of high spirits. And that this period of youthful enthusiasm coincided with the shedding of the dark clouds of the dour Zia era and the promise of a better tomorrow made us cry tears of happiness as we saw someone young, female, and fearless representing us on the global scene. Over the years when there were high points and low in her liaison with the Pakistani public, it is this moment that I used to come back to. I would rant and rave at her image as I cried at you, how could you let our generation down, let me down. Yeats-like I would implore of her the memory of a period when loyal devotees like me would have mused
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
And it was the spectre of these dreams being trampled that infuriated us so, our disillusionment of her perhaps coinciding again of our generation reaching an age when the world asked of us to be more pragmatic and to forget the romanticism of our youth. But even then, amongst these entire allegations, I have to admit that we were idealistic enough to consider her till the very end the only hope for secular politics in our country. And as some write there was still the romance of the old liberal progressive PPP ideas when we heard her speak. And for all that we criticized her of, we know that she would never have been guilty of furthering extremism and violence as others who profess to be enlightened and moderate have been. We all have had our problems with her and hers but we have to admit that a lot that we cherish today, to be comfortable with our own understanding of religion, our personal lifestyles and life choices, and the fact that we find certain actors on the political scene and on the streets problematic are in somehow linked to her. We all know very well the horrors her detractors unleased on us!
What irked her adversaries so? Amongst the other tensions between her foes and her, one relates to the particular class politics at place, all adding further dimensions to what irked her enemies as their perceived subordination. The question of class has been subtly raised by Bhutto in her interviews and confidences to the press and her colleagues, therefore, there needs to be some kind of understanding of the influence it had on her adversaries.
One could see a constant refrain in her interviews when questioned on her alleged financial misdemeanours or of her turning a blind eye towards when it came to certain members of her family and coterie. She would subtly refer to her “bloodline” (more recently in the Geo program “ek din”) and financial well being (it was very God of Small Things..Loved From the Beginning, Moneyed from the Beginning).She was very tactfully distinguishing herself from others in her country and particularly those benefiting from MilBus and other earlier adventures. In her interview there was a clear definition of a difference that she wanted to draw attention to between the urbane, sophisticated, well brought-up, educated background (that was hers) from that of her critics who had raised these allegations. The disparity and level of in the “lesser” social class (as in nouveau riche, unexposed to the outside world) that was her rivals’ (whether from the military or the foes turned friends), each life world with its own aesthetics and ethics. I feel this is what made her adversaries envious of her. Yes I admit that there was animosity because of the oppositional political struggle they were involved in, but at some level there was a class resentment at place which translated in a love/hate relationship where Bhutto was involved. The poor had no such problems, for them she was the Lady Benefactress, the Deliverer of the blight of their poverty, jobs for their children, food in their bellies. Her political enemies envied her of her grace, her innate confidence, and knowledge of her place in the world, a self-assurance that came naturally to her. A level of articulation and effective communication (the kind of skills that do not come after years of English language training and public speaking tutorials living in exile or at the PMA). They wanted to emulate her which would mirror in their aspiration towards being seen as foreign educated (hence sending their progeny to certain institutions where colleagues tell me their famous fathers would come with cheque books trying to buy their sons’ way in), of acquiring and building family estates amongst an illusion of a family manor ala Naudero, desires of faux ancestral homes which seem pretty fantastic now that I write these words.