Friday, April 16, 2010

Songs, Blood and Sword... Untruths, Half-truths and Fiction. (Part I)

If you are confused and/or are wondering... what kind of a topic/title this is for a post... you are not to blame. The first four words refer to a newly released book... which is being touted as a 'must read'. The author of this book is the (now famous) niece of her illustrious (and assassinated) aunt... the latter being the former's point of reference worldwide/to the international audience/readers.
No prizes for guessing... I am referring to Fatima Bhutto and her much-talked about memoir/book on the Bhuttos: "Songs of Blood and Sword - A Daughter's Memoir". Fatima, now 27, seeks in this book to raise a monument to the father (Mir Murtaza Bhutto) she idolised. Her work is emotional, partial, naive and wholly unreliable about who really did what to whom. The credibility of the book really is suspect, e.g., her deceased Uncle - Shahnawaz Bhutto - who was mysteriously found dead (due to poisoning in France) in 1985 - an event in which erstwhile dictator Zia-ul-Haq's/Pakistani intelligence setup's involvement has long been suspected. Fatima now sees the hand of her (murdered) aunt behind her Uncle's 'suicide'. Throughout the book, no conspiracy theory is ever thought too outrageous to be discounted, and much of the testimony dredged up by Fatima's research is clearly partisan.

Nevertheless, for the past several days excerpts from this book is being published on the net and in the papers... continously. And mind you... at home we read four newspapers everyday - including The Times of India and The Hindu. Plus have been reading/watching her unending 'interviews' on television and in the press.

The Bhuttos are Pakistani aristocracy, feudal landlords for centuries... often dubbed as "the Kennedys of Pakistan". The author tells proudly of a British officer conducting a census in Sindh during the British Raj, who told a subordinate: "Call me when you've finished detailing the Bhutto land." Several days later he asked why he had heard nothing, and was told: "I'm still working on the Bhutto lands." Fatima who is aggressively promoting her book... got a rousing welcome in India for her book launch and in a bid to tap the huge market, she played to the gallery by wearing a saree and a bindi. She was on a book tour in namma Bangalore/Bengaluru as well on April 5... but I missed the event... due to my current health condition.

Well, let me also state... if you are someone with a keen interest in history/current affairs/politics and/or are a book reader... this series of posts may hold your interest. I intend to review this book by delving into history... particularly our sub-continental history, both contemporary and from another era. So, read on...

'If there is anyone born to write this story, it is Fatima', proclaims the New Delhi-based British journalist and author Billy D on the cover of her new book. This is the same gentleman who is reportedly close to a certain pair of brothers (in the 'land of the pure'), one of whom is renowned for his love for nihari and paya... and is currently touted as the 'most popular political leader'. This is also the Billy D whose annual 'Literature Festival' @ Jaipur is very popular. This is where he unveiled Fatima as the 'star attraction'... in Jan '08... soon after Benazir's assassination. Billy D concedes that he met the lady (Benazir) only once. That one meeting he has used with variations to hawk in various articles. Like the legacy of all historic figures, Benazir's legacy will also be a mixed one, but it should be presented in the context of Pakistan's realities, not without them. In his 1994 piece on Benazir, he made fun of her Urdu accent and found it strange that she should have liked a certain make of ice cream, which to him was proof enough that she was a 'feudal princess'. Indeed!

When it comes to invoking pathos, romanticising her father's life, glorifying his (questionable) legacy or retelling grandpa's (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto) political history, the daughter of Mir Murtaza Bhutto is, no doubt, the perfect candidate. Fatima's book is a cautionary tale designed to give the more controversial members of the first family (of Pakistan) a makeover and an aura of respectability. As expected, the book is a passionate argument against whatever her controversial father had been accused of, and, of course, this being Fatima Bhutto, she makes sure to every now and then ridicule her aunt, Benazir Bhutto, who, as a character in the book, is always lurking somewhere behind, manipulating, sulking and having a 'split personality'.

While the media... both domestic and international hangs on her every word, and asks her 'soft questions'... designed to reinforce the contents of her book; there is a 'collective amnesia' regarding her beloved father's activities and legacy. At least among a majority of the press/media that is. As to why this amnesia has suddenly been generated... my guess is as good as yours. As to why Fatima and her immediate family had remained dormant (vis-a-vis her father's murder) during the Nawaz Sharif years and most of Musharraf's dictatorship... I have no clue. She (and her immediate family) stirred to life and began regurgitating the familiar accusations (directed at Benazir and Zardari)... for the murder of her father, once it became clear that Benazir was returning to Pakistan... with or without Musharraf and his ruling clique's approval. Only this time Fatima's vitriolic outbursts actually found their way into the newspapers all over the world... especially the British and American press/media.

The London based Jemmy Goldylocks (or is it Jemmy K?) too joined in... posing variously as a journalist, political analyst and an expert on foreign policy/affairs especially with respect to South Asia/sub-continental politics. What were/are her bona fides for these various 'avatars'... I don't have a clue. In any case she called Benazir "a kleptocrat in a Hermes scarf"... which made it to the front pages of leading British newspapers. Coming from the heiress daughter of one of 20th century's most notorious corporate raiders... that was very 'rich' indeed. Jemmy and Fatima are buddies... and the former has even 'interviewed' (The Rebel Inheritor) the latter for Vogue - a fashion and lifestyle magazine. This I think should establish her credentials as a journalist... beyond a shred of doubt, no?

And Oh... she had even endorsed Fatima as the most suitable person to lead the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) - Pakistan's only national party with grassroots support - after Benazir's assassination... vouching for her abilities as an "established writer and political commentator". Fatima was/is not even a member of that party! Neither is Jemmy... although this hasn't stopped her or others from nominating its leadership. Such presumption when it comes to the PPP is in sharp contrast to the restraint regarding other political parties. Plus: Ms Goldylocks/K has the cheek to comment on 'death duties and family patronage'. She owes her lifestyle/position/job to her late father... wasn't he the one who chose to be flown around the world while on his death-bed... to avoid paying death duties? (You can read her piece at: If a Bhutto must run Pakistan, why not Fatima?)

Not to be outdone, her former husband Immy K... too joined in, and wrote (ghost written?) several articles denouncing Benazir. Needless to say they all found their way into the front pages of leading British and US newspapers... while Immy himself was showcased on every British and US news channel spouting his priceless pearls of wisdom. Currently... after his tremendous 'success' in domestic Pakistani politics... he is engaged in campaigning for his former brother-in-law - Zak Goldylocks - in the UK. The doting sister of Zak is doing her bit too (read it) and is being praised to the skies by the Telegraph. Naturally!

Immy is urging all Pakistanis and Muslims in Britain to support Zak's candidacy (for the Conservative Party) in Britain's upcoming elections (May '10)... because Zak is like a younger brother to him, and he (Immy) has checked him out and endorsed him. Immy claims that Zak is an anti-war candidate and had in fact paid for the television screens at the anti-war rally at Trafalgar Square prior to the Iraq War, and thus must be supported by the Muslims. Interestingly, Zak's opponent in the Richmond Park constituency, from where he intends to contest the election, is Susan Kramer, the incumbent from the Liberal Democrat Party.

For those unfamiliar with British politics, let me reproduce the party-based Iraq War vote count in the House of Commons: 139 Conservative Party candidates voted for the war, while only 15 opposed it; 244 Labour Party candidates voted for the war, while only 69 opposed it; but all 63 Liberal Democrat Party candidates voted against the war, with none supporting it. It is therefore clear that the Conservative Party is the most pro-war, as only 9.7 percent of its candidates opposed the war, in comparison to 22 percent of the Labour candidates and 100 percent of the Liberal Democrat candidates, thus making the Liberal Democrats the only anti-war party of the three mainstream parties.

Zak Goldylocks has been reported on in the British press for a variety of reasons including being expelled from school at the age of 17 because cannabis was allegedly found in his room, for having one of the costliest divorces in Britain, for avoiding millions of Pounds in British taxes by maintaining "non-domicile" status through offshore trusts set up by his father, and for rearing pigs at his organic farm in Devon.

How Immy Khan continues to mislead and what Zak is all about can be read in detail at: Who is Imran fooling?

This is the same man who went about claiming that the Pak cricket team lost the 1996 cricket world cup (could not defend the cup, that is) 'coz the PM of the country was a lady. And that this angered the Almighty... therefore, He 'punished' the inhabitants of the 'land of the puree'... with such a terrible 'shame and dishonour'. He said several other things and went ballistic. Spearheaded protest marches (along with the 'colourful beard' brigade) with strange slogans and banners. It was made to appear as if Pakistan had lost face in front of the entire world and that this was the worst ever humiliation for the country... all due to the (wrong) gender of the prime minister. The western media, led by the British press (of course) played it up... and turned him into a royal pathan Prince, a true warrior, etc.

What is the secret of the huge wealth of the land of the pure's version of Moose Miller... ??? He comes from an ordinary background and couldn't pay the tution fees @ college. He played cricket when the game had plenty of glamour, but very little money. Not many ads too. He failed as a writer, columnist and a commentator.

Benazir was not allowed to contest the 2002 elections... during the height of Musharraf's military rule. The reason given out was... she was not a graduate. This... despite both Harvard and Oxford attesting her claims. She was a very distinguished student at both these universities. The Courts in Pakistan as well as the Election Commission there... refused to accept those claims. Even a huge section of the foreign media dubbed her as a 'non-graduate'... ??? The domestic media followed suit... almost wholesale. Despite the fact that they (both the foreign and domestic media, that is) never tire of asking while rolling their collective eyes: 'How can she, a graduate of Harvard and Oxford settle for an arranged marriage?' Or 'How can an impeccably pedigreed woman like her... a Harvard and Oxford grad to boot... agree to marry 'down'/'beneath her'? Or better still... 'We can't believe she married a guy like that... he lacks sophistication'. Apparently (as per media reports) Zardari prefers to use his fingers during meals.

While Immy Khan who has a third class degree from Oxford, in the same stream... he was her contemporary there (maybe a year senior)... was allowed to contest. Ms. Bhutto was a first class (honors) grad. [Hmm. 'Tarang Tarang' - that is the suspense music... playing in the background, my friend.]

P.S. I am not pro or anti anyone... especially since I do not belong to that country :) My comments should not be construed as defending Benazir or Zardari either. Whether s/he was/is good/bad/ugly or worse... only time will tell. Let history judge them. Benazir has been a controversial figure and will remain so. All figures/characters in history are controversial. There are no shortage of people who disagree or hate her while there are millions who do just the opposite. With that anticipatory bail I end the 1st part of this series. I will discuss about dynastic politics, patriarchy, AZO... etc., in my subsequent posts. Don't go away!

(More later...)


The front cover of the book "Songs of Blood and Sword - A Daughter's Memoir". Pic courtesy: link.


  1. Roshmi Madam, wonderful article. Fatima Bhutto atleast sounds rational in every matter other than Bhutto dynasty. And yeh dil maange more on this topic...

  2. I saw Fatima Bhutto playing to the gallery in India with her sari and bindi. Too transparent if you ask me! I do not intend to read the book and your review has only reinforced why I shouldn't. Just one point about William Darlymple. I was not aware that he endorsed Ms. Bhutto. But as far as he is concerned, I think he is a superb writer. I have read his book The White Moghuls. Wonderful book, very well researched. He writes with an Indian sensibility that is rare in a western writer. Do try his writing.

  3. Wonderful article Roshmi, Fatima is rational...:D

    looking out for more...:D

  4. Hey Roshmi, a very informative article.. As for the book, its very price convinced me tht i dont want 2 buy it wn it came out some days ago :p
    Well, in this write up, u hav raised questions on credibility of quite a few ppl, including as safe a person as Dalrymple.. I hope evrything is well researchd..
    love ur passion towards serious blogging.. keep it up :)

  5. @ Yayaver: Thanks a bunch. Glad you found it to be a good read.

    She does not sound rational in most matters. Has extreme view points... which sounds like a litany of complaints.

    Twitterati too have been taken aback by Fatima’s naivette.

    "Went to Fatima Bhutto's book release. She reduces Pakistan politics to a family melodrama. Well spoken but naive. Is she a femme Imran Khan?" tweeted Indian columnist Swapan Dasgupta.

    "Fatima Bhutto also said political change though murder is part of the 'entire region's legacy'. A gratuitous generalisation," he posted, adding that Fatima shouldn’t imagine she is a profound commentator.

    "At 27, Benazir was miles ahead," Dasgupta wrote.

    Another Indian commentator predicted that the "book will finish her".

    "Stories will fly doubts will be created will be vilified. End of story. End of Bhuttos," he wrote.

    P.S. I'll come back with the 2nd installment of this series soon...

  6. @ Deepa: Bang on!

    Well, the gentleman has two identities... that of an author and a journalist. The former may be fine... but in his journalistic avatar therez quite a bit of smoke and mirrors.

  7. @ Sid 'Ravan' Kabe: Ha! Ha! Sure thing!

  8. @ Vipul: Thanks a bunch! Glad you found it to be a good read.

    Absolutely. The gentleman has two identities... that of an author and a journalist. The former may be quite fine... but in his journalistic avatar therez quite a bit of smoke and mirrors.

  9. Well articulated Roshmi.What i ve realized is people are the same everywhere.
    power corrupts exception. the degrees may vary but the results are the same sooner or later.So it will be very interesting to watch how these neo-politicos change the game.

    Good review of the book - looks like i am going to have to give it a read.Thanks.

  10. Very very interesting article! Kept me glued till the end. Pakistani politics have always been mired in controvesies of a totally different kind. Its about families, dynasties, hangings, "suicides" - All interesting novel material..:)
    Personally, I thought Fatima was overdoing her promotional stint in India, and that certain channels were promoting her too much! So I decided to boycott the book. Now I am all the more convinced! ;)

  11. Both of us had fatima bhutto as a character in our blogs.. hah!! What were the chances :) Anyways, pretty extensive as usual and informative agin as usual :) Looking forward to part two

    p.s: I have no clue why... inspite of all the 'in my face' truth about fatima bhutto... all I can imagine her is an angel.. maybe its that super cute face :)

  12. And, we also gave you an Award! :)

  13. It is not because of my prejudice and bias towards authors of pakistan, but it is because of void of authenticity, accountability and transparency which made me to put off the vested , manipulated propagation of self proclaimed genuine stories from the most elite classes of Pakistan....
    As usual, the post reflects your in depth research and did load my database with new insights and data mines ....
    Great effort....
    looking forward for more fodder :)

  14. Your in depth knowledge on the topics you chose to discuss never fails to amaze me.
    I was never much interested in the book to begin with. So this post helped affirm that feeling.

    I think there is this tendency with our media these days to sensationalize things and in the process take sides and then instead of just informing us of matters they end up feeding and impressing on us their views on what is.

    Kinda beats the spirit of news reporting then.

  15. dats sm infomation.. but u alwaz amaze d readers wid ur vast pool of knwldge... tho am not in2 political reading .. mangd 2 read dis whole post... sure like rest f ur post u wrote it well (n loads of pennies 4 ur thots :))... n haha imran khna said dey lost cos der pm ws a lady?? LOL cant beat dis.. wot a jerk... allah got upset.. wot nonsense ws mr khan talkin,, dint knw dat.. sm funny funda in der... ALLAh help des fools... n wots wid ur health??

    PS . i aint got nothin in head des days n not really n tym eithr 2 devote 2 writin.. well i ws nvr really an avid blogger in d 1st place.. jst a random 1.. bsyds wid 5 day work schdule it leaves very lil interest 2 sit in front f comp screen :-/... no motivation .. lack of thots n tym.. guess dats causing my hibernation... tho try n catch up on posts by fellow bloggers.. cant raelly get myself writing nethin...

  16. I was thinking whether to read it or not now I guess it can be read later :D .... will be looking forward the later parts :)

  17. Thank you for the insightful post. I will read. Just finished "White Tiger" and am interested in more from your country. Take care.

  18. @ Gyanban: Sure... go ahead! Would like to hear your views too.

  19. @ Preeti: Thanks girl... and I agree with your thoughts.

  20. @ Puneet: Ha! Ha!

    "I have no clue why... inspite of all the 'in my face' truth about fatima bhutto... all I can imagine her is an angel.. maybe its that super cute face"

    Which is why she is able to sell her book... dubbed as a "must read" ;)

  21. @ Mahesh: Thanks!

    I think there is more to it than meets the eye... which is what I intend to explore in this series. Would be keen to know your views too...

  22. @ Choco: I'm flattered... and I do agree with your views on the media.

    But then, this is to be expected. The media does not operate in a vacuum... being owned by mortals.

    P.S. Good to see you back @ the blogosphere :)

  23. @ Sobhit: Thanks for the compliment and good to know you found this to be an interesting read.

    P.S. High time you came up with something on your blog too...

  24. @ Dhiman: I agree...

    She has twisted history and distorted facts to suit herself. Poorly researched as well... and she has papered over inconvenient details about her beloved father.

  25. @ Purple cow: Thanks for stopping by my blog. Glad to know you found this to be an interesting read.

    P.S. 'Purple cow' is an intriguing name... how did you come up with it??