Sunday, November 29, 2009

Profound, Prolific and Funny. (Part-I)

According to an old joke, when Mao Tse Tung (1893–1976) was asked what had been the consequences of the French Revolution (1789–1799), he replied that it was too early to tell.

Elsewhere the 'Master Blaster' has been given a friendly advice by the 'Master Plaster'... to 'keep off the political pitch' for his own well-being. In response to the cricket maestro's comments a few days back... that 'Mumbai belongs to all'.

Bengalis have a reputation for being 'aantels' or intellectuals and social reformers. But they have a great sense of humour too. Infact, they have the ability to find humour in the most mundane of circumstances and events.

In West Bengal which is governed by the CPI(M) for over 3 decades... the Congress party occupies the opposition benches. Folks there, call the congressmen "tormuj"... meaning "watermelon". Watermelon is red inside... isn't it... ?!! You get the drift... ???

Jyoti Basu - the former Chief Minister (CM) of W. Bengal, and the longest serving CM in India was called 'Mouda' or 'Mou jethu'... in his home province. During his last stint... he went on a 'Memorandum of Understanding' (MoU) signing spree... with all possible countries. For which he would emulate Sindbad of course. "Da" is an abbreviation of "dada" meaning "elder brother" in the Bengali language. While "jethu" (abbreviation of "jetha moshai") means "father's elder brother".

The story goes like this. One day, a young man traveling in a fairly crowded bus... was conversing with his friend sitting next to him. They were referring to Mr. Basu as "Mouda". After a while, an elderly fellow commuter... sitting a few rows behind them protested. He lectured them on the decadence of the youth vis-a-vis respect shown towards elders. He ended by rebuking the young men for referring to Mr. Basu... a senior citizen... as "Mouda". And asked them to call him "Mou jethu" instead... since he was older than their father.

Jyoti Basu during his tenure as CM had been to China on an official visit. One day, during lunch - for the fish course - he was served the 'koi mach'. Now, the 'koi mach' is able to live out of water for protracted period and does not die easily. There is a colloquial saying in Bengali: "koi macher pran" (tr: as difficult to kill... like the koi mach.)

So, when Mr. Basu was served this fish... to his amazement and much consternation... he found them moving... on his plate. His Chinese hosts were already eating... infact relishing this fish. I hope you are aware that in the oriental culture... refusing any food offered by the host is taken as a sort of snub/insult. Plus, as we all know... the CPI(M) loves to play 'Chinese Checkers'. So... who says politicians have an easy life... ???

Meanwhile, his successor had been to Japan recently... again on an official visit. Ostensibly to encourage investments. Once there, he confidently proclaimed... "we have surplus power and can export it too." Wonder which 'power' he was talking about, though.

"Buy land," Mark Twain advised us, "they don't make it any more." They don't, and that's why it's so expensive. In Bangalore/Bengaluru, as in cities around the world, few people own land and only the richest can actually buy it. Most people live in apartments, and one/two-bedroom flats are the standard home for India's middle class. Over the last 15/18 years (after Manmohan Singh initiated the contemporary phenomenon called 'liberalization')... the definition of middle class in India has grown elastic and it can now accommodate families of five/six that make Rs. 25/30 K a month and families of two/three that make Rs. 5/6 lakh a month.

The best palace in India is the Falaknuma, built in 1893-94, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, and now a Taj Hotels property. It is a stupendous palace and connotes the idea of "heavenly abode".

It wasn't built by the Nizam (ruler), but by his prime minister, H.E. Nawab Sir Vicar-ul-Umra, Khan Bahadur, Secundar Jung, KCIE, Kaiser-i-Hind. It has over 200 rooms and is built entirely of Italian marble. European architecture doesn't normally suit India because our weather is warm. Heavy Teutonic or ornate and gilded French-style buildings look out of place here. But the open and light Mediterranean style of Italy is perfect and that is how Falaknuma was designed. Infact, this palace is a rare blend of Italian and Tudor architecture. Its glass stained windows throw a spectrum of colours into the rooms. Falaknuma literally means "Star of Heaven" in Urdu. It has often been referred to as the 'Mirror of the Sky'. The Vicar-ul-Umra was the fifth Amir of a noble family, the Paigahs, and was the maternal grandson of Mir Akbar Ali Khan Siddiqi Sikander Jah Asaf Jah III - the third Nizam.

The Falaknuma palace has other unique things to its credit. It includes the largest Venetian chandeliers. It is said that it took six months to clean a 138-arm Osler chandelier and the palace has 40 such chandeliers adorning the halls! The famed table in the dining hall accommodates 100 guests at one go! The story is that... the palace took nine years to make. It covers a total area of 9,39,712 square meters and is situated on a hill... 2000 feet high. And on the night it was inaugurated, the Nizam, who was invited, told his prime minister on leaving the party that he loved it. Noblesse oblige, and the poor Vikar-ul-Umra handed the Nizam the keys and walked away.

This was the sixth Nizam, the dashing His Highness Fateh Jang Nawab Mir Sir Mehboob Ali Khan Siddiqi Bahadur, Kaiser-i-Hind, Asaf Jah VI (1869-1911.) His son, the seventh and last Nizam, His Exalted Highness Fateh Jang Nawab Mir Sir Osman Ali Khan Siddiqi, Faithful Ally of the British Government, Asaf Jah VII (1911-1967), was the richest man in the world... having a fortune estimated at $2 billion in the early 1940s. But he had a poor reputation among his people and was thought to be not just a miser, a kanjoos, but also a coward.

The ditty about father and son was: 'Mehboob Ali Pasha sher ko mara/Osman Ali Pasha plague se bhaga'.

Mehboob Ali Khan was well known for his lavish lifestyle and luxuries, and had an enormous fascination for clothes and cars. His collection of garments was one of the most extensive in the world at the time, with sherwanis, shirts, coats, collars, socks, shoes, headgear, walking sticks, perfumes - not one each, but dozens of almost each item. He devoted a whole wing of his palace to his wardrobe and would never wear the same dress twice.

He bought the Jacob Diamond, which stands out among the Jewels of The Nizams now owned by the Government of India. Unlike the famous Koh-i-Noor, the Jacob diamond can be branded as a 'nonviolent diamond', one which has changed hands only twice in the history of its existence. It was several years after the death of his father that the last Nizam, Osman Ali Khan, found the Jacob Diamond in the toe of his father's shoe at Chowmahalla Palace. Nevertheless, the Nizam still showed little interest in the diamond and for many years it was used as a paper weight by the last Nizam. This continued until the diamond's true value was realized and it was stored away as another of the Nizam's treasures.

Having large houses does not mean that one becomes refined. The Nizams had relations with Muslim nobility and Osman's son His Highness Azam Jah (1907-1970) was married to the Turkish Caliph's gorgeous granddaughter, Princess Durr-e-Shewar (daughter of Abdul Mejid II, the last Ottoman Caliph and cousin and heir of the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.) One morning, an emissary from Istanbul arrived in Hyderabad and was led to the Nizam, who was sitting in a corner in his usual tattered robe, knitting socks. The puzzled emissary looked at the courtier, who confirmed: "Een Shah-e-Dakhan ast" (tr: this is the king of the Deccan.)

- "Panah bah Khuda," muttered the Persian (tr: God help us.)

Osman's other son His Highness Moazzam Jah married Princess Niloufer, a princess of the Ottoman Empire. It has been suggested that through these dynastic unions... of one of the richest ruling Muslim families with the impoverished and exiled House of Osman (the administrative House of the Caliphs), the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad hoped to acquire the Caliphate for his descendants. In total, Osman Ali Khan sired at least 40 children. He had seven wives and 42 concubines. *Ahem! Ahem!*

The Falaknuma palace is laid out in the shape of a scorpion with two stings spread out as wings on the north. However, the palace has proved to be fatal to those who have resided there for a long period. The scorpion-like structure is believed to be the cause of all deaths. Ummm... the makers of the 'Mummy' movie series may want to look at it for 'inspiration'. What say... ???

The first Nizams ruled on behalf of the Mughal Emperors. But, after the death of Aurangazeb, they split away from the Mughals to form their kingdom. When the British achieved paramountcy over India, the Nizams were allowed to continue to rule their princely states. They retained power over Hyderabad State until September 1948 when it was integrated into the Indian Union. The Asaf Jah dynasty had only seven rulers.

A legend about the first Nizam states that, on one of his hunting trips he was offered some kulchas (an Indian bread) by a holy man and was asked to eat as many as he could. The Nizam could eat seven kulchas and the holy man then prophesied that seven generations of his family would rule the state. The Nizams, by an honoured Hyderabad tradition that no Nizam has ever left India no matter how good a reason might exist for doing so, believed, "the Sovereign is too precious to his people ever to leave India."

John Major (a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and former Leader of the Conservative Party) left school at age 16 in 1959, with three O-levels: History, English Language and English Literature. He later gained three more O-levels by correspondence course, in the British Constitution, mathematics and economics. When pressed about his precise qualifications shortly after becoming Prime Minister, he answered that he couldn't remember what he had attained.

Perhaps... 'inspired' by him, Sarah Palin's greatest admirer in this part of the world said, "I do have a degree. That is not an issue. I attended the London School of Business Studies much before I was married. I think it's a B.Ed degree. I haven't really looked at it."

When Nawaz Sharif was imprisoned in the Kot Lakhpat Jail (or maybe the Adiala or the Attock jail) after Gen. Pervez Musharraf staged a dramatic coup d'état against his government (in Oct., 1999)... Nawaz was kept in a darker corner of the jail. Tired of mosquito bites, etc... he sent a request to another fellow prisoner... Asif Ali Zardari... whether he could shift to his part of the jail. Zardari responded with a note stating: "I have no problem. I am used to sharing beds with Prime Ministers." It is another matter altogether that Nawaz was unable to stomach an 'ordinary' jail and preferred to wing his way to Saudi Arabia and live in a 'gilded cage' (read: the Al-Saroor Palace in Jeddah) instead. He had signed documents commuting his prison sentence in exchange for staying out of the country... for 10 years - an 'exile deal'. He obviously doesn't like to "slum it" and must be no fan of "Slumdog Millionnaire" either. Undoubtedly!

On being asked... if he ever felt that Benazir Bhutto was out of his league, Zardari replied. "I imagined myself as a knight in white armor." (He habitually muddles clichés.) "I don't think I fathomed what she was until I married her. I just couldn't grasp the... giganticness of her personality," he added. "There is a saying in my language: 'The camel only finds out that there is something taller than him when he comes beneath a mountain.'"

- ''You must understand the environment in Pakistan. This has become a money-making concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped." Pearls of wisdom... by Pervez Musharraf aka the erstwhile supermodel of the very exclusive 'Bushshirt'. Spoken like a true statesman. What... ???

In 1986, German tennis legend Boris Becker (nicknamed: "Boom Boom", "Der Bomber", "Baron von Slam" and "The Lion of Leimen") successfully defended his title against another tennis great Ivan Lendl, efficiently knocking him off in three sets: 6-4, 6-3, 7-5. "I saw a little bit in Ivan's face that he didn't know what to do with me," Becker told a Sports Illustrated reporter. At that point, reporters could still write that no mortal man could beat Becker, who had only lost his first Wimbledon competition because of an injury. He was still the golden boy of modern tennis. Lendl was nicknamed: "The Terminator" and "Ivan the Terrible". A typical Lendl quote is: "If I don't practice the way I should, then I won't play the way that I know I can."

The next year, 1987, put a little tarnish on the Becker shine. The unthinkable happened: he lost in the second round at Wimbledon to an unknown, Peter Doohan. The press began to savage him. "I didn't lose a war. Nobody died. Basically, I just lost a tennis match," commented Becker, but he was shaken by the harshness of the attacks. This remark from the teenaged Boris Becker was probably the most sensible remark made by a beaten tennis player.

If some were expecting to see the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping through the picnic area of Melbourne Park on Monday night (25th Jan., 2009) after Andy Murray's fourth-round defeat at the Australian Open to Spain's Fernando Verdasco, then the Scot was not one of them. At the first grand slam of the year, post-match Murray was thinking along similar lines to the young Becker. For Murray, this was "not a disaster", this was not an Aussie Apocalypse and nobody died out there. It was just one of those days when an opponent is on top of his game and plays a better match, as Verdasco has never served as well as he did to come back from losing the first set and then from being two sets to one down.

Here is a hilarious video of German tennis legend Steffi Graf being propositioned by a boy while she was getting ready for the serve. The whole stadium erupts in laughter on hearing this. Do watch out what Steffi replies... (Video link.) The main weapon in Graf's game was her powerful inside-out forehand drive, which earned her the moniker "Fraulein Forehand". She often positioned herself in her backhand corner, and although this left her forehand wide open and vulnerable to attack, her court speed meant that only the most accurate shots wide to her forehand caused any trouble. Her blistering forehand was called 'Jaws' - after the giant great white shark - in the 1975 American horror/thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg .

(Stay tuned...)

Note: Some info gathered, courtesy: Wikipedia,, the news/aakar patel's column, sananews and the telegraph.


Just liked the pic... kinda signifies "Dimag ki batti jala de". Right... ?!!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Inimitable Sir Denis... (Part-III)

Author's Note: You can read the 1st part of this post titled, "The Inimitable Sir Denis... (Part-I)": HERE. The 2nd part of this post titled, "The Inimitable Sir Denis... (Part-II)" can be read: HERE .

Denis was well known for his love of golf, and he often competed in charity events such as this one... for a charity for the blind. His advice to all future consorts (first husbands/first gentlemen) was, "And certainly don't get caught by the press having too much to drink, you now, that sort of thing." On his marriage to Mrs T, he said: "What it meant to me: a happy life, of course, companionship, of course. A common objective, I think." Their marriage was a rock upon which 'she' relied. You can view some pictures of Sir Denis... HERE.

Here are some stories and pictures depicting the life and times... of the great Mrs Thatcher. Including life after power. (Link.) Another link is HERE. Some quotes by and for Maggie can be read HERE.

My fellow blogger aka FB... Mr. BK Chowla... mentioned... there was an AD in England which read "strong as Mrs T". Since her name was associated with toughness.

The former French president Jacques Chirac has expressed a grudging admiration for the former Iron Lady of Britain - Margaret Thatcher - despite their bitter clashes over Europe. Though his memoir ("Each Step Must Itself Be a Goal") is critical of Lady Thatcher, Chirac, however, is clearly impressed by her statesmanship. Describing her as "one of the most feared figures on the international stage," The Telegraph quotes Chirac as saying: "What made her great in my view was above all her conviction... she never doubted being in the right."

There was, however, a "honeymoon period" with the then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher when he became prime minister in 1986, due to their shared concern about the "laxism of the European Commission and its desire to turn itself into a super-state". But he recalls her fury at being asked to increase contributions. "There are nine countries taking money, only three paying and I won't accept to put more into the kitty. Pay if you like, I won't pay. The Germans will, you will, I won't," she exclaimed. However, he claims she went on to concede that farming policy was "not in itself a bad thing".

Incidently, a British government document purporting to highlight some of the world's most significant events of the past 100 years involving women is unlikely to cause much cheer in India — or indeed on the subcontinent — as it curiously leaves out both Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto. The only Asian politician who makes it to the 27-strong UK-centric list, Women in Power: Milestones, is Sirimavo Bandaranaike as the world's first elected woman Prime Minister. In fact, she is the sole non-British symbol of "woman power" on a list groaning under the weight of domestic personalities and events such as the "first Asian woman councillor," the "first black female mayor," and "100 years since first woman councillor appointed."

There was also controversy when it emerged that the document did not mention Margaret Thatcher by name saying only "1979: U.K.'s first woman prime minister" while listing names of relatively less famous Labour figures. The government's Equalities Office which produced the document... and is run by Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman was accused of "air brushing" Mrs. Thatcher. Wonder... what Sir Denis would have said though.

Mrs Thatcher did not always enjoy the company of other women. But... HERE she is pictured strolling in the rose garden at Chequers (her country residence) with her friend and mentee - the late Benazir Bhutto (pic dated: 8th July, 1989). It was part of a day-long informal brainstorming session between them. Mrs Thatcher's speech at lunch for (the then) Pakistan Prime Minister (Benazir Bhutto) can be found HERE. Here are some more pics (Link.)

As for Asif Ali Zardari... the widower of the slain Benazir Bhutto, now sits smilingly, with a complete makeover, as president of Pakistan. The alternative to Mr. Zardari is the army, which has already ruled for half of Pakistan's existence, destroying civilian and public institutions. So, while Mr. Zardari may make diplomatic faux pas like trying to flirt with U.S. vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, he may be the poison Pakistan needs to heal itself.

He says that he has lived and learned from the most vibrant and brilliant of politicians - Benazir Bhutto. He insists that outside the chattering classes, he is popular. His party is also keen to stress that he is a substantial politician, having previously served as a member of parliament and twice as a minister. "He's a tried and tested politician, not only at the grass roots level, but in terms of ideas and strategy. He worked very closely with Ms Bhutto and was her principal adviser," said a Zardari aide. "He's no Denis Thatcher." Not sure how Sir Denis would have reacted to this though.

Apparently, Labour stifled Maggie Thatcher's role in women's suffrage celebration in 1978. The 50th anniversary of equal women's suffrage was a cause for celebration in 1978, but James Callaghan and his allies were determined that Margaret Thatcher did not feature too strongly in the commemoration. As Leader of the Opposition, Thatcher was the most prominent female politician of the day and there was concern that she might steal the limelight, reports The Times. A committee was formed and an exhibition at Westminster Hall was devised, along with a garden party and a special gala performance at the Palladium starring Twiggy, to be staged on the July 2 anniversary itself. It was then that Callaghan and his advisers apparently realized the potential advantages that this could bestow on Thatcher.

As Ken Stowe, principal private secretary to the Prime Minister, wrote on May 26: "With hindsight, the only thing one can say charitably is that we were all asleep when this proposition was first mooted: a celebration of 50 years of women's suffrage can hardly exclude a political dimension or women and it is inescapable therefore that the leading woman politician of the day is going to get a fair amount of the limelight. Hmmm. Talk about 'equal opportunity'...

"He thought that "a mixture of sweet reasonableness and low cunning" would ensure that there was no room for Thatcher in the royal box at the Palladium.

This was achieved by making sure that Lord Grade, the television executive who had organized the show, was in the box with his wife, the Callaghans and Princess Margaret, despite the Grades' protestations. There was consternation that Thatcher had been invited to speak alongside Callaghan at the Right to Vote exhibition.

There were discussions about the Prime Minister withdrawing from the event, but Lady Birk, the head of the organizing committee, said that his speech would be superior. Callaghan was asked by memo whether the guest list for the garden party should feature exclusively women. He scribbled: "Better speak to my wife - she can decide."

The great neo-Churchillian Margaret Thatcher was on the receiving end of a vast amount of sarcasm. "President Mitterrand once famously remarked that Thatcher had 'the eyes of Caligula and the lips of Marilyn Monroe'. Rather less flatteringly, Sir Clement Freud described her as "Attila the Hen". She probably took both descriptions as compliments." (Malcolm Rifkind in Margaret Thatcher's Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant edited by Subroto Roy and John Clarke, 2005). Denis Healey called her "Pétain in petticoats" and "La Pasionaria of middle-class privilege". Mrs T combined a powerful intellect and a dominant personality with the prejudices of ordinary folk and an unsophisticated outlook on life. These were her natural qualities. She was proud to be a grocer's daughter from Grantham, a housewife who made her husband's breakfast, and a mother of her children as well as of the nation. She asked for no quarter and she gave none. You can read Sir Malcolm Rifkind's (foreign secretary from 1995-97) reminiscences HERE. It might make an interesting read. His take on Mrs Thatcher's trusted deputy - William "Willie" Whitelaw - (Everyone needs a Willie) can be read HERE.

Recently... Lord Tebbit stated, "I think we lack somebody of the standing of Margaret,"... when asked to name the Conservatives' biggest asset. Sir Denis has once again been proven right. He would have been pleased. For sure! Years ago he had observed "The whole of the situation of the Conservative Party today springs from that night when they dismissed the best prime minister the country had had since Churchill." That "More people deserted our party and we have never recovered."

I admire Lady Thatcher in infinite proportions. If England has to put an end to the current morass... there is only one way - 'Return to Thatcher'. The folks who opposed/challenged/back stabbed her... were political/intellectual/moral pygmies.

'Below the Parapet - The Biography of Denis Thatcher' by Carol Thatcher (his daughter). Published by Harper Collins in 1996. In it, Thatcher said that politics as a way of life did not appeal to him and that world leaders he personally got on with were
George H. W. Bush, FW De Klerk, King Hussein of Jordan and Mikhail Gorbachev, whilst he disliked Indira Gandhi and Sonny Ramphal. He revealed that spouses he personally liked were Raisa Gorbachev, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush.

Sir Denis was a member... of the vanishing breed called 'gentlemen'. Undoubtedly...


Note: Some info gathered, courtesy: Wikipedia, brainyquote, oneindia and the HeraldGlobe.

Mrs Thatcher's speeches (all categories, all time periods) can be found: HERE.


Denis, then 36, married 26-year-old Margaret Roberts in London in December 1951 (Pic courtesy: Link)

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Inimitable Sir Denis... (Part-II)

Author's Note: You can read the 1st part of this post titled "The Inimitable Sir Denis... (Part-I)": HERE.

His wife may occasionally, however, have found some of his quips difficult to take. Once, asked by a stranger during the Thatcher era (she was the PM for over 11 years) what his wife did, he replied: "She has a temporary job." It summed up his wry, dry attitude to political life in a nutshell. Thatcher refused press interviews and only made brief speeches. When he did speak to the press, he called Margaret "The Boss".

His twins - The Hon. Carol Thatcher and her twin brother, Sir Mark Thatcher, Bt, were born six weeks prematurely in 1953. According to Thatcher, Denis Thatcher responded to seeing his offspring for the first time; "My god, they look like rabbits. Put them back." Carol studied law at University College London before moving to Australia in 1977 to begin a journalism career. While there, her mother was elected Prime Minister. Thatcher has said; "You need quite good shock absorbers and a sense of humour to be the Prime Minister's child." Mark's business dealings at the time that his mother was the Prime Minister were the subject of much press attention... and embarrassments.

If you think that the popular adage "Behind every sucessful man there is a woman" cannot undergo a role reversal... think again. Sir Denis was known as an irreverent, good-natured man with a talent for friendship. Margaret Thatcher often acknowledged her husband's support. In her autobiography ("The Downing Street Years") she wrote: "I could never have been Prime Minister for more than 11 years without Denis by my side." Lady Thatcher paid tribute to Denis (in her autobiography), saying he was a "fund of shrewd advice and penetrating comment". He saw his role as helping her survive the stress of the job, when he urged her to resign on the 10th anniversary of her becoming Prime Minister, in 1989, sensing that otherwise she would be forced out (it happened a year later) - "I think she was ready to go. Not to be kicked out. Go at the top. Undefeated."

Mrs Thatcher had seemed unbeatable at home and unassailable abroad. She could have accepted being voted out of 10 Downing Street through a ballot box, as Winston Churchill had been in 1945. What she could not stomach was the reprehensible betrayal by her own Conservative colleagues who, in a secret conclave, voted her out of a job she could do better than all of them put together. Perhaps she had said as much to them, once too often. Initially, undaunted by the erosion of their support, she told reporters waiting outside No. 10 Downing Street: "I fight on, I fight to win." Inside, she gave in when her husband - Denis - told her what he thought. The advice Denis Thatcher gave to his prime minister wife? Mrs Thatcher recalled that moment of truth: "Affection never blunted honesty between us. His advice was that I should withdraw. 'Don't go on, love,' he said." She resigned on November 22, to preserve "the unity of the party and the prospects of victory in a general election."

Denis Thatcher's one public interview, which took place in October 2002, was released as a DVD, 'Married to Maggie', after his death. In it he called John Major a ghastly Prime Minister and said it would have been a good thing if Major had lost the 1992 general election. "It would have been a very, very good thing if the next election after Margaret went we had lost." He also said he thought his wife was the best Prime Minister since Churchill. "The whole of the situation of the Conservative Party today springs from that night when they dismissed the best prime minister the country had had since Churchill." He further added, "More people deserted our party and we have never recovered."

Interestingly, Margaret Thatcher had been a kind of mentor to Benazir Bhutto. While Benazir was at Oxford, she was invited to tea by Mrs. Thatcher, who was then the Opposition leader in the House of Commons, and was returning her father's hospitality. Despite their age difference, the two women had much in common, and became fast friends. They were brought even closer together when they were both Prime Ministers, and they consulted frequently on their scrambler telephones, sometimes planning common strategy, sometimes charting the political downfall of a common foe.

Well known journalist Mary Anne Weaver asked Benazir one morning (during the course of an interview), as they sipped coffee in the later's Karachi sitting room, what the basis of her friendship with Lady Thatcher was.

"Oh, I'm very fond of her," she said, perking up immediately. "Of course, she did many things that I can't defend: her cuts in health and education, for example. But privatization, in the Thatcher sense, was innovative. I admire it enormously. And she has political conviction; she's not an opportunist, and she doesn't test the wind. She goes where she wants to go. I admire her single-mindedness. It's far better to have firm convictions than to study the Gallup Polls. And she's got tremendous courage. I remember the Falklands War. There were many who felt she was foolhardy. The Falklands were far away, small, unknown. But she fought for them, as some women wouldn't have had the courage to do. And with Bosnia, again, I admired the way she spoke out; that's leadership. I can't bear smoke-filled rooms and weaselly politics."

The two women had met over scones and tea sandwiches at the Dorchester Hotel one afternoon, when the power struggle between the President and the Prime Minister (in Pak) was assuming a threatening form. Benazir (then the Opposition leader) briefed Lady Thatcher, and asked her, "What should I do?" "Side with neither of them," Lady Thatcher advised. "They will use you and dump you. Let them fight it out and bleed each other."

And that is exactly what they did.

Benazir idolised Lady Thatcher... apart from Joan of Arc of course. Her father (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto) was never her role model, and all this talk of dynasty and inheritance - that of her father's party and personal qualities... is pure and unadulterated poppycock. Barely 24... just out of college... she had returned to Pakistan (a little over a week before the coup d'état by General Zia-ul-Haq... which overthrew her father's govt. The military later hanged him on trumped up/flimsy charges... in collusion with the judiciary) to join the diplomatic service, after 8 years of studies at Harvard and Oxford respectively. She did not have any formal training for a political role... and certainly did not learn politics from her father. She learnt politics and the art of survival in the snake pit of Pakistani politics entirely on her own... through trial and error... under the full glare of the media.

The party which is now headed by her son Bilawal and widower Asif Ali Zardari is essentially a matrilineal lineage (in a fiercely patriarchal, tribal and feudal society). The significance of her children taking on her name and her widower stating that he too wishes to be buried beside her (after his death) are immense too... in the Islamic context and not just vis-a-vis Pak and/or South Asia. She was a Rajput muslim woman (and a descendent of the great Salahuddin Ayyubi - also known as Saladin - from her mother's side) who in a deeply tribal, feudal, class and caste conscious Islamic society married a man outside her caste. That too someone who belonged to a 'lesser tribe' and is her social inferior. 'Zardari' means 'people with money' but they were originally camel herders. She retained her own name (her father's name) post marriage... and chose to be buried in her own family graveyard (that of her parents and forefathers) and not that of her husband's.

All these actions have far more significance... in the Islamic context... but is usually glossed over. Especially by the media... both foreign and domestic, who never tire of asking while rolling their collective eyes: 'How can she, a graduate of Harvard and Oxford settle for an arranged marriage?' Her life was unique and so has been her contributions and achievements. She was a woman who truely lived up to her name. An extraordinary, complex and fascinating woman... the like of whom the world will never see. Not for a very, very long time indeed. Much of the opposition and derision of Zardari stems from the fact that he draws his power from a larger-than-life woman rather than some 'macho' General, feudal lord, businessman/industrialist, Mir or Pir (hereditary saint.)

Both mentor and mentee have an orchid named after them. Dendrobium Margaret Thatcher (HERE) and Dendrobium Benazir Bhutto (HERE.) Apart from waxworks at Madame Tussauds, that is - displayed at the 'World Leaders' area. You can view them too: Maggie Thatcher (HERE) and Benazir Bhutto (HERE.) Last year... a new waxwork of German Chancellor Angela Merkel was unveiled here. She is only the fourth female leader to be unveiled in the section after former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, ex-British premier Margaret Thatcher and the late Benazir Bhutto, who governed Pakistan twice. Ms. Bhutto even has a sari named after her - the Benazir sari (made of special stitch named after her). A photo of Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Ms. Bhutto in a saree... can be viewed: HERE.

Meanwhile, the current US Secretary of State and the world's top diplomat Hillary Clinton is a self confessed Benazir fan. In her memoir "Living History" she described Benazir as "a brilliant and striking woman" and said... "Bhutto (Benazir) was the only celebrity I had ever stood behind a rope line to see."

(Stay tuned...)

Note: Some info gathered, courtesy: Wikipedia, fotowhizz and brainyquote.

Benazir was also the President of the Oxford Union. She was the first Asian woman to be elected President of the Oxford Union, an elite debating society. In her heyday, she shared with Mrs Thatcher the compliment (?) of being "the only man in her cabinet."


Often seen in the background while his wife attracted the attention, his consorts' motto was "always present, never there". (Pic courtesy: Link)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Inimitable Sir Denis... (Part-I)

Major Sir Denis Thatcher, 1st Baronet, MBE, TD (10 May 1915 – 26 June 2003) who died at the age of 88, was the ideal consort for the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. An adaptable businessman with gentlemanly values, he did not take Westminster parochial politics seriously enough to embarrass or rival his wife, but was prepared to control his scepticism for the sake of a woman whom he always regarded as special without being in awe of.

When she became leader of the opposition in the late 70s, and the media besieged the family's Chelsea home, he was at his desk before nine the next morning, having commuted the usual 80 miles by car as though nothing had happened. It was not until he retired that his role as consort became a larger one and, even then, his non-executive directorships kept him busy.

Sir Denis was comfortable with himself, and able to deal with people in an emollient way. He never lost the grudging respect of satirists, who had him down as an entertainingly comic figure while sensing, on meeting him, that there was rather more to him than that. He certainly understood the unpredictability of crowds and their enthusiasm. Following his wife's final general election victory (her third election victory in 1987), she was roundly cheered. Whilst watching her wave to the cheering crowds outside Downing Street, Thatcher said quietly to their daughter Carol, "In a year's time she'll be so unpopular you won't believe it."

It took longer to happen (by 12-18 months), but his prediction was essentially correct. When Margaret Thatcher entered the leadership contest, having been challenged by Michael Heseltine, her husband predicted, long before anyone else, that she was "done for".

Nor was he afraid to get straight to the point when in royal circles. Once, the Duchess of York said to him: "Oh Denis, I do get an awful press, don't I?" He mimicked zipping his lips closed and replied: "Yes, ma'am: has it occurred to you to keep your mouth shut?"

His family were colonials, hailing from Wanganui, a coastal town in New Zealand, where there is a street named after them. His grandfather set up a firm producing weed-killer for railway tracks, the origin of the family fortune. At 28, his father settled in London to run a parent company, Atlas Preservatives. Sir Denis was born in Lewisham, south London, soon after the start of the first world war. At the age of eight, he was sent to boarding school in Bognor Regis, and at 13 he entered Mill Hill School, also as a boarder. Although he did not shine academically, he was good at cricket and rugby, and enjoyed attending the annual Duke of York camp with its "play the game" maxim.

In 1933, he left to join the family firm, which was by then dealing in paint and general chemicals. He was expected to work his way up from the bottom but, when put on the spot, would express himself with the sort of pungency for which he was to become well-known. As works manager, he went to Nazi Germany in 1937, and came back expressing the view that it was not a question of if war was coming, but when.

A Territorial army officer, he joined the 34th Searchlight regiment of the Royal Artillery, where his role was organisational, carrying out staff duties because of his bad eyesight. In 1945, promoted to Major and working from the British HQ at Marseilles, he organised the movement of thousands of Canadian troops from Italy to Belgium, and was awarded an MBE. He maintained that the army had taught him how to think as well as how to act, but the war marked his life in a way that was to remain a virtual secret for a generation.

In 1941, he met Margaret Kempson at an officers' tea dance: she bore a striking resemblance to a certain Margaret Roberts, who was to enter his life much later. They married in March 1942, never lived together because of the circumstances of the war, and were divorced in 1948, believing that they had nothing in common. Sir Denis was always reluctant to talk about the matter... he was so traumatised by the event. His two children only found out about his first marriage in February 1976... by chance, when the media revealed it.

He met Margaret Roberts (then a chemist and a newly-selected parliamentary candidate) at a dinner-dance, and was at first keener on her than she was on him. However, when he proposed to her in 1951, she accepted during the general election campaign, in which she reduced the Labour majority at Dartford by 1,000. After she had thanked her party workers at the count, he took the microphone to reveal that the candidate was to become his wife. They were married at the Methodist church in City Road, and spent their honeymoon in Portugal, Madeira and Paris, strange territory to her. It was an indication that his social and intellectual horizons had been wider than hers. Thatcher also financed his wife's training as a barrister and a home in Chelsea. In an interview with Kirsten Cubitt in early October 1970, he said, "I don't pretend that I'm anything but an honest-to-God right-winger - those are my views and I don't care who knows 'em."

There was something of the comic caricature in the fact that the birth of his twins, Mark and Carol, took him by surprise. He was watching a Test match at the Oval when they arrived early (15 August 1953)... delivered by Caesarean section. Both loved him greatly.

Sir Denis sold the family business when he was in his 50s. Eventually, much later, he retired - but as divisional director of planning and control at the Burmah Oil Company, which had taken over Castrol, the company that had bought his family business.

Being consort to the leader of the opposition, and then the prime minister, did not turn his life upside down, but it gave it a new visibility. He reacted by refusing all requests for interviews, and regarded journalists as "reptiles". Such indignation gave satirists something to work on. The "Dear Bill" letters in the Private Eye magazine, apparently penned by him to a golfing chum (Bill Deedes), gave author John Wells (along with Richard Ingrams) an opportunity to show Sir Denis as a figure of fun, but never contempt. The letters portrayed Denis Thatcher as a reactionary interested only in golf and gin. John Wells used the character portrayed in the letters, and created the stage play 'Anyone for Denis' (also shown on television). Thatcher started to play along — Ulster Unionist David Burnside recalled a reception in Blackpool "to which Sir Denis came along with his minder and declared: 'I don't know what reception I'm at, but for God's sake give me a gin and tonic'".

Behind the scenes, the real Sir Denis rarely offered political advice. When he did, he counselled that the Argentinians should be defeated, but not overly humiliated, in the Falklands campaign, because humiliation would make them more difficult to deal with in the future. Thatcher said that he wasn't sure where the Falkland Islands were until the invasion occurred in 1982. "I wasn't absolutely too sure where the Falklands was, and I didn't want to make a bloody fool of myself."

A decent man ("I hope I have never hurt anyone"), he was resourceful and disciplined, and worked quietly for many charities. He was, surely, one of the most tested, impressive and amusing consorts of all time, Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) not excluded. His baronetcy in 1990, for which that hereditary title was restored after a long obsolescence, was his public reward. The award was gazetted in February 1991 as Sir Denis Thatcher, 1st Baronet, of Scotney in the County of Kent. This meant that his wife was entitled to be called Lady Thatcher whilst retaining her seat in the House of Commons, and was also a hereditary title that was to be inherited by their son Mark... after Denis's death. It was the last British hereditary honour to be granted to anyone outside the royal family. However, Sir Denis Thatcher's wife was created a life peeress as Baroness Thatcher in her own right in 1992 after her retirement from the House of Commons. Often seen in the background while his wife attracted the attention, his consorts' motto was "always present, never there".

Please note: I did not compare Sir Denis with the 'Emperor of verbal Gaffes'... The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh - Britain's longest-serving consort and the oldest serving partner of a reigning monarch. He is more in the league of another 'Monarch' with similar 'talents' - the peerless George W. Bush aka Dubyaman. The Duke had once famously complained, "I am nothing but a bloody amoeba. I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children." This was after the then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, advised the Queen to issue a royal proclamation declaring that the royal house was to remain known as the 'House of Windsor'... even after her marriage to Prince Philip. The Duke's Uncle, Louis Mountbatten, had advocated the name 'House of Mountbatten', as Elizabeth would typically have taken Philip's last name on marriage. And this did not go down well with Queen Mary, Elizabeth's paternal grandmother... who inturn informed Churchill. Only in 1960, after the death of Queen Mary and the resignation of Churchill, was an Order-in-Council issued that stated the surname of the male-line descendants of the Duke and the Queen who are not styled as Royal Highness, or titled as Prince or Princess, was to be Mountbatten-Windsor.

Incidentally, on 13 November 2009, rumours of Margaret Thatcher's death were erroneously circulated within the Canadian Government, after transport minister John Baird sent a text message announcing the death of his pet tabby called Thatcher. (Perhaps a certain 'perfectionist' Khan had taken a cue from this and christened his pet dog after the 'K,K,K,K... King of Hamming'... who also doubles up as the 'King of Promotions'.) However, the news was reported to Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the death of Baroness Thatcher, and almost caused a diplomatic incident between Canada and the United Kingdom. The electronic media was thus deprived of a platinum opportunity... to jack up their TRPs. What a pity! *sarcastic smile*

(Stay tuned...)


The term "Thatcherism" came to refer to Margaret Thatcher's policies as well as aspects of her ethical outlook and personal style, including moral absolutism, nationalism, interest in the individual, and an uncompromising approach to achieving political goals. American author Claire Berlinski, who wrote the biography There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters, argues repeatedly throughout the volume that it was this "Thatcherism", specifically her focus on economic reform, that set the United Kingdom on the path to recovery and long term growth.

Note: Some info gathered, courtesy: Wikipedia and the Guardian.


The general election of 1983 saw Denis on the campaign trail once more (Pic courtesy: Link)