‘Haunted by the violence I experienced’
MANY years ago, an Indian publication wrote in the context of the Nehru-gandhi family: “Dynasties die nasty”, alluding to the fact that two generations of the family had met with a violent end. But it could have been said about the equally famous Bhutto clan in Pakistan as well. For the Bhuttos, the privileges of dynasty have not been a guarantee of peace and contentment, or even an enduring middle age. Forget luxuries of life, in the Bhutto family, life itself has been a luxury, with generations perishing in unusual circumstances—zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was 51 when he was executed during the Zia-ul-haq regime; his daughter, Benazir, lived to 54 before meeting a violent end during an election campaign. Her brother Murtaza, aged 42, was assassinated on the streets of Karachi—to this day his daughter, the noted author Fatima Bhutto, refuses to acknowledge he is dead. When he was alive, he lived the life of an exile in Syria for many years, fearing for his life in Pakistan.
Fatima Bhutto was not even born when her grandfather passed away in 1979 and was not much more than a little girl when she lost her father in 1996. Little wonder then that violence has shaped her mind and her thought processes. Not only did she grow up hearing stories of political violence, she experienced it too. If it was the abiding emotion in her Songs of Blood and Sword, it continues to provide beguiling depth to her latest book, The Runaways, a searing, searching exercise. While Songs of Blood and Sword was a non-fiction exercise that involved years of research into her father’s times, his story and his value system, The Runaways is a novel that is set in the present. Throbbing with contemporary energy, it takes us through the killing fields of West Asia. As always, she asks uneasy questions, refusing to take refuge in equivocation.
If, around a decade ago, Fatima Bhutto confessed to this correspondent in an interview for The Hindu that the idea of life in her country was cheap and that one could extinguish life, but one could not erase memory, today she wonders how much pain one has to be in to go to war against the world.
The Runaways comes riding on
“I think the prevailing view of... a radical or an insurgent is shallow and narrowly constructed by the West. These binaries of good and bad have proven not only false but also dangerously misleading.”