‘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.”

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