As a child growing up in Pakistan,
Kishwer Falkner would scour The Economist that was delivered to her family home every week for news which would help her compete in a Sunday lunchtime game of current affairs devised by her parents to make geopolitics fun for all the family in which each of the siblings would choose an article to talk about.
Falkner, the youngest of five children, four girls and a boy, always chose news from the ‘Britain’ section of the current affairs magazine and was an enthusiastic participant in these “animated” lunchtime chats. This, she says, is where she honed her ability to argue, reason and find consensus. And says, in a country riven by conflict, matters of war, peace, freedom and democracy dominated these family discussions.
“These were, on the face of it, just fun, lively conversations over family lunch, although we were all quite competitive,” says Falkner. “I remember, I would always go to the Britain section in The Economist for my story of the week to raise because, you know, we were a colonial country and I remember having this impression when I was a child that Britain was very much part of who we were. But, you know, Pakistan was not only not a democracy, and it’s a very poor country still, but it was an even poorer country when I was growing up. Work was the only way out of poverty but work wasn’t always available and there were high levels of unemployment, poverty and destitution. Conditions were dire for many people, through no fault of their own. That was hard to see. And I would read articles in The Economist on the welfare state, covering benefit payments and things like that, and I would be astonished that a country could have a safety net for its people, an economic safety net, where even if you didn’t work, you would be helped. ‘Mummy,’ I would say, ‘you can get money, people give you money as a right, even if you can’t work.’ For me, this was an entire revelation. A good thing. A wonderful thing which had fairness at its heart. And so, for me, public service and coming into public service, as I have done, was almost predetermined from such an early age as that.”
Falkner describes the family as “a very liberal household” where freedom of thought was encouraged. She talks about books by Plato and Bertrand Russell on the bookshelves. Both her parents were university educated which was unusual