Sunday, November 14, 2010

forex trading ARDESHIR COWASJEE ARTICLES : The recurring nightmare

THE irrepressible, inimitable, 90-plus, Khushwant Singh, who has few peers in the subcontinental journalist community, is much taken with young Fatima Bhutto — mind you, he always has had and is renowned for his roving eye. He also has much to say about Fatima’s book Songs of Blood and Sword which he has reviewed twice.
Firstly, in the Hindustan Times on April 17 and then in the April 20 issue of Outlook, the latter under the somewhat gory title of ‘The burnt inside of Pakistan’s house of Atreus’. The House of Atreus is famed for the curse put upon it for murder, betrayal and sheer horror, one of the most enduring of Greek legends.
Atreus of Argos was the father of Agamemnon and Menelaus who respectively married Clytaemnestra and Helen of Troy, and heaven knows there is abundant tragedy and gore in their stories. But the most repellent part of it all concerns the quarrel between Atreus and his brother Thyestes over the affair the latter had with Atreus’s wife which resulted in his banishment from Argos.
Thyestes wished for reconciliation and after some time was allowed to return. Atreus prepared a huge banquet in celebration at which he served up to Thyestes the cooked flesh of his two slaughtered sons. The unknowing father ate and was then informed by his brother of what he had just done — the origin of the term ‘Thyestian Banquet’. Thyestes, horror-stricken, put a curse upon the family of Atreus and fled. The curse, as legend records, worked to perfection.
According to Khushwant the story of the House of Bhutto, written by Fatima in “impeccably beautiful prose would have been a joy to read if it had not been a gruesome tale of intrigue, treachery, treason, violence and cold-blooded murder. It is one long nightmare ….”. Strong stuff, and with justification as we who have followed the Bhutto saga down the years well know, and the betrayal continues with the man we now have in the presidential palace in Islamabad, accompanied by his resident soothsayer.
Fatima is “beautiful, highly gifted and gutsy”. When she called on Khushwant, after launching her book in Delhi earlier this month, he wrote “I could not take my eyes off her. I kept gazing at the pinhead of a diamond sparkling on the left side of her nose and her long jet-black curly hair falling on her shoulders. I hope I see her at least once more before my time is up.”
He is not so enamoured with other member of the family and has harsh words for Zulfikar for “indirectly helping East Pakistan become an independent Bangladesh” because he found it unacceptable that if unity was maintained the East Pakistanis would far outnumber the western lot. So much for democracy! Khushwant also slams him for pandering to the archaic laws of the clergy merely to hang on to power.
He is scathing of Bhutto’s betrayal of Manzur Qadir, Ayub Khan’s foreign minister. As a fellow cabinet minister, Bhutto denounced Qadir as being a free-thinker and not a good Muslim. He was consequently dropped from the cabinet and ultimately Zulfikar moved into his slot. Khushwant also touches upon the J.A. Rahim incident, and his beating up by PPP goons merely because Rahim left a dinner after waiting for two hours for Bhutto to turn up.
As for Zulfikar’s son-in-law, he shares Fatima’s “low opinion” of him, refers to his indulgence in shady deals and terms him “uncouth and foul-mouthed”. He blames Benazir for doing little in her two terms to improve the lot of the common people. His closing lines in the Hindustan Times: “Incidentally, I also added a new word to my vocabulary which fits both Pakistan and India. It is ‘saprophytic’, which means feeding on decaying organic matter. Both nations rely on all that is rotten in their past.”
The book was also reviewed in London’s Sunday Times on April 4, by Max Hastings, who likens it to a Jacobean drama rather than a Greek tragedy, cataloguing the list of hanging, poisoning, terrorism, murder and assassination — “hate and blood” he terms it.
The content to him is “emotional, partial, na├»ve and wholly unreliable about who really did what to whom. But it possesses readability from those with a taste for family horror stories”. He is totally unsympathetic to all the characters, and spells out his factual reasons citing acts of omission and commission perpetrated by Fatima’s grandfather, her father, her uncle and her aunt, all of whom in ways most discernible were flawed characters.
Hastings is unforgiving to Fatima for her “blind rejection of any pretension to insight or judgment”. This may be unkind, for it would take an extraordinarily strong character to be objective about a hanged grandfather, a murdered father and uncle, and an assassinated aunt. She must be given leeway for having had a childhood and youth so tainted by tragedy and violence as to make the admittance of hard historical fact difficult indeed.
As admits Hastings, the “book’s virtues derive from the author’s passion and some vivid pen portraits”. Hastings’s own vivid pen portrait of Asif Zardari, Benazir’s husband, is that he is “considered by some to be the most notoriously corrupt figure in the subcontinent” and that he “climbed over her corpse to become Pakistan’s president….”
As strong a stuff as that of Khushwant! And his ending must make us all, including those who sit atop us, pause and think: “But she conveys a terrifying sense of the ungovernability of Pakistan and its 180m people, exposed to the competing violence of rulers and rebels. Another army coup must be due some day soon.”

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