“You know what’s the difference between Delhi and Lahore?” said Salman Taseer, as he stood on the terrace of a glittering dinner party. “They are the cars parked on the street below! Back home, there would have been rows of BMWs, Land Cruisers, but you still have your Marutis and Ambassadors,” he laughed. This was the early 1990s, the last days of pre-liberalised India, but the irony was not lost on Salman, who was acutely aware of his inheritance, of a nation carved out by powerful ruling Muslim zamindars and cigar-smoking gentry, while here was India, obstinately upholding democracy and self-sufficiency, not needing the status symbol of an imported car.
However, on every visit to Delhi or Mumbai, which was about once every five years since the ’90s, Salman would never fail to be astonished with the moving picture of modern India—of openness, forwardness, inclusiveness, and its commitment to freedom and survival. He instantly warmed up to Delhi’s swanky crystal-crusted drawing rooms but never failed to point out to questioning friends the extravagant and splashy Lahore and Karachi parties—the unmatched hyper excesses of dancing girls, overpriced Scotch and wines, and bejewelled socialites. Yet, he would say, as he met feisty women who had walked out of bad marriages, or live-in relationships, “This would never happen even in privileged Pakistan.”
Ironically, his first taste of the fascinating drama of New India came with a torrid love affair in Delhi in 1980. He had just written an acclaimed book, Bhutto: A Political Biography—on his late political leader, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged by the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq—and he arrived in Delhi for the first time as an adult, on a promotional tour. At a press meet, he met the journalist Tavleen Singh, and the two went headlong into a love affair that lasted through his week-long stay.
Salman returned to Lahore, to his wife and three children, only to discover that Tavleen was going to have a baby. It was easy for a brash Punjabi Muslim to carry along a consort, but it was a bold Tavleen who agreed to continue the relationship secretly for as long as they could.
The relationship did not last very long—even as the stopgap family moved from Delhi to London to Dubai—and after two years, they split. Were the reasons political or personal? Salman had fled to Dubai in the early ’80s, after being tortured in a dungeon in the historic Lahore Fort by the Zia regime, and was running two successful accountancy and management firms in the eye-popping Emirates.
The reason was there for all to see. Bollywood’s scandal sheets were feverishly writing about the very public love affair of its statuesque star, Simi Garewal, with a mystery Pakistani businessman in Dubai! In its typical lurid style, filmi hacks gave breathless reports of the stormy blow-ups and public confrontations between the trio, of love, infidelity and betrayal.
Salman was always bemused when asked if he had gone from radical renegade to heartbreaker playboy of the pleasure-seeking ’80s, but he was integral to the jet-set world of the new enterprising sheikhs. The Taseer-Simi Garewal romance was the stuff of the sheikhdom joyride in Dubai and Sharjah, the decade of consuming cricket, when the men in pyjamas played for merchant Arabs, betting cartels, mafia dons and businessmen. It brought the deadly fix of glamour, sport and business, libidinous partying and playing. As one socialite recalls, “It was intoxicating.”
She remembers Salman transfixed by an exquisite Simi who was both fascinating and foxy, with her Swiss finishing school upbringing and her Bollywood affectation. The long-distance affair lasted for a little longer than a year until Salman met his present wife, Amna, a relative of the Bhuttos, and proposed to her.
His frolic with India became more business-like in the later decade when on his return to Pakistan in the ’90s, he set up several business ventures, from telecom, media, internet and cable networks to luxury hotel, department stores and a successful audit firm. He visited India for collaborations with media networks like Zee, or for advisory meetings with luxury hoteliers. His appointment as Punjab governor fired his radical zeal—he emphasised on education and literacy among girls, lavishing aid, much to the disgust of the orthodoxy. He longed for a stable Pakistan, with educated, skilled innovators, rather than the ‘call-centre purgatory we have today’, he had always lamented.
What is remarkable about Taseer (A Lahore Boy in Delhi, Jan 24)? That he had affairs with a lot of women?
I must have missed something, did this piece have anything to say?
Ratnam, San Antonio
This is a warning for us Indians also; we ignore the Aseemanand-brand fanaticism at our own peril.
Pankaj Jethi, Yamunanagar
It talks only about the moral character of people on a higher rung of the ladder. There’s no connect about what he stood for in his political life or personal.
Lalit Jha, Houston
Pakistan, is a land of opportunities. Young, handsome feudals go abroad to study or play cricket, befriend the intellectul and beautiful and make the most of life: then return to motherland, to a life of five prayers a day and Ramadhan, pushing forward the misson of Jinnah, through the two Bhuttos, Zia-Ul-Haq, Musharaff etc. till Zardari (with his restyled moustache). How many of our biggies, including the arthiritis prone occupants of Governors mansions can claim such attainments! Our PM's and the Father of the Nation too get shot all the same. Does anyone remember what was the intention behind creation of Pakistan, incidentally?
It is facinating to see how the liberals of India like to lionize the zamindars of pakistan. Salman Taseer the old elite of pakistan was a zamindar like the Shah of Iran. Utterly regressive characters promoting feudalism and gross income inequalities in their societies.
Liberals in India confuse these zamindars with liberalism in pakistan and continued to talk about a liberal pakistan that was not in the grip of islamists until 80's. The cookie has crumbled now. Islamists aided by Zia-ul-haq have taken control of the process and now the feudals either join these islamists or die. It is like the Don Corleone deal. You take it or die.
Feudals the usual elite of pakistan are not liberals. They are just not religious fanatics within their country/province. They are the same group who killed hindus in Jammu and Kashmir and fomented terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan, Kashmir and NWFP. Their backyard i.e. Punjab was safe until 9/11 and now that terrorism and extremism has come to Punjab.
Liberals of India somehow consider this liberalism strange
He was a flimsy man who lived by the trashy glitz values celebrated by this worthless scribbler.
But even a worthless man can occasionally do a decent thing, and Slaman Taseer did it by defending tolerance of Christianity in Pak.
He also helped India by giving it the incomparably acute and truthful writer aatash Taseer.
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