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Knot For Long?

Barely six months into her dream marriage with Imran Khan, speculation is rife whether golden girl Jemima will survive it

Knot For Long?

There was no quorum bell – the la-di-das of Lahore were in full attendance for the glittering ceremony. The pen-pushers and the paparazzi swelled the doting audience. The event: Pakistan’s folk-hero-gone-astray, Imran Khan, was launching his first book in Urdu, Ghairatmand Musalman (The Honourable Muslim).

But the cynosure of all eyes was not Imran, who preened himself on a raised platform, flanked by other solemn speakers; it was instead his wife Jemima Khan, who sat in the front row of seats, her head covered demurely with a dupatta which she tugged at uncomfortably every now and then to keep in place. Trying her best not to look bored.

With most speeches in Urdu, the golden girl found little to hold her interest through the three-hour ceremony. The moment it was over, she persuaded Imran to leave as soon as possible. And got her way.

Retracting an earlier promise to have tea with a group of admirers who had attended the function, Imran quickly disappeared after a few hurried whispers from his wife. Mumbling apologies along the way and leaving behind an irate gathering passing the inevitable unkind remarks in Punjabi about the henpecked husband.

Ever since she arrived at Lahore some four months ago after her marriage to Imran on May 17 this year, there has been intense speculation in Lahore circles about whether Jemima Khan nee Goldsmith will survive life in Pakistan, as the wife of a born-again Muslim philanthropist, a potential political figure and a national heart-throb. Imran himself, at a press conference held a few weeks after his marriage, commented that he was "not sure how long it would all last". And at dinner parties in Lahore, wagers are already being laid on whether Jemima will last out a year.

This, despite the fact that the couple are, quite evidently, still devoted to each other. And although Imran is always a trifle embarrassed in his wife’s presence, a little concerned that she just might say the wrong thing to the wrong person, he is always making sure she is well taken care of at every social function.

"He panders to her every whim, and she knows how to get her way," says a socialite friend of Imran’s, who has hosted the couple for dinner often in Lahore.

Public appearances by Jemima are rare, and apart from the occasional social function, her life is strictly private. She has, so far, shown little interest in pursuing a career of any kind, in journalism or any other field, as was speculated in England before the couple’s arrival in Lahore. Though she is a frequent visitor at the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust Hospital, set up by Imran in memory of his mother, she has not really taken up any task of organising social activities or public work, as had been expected of her earlier.

She is, however, clearly proving to be an asset in New York, where the couple are presently on a fund-raising tour, and has said on more than one occasion that she is interested in supporting her husband in "all the charitable works that he is carrying on with", and adding in her pleasant manner that "this should keep me busy enough". She is also learning Urdu, which she has said she would like to speak fluently, an essential requirement if she is ever to work in Pakistan.

Much of Jemima’s stay in Lahore has been punctuated by visits abroad, to Tokyo, back to London and now to New York, which means that she has not really settled in to any real routine in Lahore.

Her first few days in the city were spent shopping for salwar kameezes with her sisters-in-law, but since then she has rarely been seen in public, spending much of her time at 2, Zaman Park, Imran’s modest home in a posh Lahore suburb where the rest of Imran’s family also stays, including his numerous cousins and uncles.

There is talk that Jemima wishes to carry out some changes in the house, most notably the addition of a jacuzzi, perhaps as part of an effort to bring it into line with the kind of comforts she has been accustomed to at home.

She has also been quoted as being rather disparaging in her attitude towards Lahore’s shops and the often over-stated names that they hear, but this may be unfair considering that Pakistanis themselves are frequently unrelenting in their criticism of things in their own country. One of Imran’s older friends insists that "Jemima is making every effort to adjust, and she will probably end up being more Pakistani than the rest of us."

Her arrival has not brought any dramatic change in Imran’s own lifestyle. His old friends, many of them school buddies, continue to dominate Imran’s social life, while his two pet dogs, Cheetah and Tiger, still enjoys a run of the Khan residence.

Imran’s sister Rubina, who holds a senior post with the United Nations, says: "Jemima is clearly an intelligent girl, and we are all glad to have around as Imran’s wife."

The same attitude is shared by Imran’s other three sisters, and his nieces, who have played a major role in helping the young Englishwoman adjust to life in Lahore, in a house which is shared with Imran’s elderly father – a man who is reputed to have led a rather flamboyant lifestyle in his own days, and who is now a board member of the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust hospital.

Jemima herself has always acknowledged the support given to her by her sisters-in-law and once said that "seeing they were educated, strong women, with lives of their own", helped her realise that life was not all that bleak for Pakistani women.

However, there is a general feeling among those who have remained close to Imran over the past few years, in a private or professional capacity, that the real test for the dream marriage may come after the inevitable honeymoon is over. "Quite clearly, Jemima hero-worships Imran, and he adores her," says a close associate. "But we have to see how long this will last."

Other western women living in Lahore, among them Victoria Khan, a young British woman married to a Pakistani, say that the lack of entertainment, the lack of freedom available in Pakistan compared to the West means that it is all the more important for them to involve themselves in some sort of professional activity.

"After the novelty of life here and the attention I was getting wore off, I just found things terribly boring, and I suspect Jemima, used to a hectic social life in the West, will feel the same sense of loss." Victoria Khan runs a home rental business and says it was useful in giving her a sense of purpose and a chance to integrate into the pace of life in Pakistan.

And although Jemima herself has made no real public comment since arriving in Lahore, restricting herself to the occasional photo session, she did say a month ago that she "had no real problems, and was enjoying Lahore". Of course, there is also speculation that she may be expecting the couple’s first child.

But what many Pakistani are really curious about is, what role will Jemima play in the longer run as the wife of a man who still commands a formidable following and who enjoys the status of an informal national leader.


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