Karan Thapar’s first-floor Vasant Vihar flat is, like its owner, neat, fastidious and superficially calm. The Interrupter-in-Chief of the Indian broadcast media had invited me—with four other editors—for a rap with Benazir Bhutto. The morning papers had printed with much enthusiasm and approval the pro-India noises Ms Bhutto made the previous evening—an indiscretion which earned her the anticipated rebuke of "anti-national" from Islamabad.
I had never met Benazir Bhutto and on television at least she seems like an over-made-up doll. Beneath the excess of make-up and synthetic charm lived a genuinely courageous woman who had suffered more than her share, courtesy outrageous fortune. But on the screen one seldom caught a glimpse of the real human being. So, I was pleasantly surprised at the playful innocence of her smile as she recounted the serial horrors she had experienced in her woeful life. That a person who has seen her father hang, been accused of murdering her brother, clashed publicly with her mother, been sacked from prime ministership twice, married a man rotting in jail for the past four years on charges of treason and corruption, could laugh at all seemed extraordinary. That she was also able to display a sense of self-composure, dignity and zest for living stretched incredulity.
Benazir’s utterances in New Delhi need not detain us. She is unemployed. Therefore her sweet reasonableness on all matters ranging from Kashmir to bilateral trade to visas needs to be viewed with caution. This self-styled "voice of freedom" comes to India with Indian collaboration and she has been bought here to remind us and, more especially the US, that the world has other options besides Pervez Musharraf in the frontline state bordering Afghanistan. And democratic options at that. Nevertheless, although stranger things have happened, Benazir’s return to power (however desirable) is difficult to envisage.
I listened to the Daughter of the East for over two hours. Some of the stories she recounted, with much good humour, made one’s hair stand. Even if she was embellishing the truth, the embellished truth was fantastic in every detail. The tales she told of treachery, torture, thuggery and plain murder, implicating everyone from past and present presidents, prime ministers, chief justices, army chiefs, to the humble SHO made for toe-curling history. I know for an Indian to seek the moral high ground here is foolish; much the same happens in our beloved Bharat. It is the scale which is so different.
Many executioners eagerly await to slaughter the return of democracy in Pakistan. One executioner we have ignored is the visceral inter-personal hatred that exists at the top of the Pakistani political pyramid. I was not entirely certain at the end of my dialogue whether Pervez Musharraf or Nawaz Sharif or Farooq Leghari was Ms Bhutto’s Enemy Number One, but the politics of revenge seems to be the priority for the principal players after elections in 2002.
My head swirling with ‘stories’, I was glad to get out of Karan’s flat and into Delhi’s polluted air.