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Home > General > The answer’s blowing in the wind

The answer’s blowing in the wind

by Bapsi Sidhwa, 5 January 2009

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The Deccan Herald

Bapsi Sidhwa is an internationally acclaimed author of novels like ‘Water’, ‘Ice Candy Man’, ‘An American Brat’, ‘Cracking India’, ‘The Bride’, and ‘The Crow Eaters’. Sidhwa was raised in Lahore , Pakistan ; she now lives in Houston Texas

One cannot look in upon events in 2008 without reflecting on the fateful moments that held Pakistan hostage to a horrendous roller-coaster ride through 2007. The turmoil that spilled over from Afghanistan into the lawless maze of mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan intensified, and suicide bombers, not on our radars before, exploded like grotesque fire-crackers in the northern areas and in major cities, including Lahore , killing thousands. The radicalisation of the peaceful Swat Valley by the Taliban and their dire edicts was another development:

“If any ‘nai’ shaves or trims a beard, his shop will be blown up!”

What could the poor barbers do but obey?

A new girl’s school built by DIL, a voluntary organisation for the development of literacy, was burnt down in the Valley.

On the heels of this turmoil came waves of protest by lawyers and politicians demanding General Pervaiz Musharraf’s resignation and calling for the reinstatement of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. The Supreme Court Justice was ousted by the general for challenging the validity of a case that would have permitted him to remain in power after elections.

Like his predecessors who had come to power with some popular support, General Musharraf continued to overstay his welcome.

The processions and their acts of minor vandalism — burning buses and tires on streets — though disruptive, ironically brought respite from suicide bombing.

Meanwhile, Benazir Bhutto, or Bibi as she was popularly known, exiled by the Nawaz Sharif’s government in 1996 on charges of corruption, was yearning to return to Pakistan . It is believed President Bush had brokered a deal; General Musharraf would have the charges against her dropped, and Ms Bhutto would appoint him President of Pakistan; thus giving him the democratic legitimacy he required to continue America ’s fight against Al Queda and the Taliban. It was presumed she would win the elections.

Much like the Gandhi name does in India , the Bhutto name resonates in Pakistan , and a candidate bearing it is likely to win elections. It is a legacy bequeathed by Benazir’s father Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto. In befriending the poor and giving them self-respect, he won their hearts.

On her return to Karachi from Dubai, Ms Bhutto was greeted by hordes of jubilant party faithful — and three bombs, which spared her in her safe-box in the armoured vehicle, but killed 250 revellers belong to the Peoples Party founded by her father.

Bibi continued to address throngs of supporters in the cities and finally arrived in Islamabad , the capital of Pakistan . Despite being warned not to stand up in her safe-box she repeatedly did so and was finally struck down by a bomb blast and simultaneous gunfire.

I was in Houston when this happened. Horrified by the turn of events which can only be defined as epic, I still believe that Bibi, deeming herself irrevocably trapped, unconsciously sought death as the way out. Although she had agreed to the US terms, she had not gauged her party’s fury or their determination to topple the regime. There was no way she could go against their will to reinstate the General. The implacable pull of the contradictory strains on her must have been unsustainable. Yet, elated by the adoration of the people and by her popularity, returning to her country after long years in exile, she surrendered herself to the enchantment of those moments. We saw her repeatedly pop up through the round orifice of her safe box in response to the chants of the crowds, almost deliberately exposing herself to risk — and despite the heavy security her enemies killed her in Rawalpindi (Islamabad’s twin city), only a few hundred yards from the place where a jail once stood; where her father was hung.

Bibi returned from exile in July ’07 and died in December 27 the same year...

Pakistan was as usual rife with speculation and rumour. General Musharraf had not provided adequate security. He, the secret service, or even her husband had a hand in Bibi’s assassination. But I would lay the blame on the radical Islamist elements in the country and the terrorists who support them.

The rapid turn of events after this left us all gasping. Bibi’s husband Asif Ali Zardari, who had no political experience and held no position in the party, took over the Peoples Party leadership. Zardari was elected President of Pakistan with an overwhelming majority on September 6, 2008.

And all this time the presidential elections in America were following their own fateful course. When Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama became the main contenders for the Democratic Party nomination it marked a rare historic occasion. It was the first time that a woman and an African-American had a clear shot at holding the highest office in America , which meant also one of the most powerful positions in the world. The contest between the two held not only the Americans but much of the world in thrall. I was rooting for Hillary. She was extraordinarily intelligent, eloquent, and had all the qualities I appreciate most in a leader. Together with millions of other women and men I was heartbroken to see her chances slip away as more and more special delegates chose to stand with Obama.

The middle of the year also marked a personal tragedy. My brother Minnoo Bhandara had an accident in the western province of Sinkiang , on his way to explore the Kimlyn desert. He broke three bones and was operated upon at an excellent hospital in Urumqchi. Language posed a problem and he insisted on being moved to a hospital in Islamabad , close to his home in Rawalpindi . The hospital was negligent and he developed septicemia. I flew to his bedside a few hours before he died on June 15 this year.

Minoo had and an intuitive facility that made him empathise with others at an almost intimate level. He surprised me: I often found he understood me better than I myself did. Although his success as a brewer and his courageous stands in Parliament, often against his own party, made him many enemies, he held enmity towards none. His natural empathy and understanding of human nature wouldn’t allow for that. But leaving all his qualities and complexity aside, he was special to me because he had an innate sensitivity of my work: He loved my novel The Crow Eaters and converted our grandparents home and wine-shop into a beautiful art gallery and named it The Crow Eaters Gallery. I realise now that much of what I wrote was for him to see, to remark on — and now that he has passed away I am unable to write, perhaps unwilling to. He was the bedrock of whatever little confidence I have.

I returned to Houston in early August to be once again caught up in the election fever gripping the nation. The year appears to be ending on a note of despair one doesn’t want it to. The savage and shocking attack on Bombay ’s landmark Taj and Oberoi Hotels, and the tragic loss of innocent lives, is chilling. Every time India and Pakistan take baby steps to ease their relations something like the ghastly terrorist attack on Mumbai takes place to sabotage the negotiations. It seems to be a calculated attempt to disrupt any progress, and the two nuclear powers heedlessly fly at each other’s throats almost reflexively. One can only pray that the disruptive acts of the saboteurs don’t ever lead to war between the two neighbours.

At the same time there is so much hope at seeing Barak Obama become President Elect of America. His intelligence, his humility, his rational calm and unwavering courtesy and control are astounding; especially when compared to the bellicose belligerence and arrogance that marked the Bush/Cheney administration. These are truly amazing times. The astonishing and heartwarming victory of a darker hued man with whom a large part of the developing world identifies, is counter-balanced by the mammoth meltdown of the American financial system which is affecting and afflicting the rest of the entire world. And yet, despite the dismal and dire prognosis of impending doom we enter 2009 on a surge of hope, buoyed by the quintessentially American ‘can-do’ optimism of Barak Obama. God Give him strength: Amin.