Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Tribute to Benazir: From a mother

Dr. Nighat Khan

It was probably a sheer coincidence that I started my married life and career in 1988. The same year when the dark days of the Zia era had come to an end and a young, intelligent, vibrant and beautiful woman was poised to become the first PM of an Islamic country. She had gotten married a year before me and now she was to be a PM and a mother.

Millions of Pakistanis felt hopeful, or rather ecstatic at her sight. She exuded hope and glory this wretched nation deserved for a long time. Expectations mounted. But the mess was too much to clean, with so much to do amid hostility and animosity from all quarters of the establishment. Pakistanis began to grumble as they wanted her to fix all their ills with a magic wand.

By the time my first daughter Myra was born in November 1989, she had already succeeded in the no confidence movement against her. I was in labour when I heard the news. I also juggled my career as a faculty member of Aga , motherhood and the challenges encountered by many a career woman even today but many decades before.

She was dismissed as PM without being given a chance. And then the propaganda machine started churning against her and anyone close to her. I must confess I, along with many Pakistanis, felt disappointed and were perhaps swayed by the mass campaign against her and her husband. You see, we are a strange nation. We give decades to each dictator to mess with our destinies but are so short fused with politicians within 1/4th of that period.

I never met Benazir in person, a regret that I am going to take with me. The only time I saw her in person was when she had come to pick up Bilawal from school, who was a year ahead of Myra. She was already out of power as PM and was there as a mother.

At home time I looked up the Foyer steps one day and there she was. Tall, majestic radiant and towering everyone around her. She was flashing a charming smile. Oh God, how this image of her never left me. I wish I had gone up to her talked to her, befriended her as a mum.

What ever happened in 1990s, with the murder of her brother, what she was enduring many of us have only dreamt of. She was hounded by opinion makers, accused by the press of murdering her own brother. So much so that eventually she was driven out of the country. We celebrated when a “soft dictator” took over. She tried to come back but no one was ready to heed any attention. The upper classes went on about their comfortable living. Democracy, rule of law were perhaps never our priorities.

Her eventual arrival on 18th was preceded by the cacophony of NRO. Her reconciliatory tone was seen as her admission of corruption. On every TV channel, the so called intellectuals were busy dissecting NRO. But the common man had another idea. How she must have felt to see those thousands of human head dancing to her tune. They had no concern for NROs; all they could think was their leader was back. Her image of looking up the heavens with tears rolling down is immortal. She looked determined as well as radiant. But Benazir, the dark forces who killed the first PM of the country did not like what they saw. They were there to finish you. They failed only temporarily. Scores of people were killed and crippled.

My heart sank when she announced Liaqat Bagh as her venue for her next public rally on 27th December. I listened to her speech. She was exceptionally animated. I saw her coming down the stage after her speech, feeling relieved that she was fine now and changed the channel to BBC Food. You see, I come from Pindi and as a young girl, had witnessed the false trial and then tragic assassination of her father. I was worried that she is mother of children of my age and I know what I mean to my girls. I don’t know why I changed the BBC food channel and by mistake I pressed PTV channel number (We only press for PTV channel by mistake these days). I saw the ticker. There was breaking news of a bomb blast in her rally. My heart sank immediately. “Oh my God they got her”, I yelled for my husband who was quietly working at his laptop. I held his hand and said “She is no more”. I know for the next 15-20 minutes, TV channels tried to reassure us that she had left the rally and was safe. But it was her husband’s plea to pray for her life that the gravity of situation became a reality. I knew she was gone.

How could this happen? The shock, despair and horror which took over every Pakistani were by no means unique to me. I was part of a nation grieving. Like many Pakistanis I had broken down and was crying like an inconsolable child for days. Nothing seemed important anymore. My younger daughter would come every 5 minutes and say “your kiss makes me feel better so I will take care of you” She would hug me and give me a kiss. There was a role reversal. I had neglected my children in my grief. But I knew deep down at least I was alive for my daughters. My heart was bleeding for Bakhtawar, Asifa and Bilawal. Myra and Mareeha’s mother was alive but who will console these children? When will their mother give those hugs and kisses? Listen to their squabbling and just smile? How could such cruelty be meted to these children? Who are these heartless people? Don’t they have any children or grand children to plot such medieval murder? No one gave us any answers and the ones who did were so ridiculous that we were outraged even more.

I have been to Garhi Khuda Baksh lately with a group of women from WAF and anyone who visits that place cannot describe the intensity of tragedy striking us. But I went to her father’s grave and 30 years of grieve had come out and I cried and cried the tears I could not shed since April 4, 1979. I felt I was guilty of a terrible slight. I apologised to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for not rising up as a Pakistani at his murder. I apologized to him for being a drawing room talking head, for not meeting his illustrious daughter in person and telling her that she and I one in principle, that we had difference but we had more similarities. Sorry my dear prime ministers, we are ever so sorry for your killers are amongst us. I want to say

Qatal-e- hussain assl mein murg-e yazeed hai
Islam zinda hota hay hur Karbla kay bad

Benazir by taking your assassin head on, you have taught us new meanings of courage. They might have eliminated you physically but you have chosen to live on. Anyone who doubts that should go to Garhi Khuda Baksh and witness flocks of poor, shoeless people pouring in to her burial site after walking for miles.

The writer is a non political physician practicing in Karachi.

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