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With family like this, who needs enemies?

Anyone who has family knows the politics alone can drive you to madness. When rifts occur, one family member tries to enlist you into battle, whilst another wants you to join their faction. Then there’s the: “He said, She said” factor. Khala jaan said that you told Aunty Kaneez’s son that you did not want to live with/visit/marry into Barri Phupi’s family because they are paindoos/upstarts/morons… It can reach a point where the more you try to explain yourself, the more you find your words twisted, till even you have no idea what the truth is. Even if you manage to clear up the misunderstanding with some, there will always be some who remain unconvinced. In every family there are factions and alliances that change and switch. Imagine then, family politics applied to a nation’s politics, with each member of said family, in equal part shrewd, politically- minded, and fully convinced of their own rightness to the point, it may seem, of ruthlessness. Enter The Bhuttos.

They have been compared to the Kennedys, Gandhis, but whatever else they may not share, the one thing they do is self-perpetuating tragedy. The Bhuttos have been thrown in the spotlight following the publication of Songs Of Blood And Sword penned by a one Fatima Bhutto, journalist and as is printed in red letters on the cover of the book; Grandaughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – Executed 1979, Niece of Shahnawaz Bhutto – Murdered 1985, Daughter of Mir Murtaza Bhutto – Assassinated 1996 and niece to Benazir Bhutto – Assassinated 2007. Fatima Bhutto then, is related to many infamous/famous (depending on which way you lean) dead people is the very first thing the book wants us to know. That is a large number of ghosts to have hanging around, and perhaps this was a motivator for writing the book; to exorcise finally, the ghosts.

The book’s cover also states clearly that it is: A DAUGHTER’S MEMOIR. So overall, the relationships to dead people that the cover wants us to know about, the most important one to the writer is: daughter. After reading the book there is no doubt of this. Bhutto spent many years of her life searching for answers in order to do her father’s memory justice. She tracked down his friends, his teachers, his lovers, but not, it must be noted, his enemies in order to re-connect with a man snatched from her at age 14. This is ultimately, a tribute. The criticism levelled on the work has been everything from tirades about it’s non-objectivity, objections to emotional tone, outrage at it’s accusations, to horror at it’s loosely-stitched pastiche of “truth”. That however, is the question that Bhutto has lived with: What is the truth? This memoir, than, is her truth, and she doesn’t claim any different.

In the dirty game of Pakistani politics with its rich history of instability and violence, does anyone know the real truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? It’s a never-ending game of secrets and lies, snakes and ladders, crime and punishment, agony and ecstasy. There are families, parties, sects, tribes constantly vying for power. In such a landscape, a book such as this, written by a well-educated, well-versed, albeit emotionally distraught (with good reason) woman who has undertaken extensive research, and some deep soul searching, I would imagine, over a course of six years, is a rarity, for it is honest. Bhutto is if nothing else, honest to the best of her ability; refreshing. She gives us an intimate, tangible picture, including personal details about her loved ones, perhaps to balance out the omission of certain other details. Bhutto may have a blind spot when it comes to her father but it is ultimately, “A Daughter’s Memoir,” remember? With the kind of bloody history her family has, there are two more adjectives to describe Bhutto; brave and strong. Let’s face it, the lady has chutzpah.

If you’re looking for objectivity, this is not the place to seek it. This is a book about family drama, and oh what a drama it is. Who murdered Benazir, Who murdered Murtaza, Who murdered Shahnawaz, Who hijacked the plane? I’m not sure that it really matters because Khala Jaan will tell everyone that Aunty Kaneez told her that Bari Phuppi’s son was the one who murdered Murtaza no matter what Barri Phuppi’s son says because in the 70′s Khala Jaan and Barri Phuppo had a falling out over insert: land/money/cattle/dowry etc…For the next installment of who murdered Benazir, who murdered Murtaza, who murdered Shahnawaz, who hijacked the plane? Please await another Bhutto’s memoir.

Songs of Blood and Sword
Author: Fatima Bhutto
Published by Penguin Books, India
Published on March 1, 2010
Price: Indian Rs 699/-
ISBN 9780670082803

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