Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Book Review – Goodbye Shahzadi, Shyam Bhatia
An Indian journalist’s sleazy biography of Benazir Bhutto.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
Petty games people play. Indian journalist Mr. Shyam Bhatia who had known Ms. Benazir Bhutto since her student days in Oxford, during the 70s, have penned a quickie biography of Pakistan’s late prime minister. He has accused her of smuggling nuclear secrets to North Korea during a state visit to Pyongang by carrying CDs containing data about uranium enrichment in an overcoat “with deepest possible pockets”.
That’s just the most serious charge in this thin, seemingly hurriedly written book that has little flair for fine writing and hardly any consideration for credible sources to back up its wild claims.
Mr. Bhatia calls the young Ms. Bhutto a ‘self-obsessed’ girl with legendary tantrums who would throw “ashtrays like flying saucers at the servants” in ancestral home at Larkana.
Indeed, his Benazir-at-Oxford emerges as quite a flamboyant woman who drove a yellow MG sports car, dunked down white wine, and had a “myriad of mostly white boyfriends.” However, Mr. Bhatia soon contradicts himself by claiming that Ms. Bhutto was madly in love with “two extremely handsome Pakistani students” who (here’s the cake) “firmly rebuffed marital enquiries on her part”.
In this breezy breathless portrayal of Benazir’s young days, Mr. Bhatia hasn’t inserted any footnotes to add to the credibility of his ‘accusations’.
Ms. Bhutto-at-Oxford “epitomized the classic spoilt rich girl from a third world country”. Ms. Bhutto-the-PM was hardly any improvement. She was “no different from the village women of her home province who swear by faith healers and other superstitious practices”. The author goes on to castigate her for making a “lengthy journey to Bangladesh to seek the benediction of a local holy man”. Tch tch.
And, there’s more.
According to Mr. Bhatia, Pakistan’s assassinated leader had a “chameleon-like quality” who was “equally at ease with Marxists and capitalists, Indians and Israelis, Islamic fundamentalists and liberal democrats, Chinese, Australians, in fact anyone on planet”. Phew.
Then there’s a chapter on Ms. Bhutto-the-wife. It’s basically about her husband’s alleged corruption titled “The Marriage Business” (very smart-alecky!).
But the most damning charge that Mr. Bhatia makes against Ms. Bhutto is that she transferred nuclear secrets to North Korea by carrying CDs with sensitive information in her overcoat during a state visit to the hermit nation in 1993. The female James Bond returned home, according to Mr. Bhatia, with another set of CDs that carried missile information, courtesy North Korea.
How did Mr. Bhatia get his information? He says that Ms. Bhutto told him so in her Dubai home after a dinner of Lamb biryani, chocolate ice cream and fresh fruits (no white wine?). Any proof? Oh, he had his tape recorder but Ms. Bhutto asked him to switch it off. Why didn’t he tell it earlier? After all, this was an explosive story and Mr. Bhatia is a journo. Oh, he had promised Ms. Bhutto not to reveal her confession in her lifetime. Convenient.
Let’s face it. This is, how to put it…a sleazy biography. Lot of muck thrown but with scant regard to evidence and, err, decency.
It is true Ms. Bhutto left behind a questionable legacy but Mr. Bhatia could have written a more sincere bio. He had the good fortune to know his subject from a close quarter. He first saw Ms. Bhutto in “pyjamas and dressing-gown” in Oxford. He was by her side when Ms. Bhutto addressed the historic rally in Lahore’s Iqbal Park following her triumphal return to Pakistan in 1986. He later went on do a series of interviews with Ms. Bhutto during her exile in Dubai. Pity then that Mr. Bhatia ended up with such trash.