Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Book Review – Goodbye Shahzadi, Shyam Bhatia

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’.

There’s more.

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.


Anonymous said...

This is such an excellent review
Many thanks for posting it. I was planning to read this book but now I am going to give it a miss.
It is a shame that a well-reputed journo has been unable to check his facts and references.

Thanks again - PP is such a wonderful blogsite on Pakistan.


Ayibar said...

great job on writing this review, by reading it you have somewhat convinced me to believe that what Bhatia wrote was completely based on beliefs and he had no proof..RUBBISH..he must've had a lot of time on his hands.. i loved the part where you said "james bond"then returned back with a cd under her shyam bhatia has written nonsense and he's just based his "biography"[pukes] on stereotypical views..well i liked ur review anyway! =)

Anonymous said...

Thanks you saved my money I spend on serious stuff but now I will waste it on fiction which appears interesting.I also beg to disagree since Ssham Bbhatia is well reputed and some other reviews were very different.Normally the official biography is very trite so why not have little spicy one.Let us wait and see what Jamima says.....

Anonymous said...

Very good precise review indeed !
Balanced, critical and with a fair view of the full situation on yahya's Pakistan when BB came into her own and Musharraf's when she made her curtain call.
with all her faults and quadruple standards in personal life, politics, position on terror, etc, she managed to give the country a sense of being one. i dont see it in the others ! And Bhatia's book alo brings this out well.

Anonymous said...

This is how a professional muck racking goes. But this journos has gone a step ahead by revealing ( I mean manufacturing) things when the person in talk is dead.

But the thing is why this embargo for so many years till the lady died.

Anybody there explain.

But wonderfully put, "a sleazy biography with lot of muck thrown with scant regard to evidence, err, decency."

Baba Umar,Kashmir 9South Asia)