Or, one good turn and all that.
There we were, happily doing nothing the other day, when there was an irritating knock on the door.
All knocks on the door are irritating because they interrupt me doing nothing.
It was one of our neighbours. He’d been going out and shut the door on himself and then – of course – realised the keys were inside.
Could Partner help? See, we have turned into the concierge service since taking over running the block.
Luckily as he’d just latched himself out and not locked the deadlock, the Concierge Partner got our neighbour back in to retrieve his keys.
‘How much?’ asks the neighbour. ‘It’s OK,’ said the Concierge. ‘Happy to help. Saves the fire service breaking down your door.’ (Which is what happened last time).
‘I’ll make you some onion bhajis,’ he said, because he knows we are vegetarian – and so is he.
But they never arrived. Although we did hear him coughing and thought he didn’t sound too good. He must be on at least 20 pills a day.
Yesterday when Maintenance Partner was coating up the staircase walls in the block with alkali-resisting primer, our neighbour said, ‘I will bring the bhajis down tonight, around 5-6pm.’
Well in Gibbo terms, that could mean anywhere between 4.30 and 8pm, so I just got on with life, scrubbed down the shower, and put some food together anyway.
Note, if you live in a damp humid sub-tropical climate, do NOT EVER put those crappy fake mosaic tiles in a bathroom. Not only does the grout get covered with mould, so do the pretend gaps between the pretend mosaicy tiles.
Mosaics are for churches in Ravenna (Italy) or Roman villas in Britain. Not for small flats in a humid climate.
Meanwhile, it goes without saying that when I was reaping the rewards of my hard day’s graft in the shower, and finally enjoying cleaning off my dirty little self, there was a knock on the door. Which I hasten to add, I didn’t answer in an extremely wet and unclothed state, but Partner did.
Rajish and his bhajis. And some mint sauce of some type or other. He apologised for not bringing more. I looked at the neatly wrapped pile and sadly figured there were two.
But when I opened them up, there were six. Not two of those thick, somewhat stodgy ones that you get out, but six delightful light spicy ones. I’m thinking he made them a bit like I do Indian breads, so I need to get me a recipe from him. And for the delicious salsa.
Anyway, served with the potatoes and broccoli I had prepared, and an Indian type rice salad which got more of the minty salsa.
They were excellent. We could have eaten dozens of them, they were so light, tasty and delicious. There certainly weren’t any leftovers for breakfast.
Moving from India to her next-door neighbour Pakistan.
I’ve just finished reading Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography: Daughter of the East. Also published as Daughter of Destiny.
It was printed in 1988, before the military dictator General Zia was killed in a ‘plane crash and before Benazir came to power as prime minister of Pakistan later that year.
Benazir had always fascinated me, glamorous, beautiful, intelligent, well-educated (Harvard, Oxford, President of the Oxford Union), and a big player in politics in a country that was something like 95% Muslim. And in the late 70s/early 80s, a powerful woman in politics was someone to be admired just for even getting there. (Still is, but that is another issue).
So, although not a fan of autobiogs, I picked up this one.
The style is quite dry, it is however, very well written. But when you are writing about being incarcerated in cells running with sewage, full of cockroaches, mosquitoes, ants, any other nasty insect you can poke a stick at, eating one watery cup of lentil soup a day with a bit of stale bread, you don’t need to exaggerate or write fancy prose.
Then there are the descriptions of torture. Photographs of the police brutality. The refusal to allow Benazir, or her mother Nusrat, to be taken out of the country for treatment for their health (Nusrat had lung cancer and Benazir had a dangerous perforated eardrum). Both, were eventually allowed to leave.
This was not an easy read, but totally un-put-down-able.
It starts off with her father’s death/execution/murder by the Zia dictatorship, and then gradually takes us through her childhood, to her privileged university days, and then back home to Pakistan and the military coup and her incarceration. After swanning around Harvard and Oxford, she must have had a rude awakening.
Her father, who became Prime Minister of Pakistan (1973-1977) is portrayed as an exemplar of human rights, nationalising many industries, doing away with feudal land rights (easy to do when you are hellish rich), investing in health and education, and improving women’s rights.
He also wanted to develop an atom bomb to be able to defend Pakistan against India. This wasn’t popular with America, as well as his socialist policies, and he also moved into developing alliances with other Asian and Islamic countries.
While he was waiting in jail to be killed, Benazir, her mother Nusrat (also in jail), and her two brothers in exile, were trying to activate world leaders to support a plea for clemency. Didn’t happen and Papa Bhutto was killed. Don’t mess with the Americans?
More about Zulfikar. A mixed review, but some outstanding plaudits as well as the dubious reviews of his leadership of Pakistan.
When Benazir finally leaves to get an operation on her dodgy ear, she visits mummy in exile in Geneva (nice to have a little pad there eh?), and then goes off to London and gets a flat in the Barbican. Wonder if Arthur Scargill was there at the time?
From there she works as an activist, and as leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) founded by her father, to try and overthrow the military dictatorship of General Zia, and get execution decisions for political prisoners reversed – in which she was rarely successful. Sadly.
Meanwhile her two brothers had got involved in some rather more militant tactics to try and overthrow the dictatorship, and trained Pakistani rebels at an Afghanistan base. Where they met a couple of royal Afghani sisters and married them.
Not a good idea. On a family holiday in Cannes, the youngest brother, Shah, was found dead in their holiday home. Poisoned. But by who? Suicide? Or …? His Afghani wife was originally arrested by French police regarding the mysterious death but later released, whereupon she cleared off to America, receiving an American visa extremely quickly.
The other brother, Mir, subsequently divorced the other regal Afghani sister. Bizarre. I mean, this reads far better than some of the trashy novels I have read.
Anyway, Benazir decides to go back to Pakistan, on the announcement that Martial Law has allegedly been lifted, so she can rally the people behind her.
There is a promise of elections from the military dictatorship, although naturally the parameters keep changing. The book ends with a strong hope that democracy will return to Pakistan.
But then, there is an epilogue, about how Bhutto decides in her 30s to accept an arranged marriage, on the grounds that she can’t be taken seriously as a single woman and that she doesn’t meet any nice men. (I paraphrase).
Although she had grown up believing she would choose her own partner (her younger sister was the first woman Bhutto to do so), and she wasn’t a proponent of arranged marriages, her political career made it impossible to do otherwise. Yeah.
So she married Asif Zardari. He was from a land-owning family in her province of Sindh. Heir to the chiefdom of a 100,000 strong tribe.
‘Asif, I knew, was not interested in party politics,’ she wrote.
Really? (See below).
Anyway, happily married and awaiting the elections, the book has a sort of happy but optimistic ending espousing and promoting democracy.
But what happened later?
Benazir’s younger brother Mir was killed/assassinated/murdered in a shooting incident in 1996. Six other people were killed. Benazir and the unpolitical Asif were implicated in the kilings as they had had arguments with Mir about politics. Mir thought Asif had too much influence in the PPP and corruption allegations were already widespread about Asif and Benazir.
In 2007, Benazir was killed after leaving a political rally. What is the point of having a bullet-proof vehicle if you stand up through the roof to wave to people – and get shot? She was 54, and despite being dismissed from power previously, charges made against her, even more years in exile, she was determined to fight another election so had returned to Pakistan.
The only surviving child of the Bhutto family is Sunny (Sanam), who has apparently said she was not interested in politics. Well, given the life expectancy of her siblings, I wouldn’t be interested in politics either. Now divorced from her husband, who was implicated in the corruption deals.
And what about the unpolitical Asif? Current president of Pakistan and allegedly the second wealthiest man in Pakistan.
With a few nice little houses dotted around:
estates in Surrey, West End of London, Normandy, Manhattan, and Dubai, as well as a 16th century chateau in Normandy, and homes in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.
Apparently he had always wanted to marry Bhutto:
“When we were teenagers, he’d watched me enter and leave the cinema his father owned. Two decades later, it had been his idea to marry me, not his parents’. ‘If you want me to marry, then propose for Benazir,’ he’d told his father five years before. He had waited patiently ever since.”
Obviously. Family name, power, politics, influence. Why would any ambitious person not want to marry her?
It’s interesting reading an autobio and then reading – what happened next…
Would I recommend this? Absolutely. It was a great read and absolutely fascinating regarding international politics, military dictatorship in Pakistan, and the insight into a rich and privileged Pakistani family.
Was it a PR exercise or a true story? Who knows. Got to admire their spirit and resilience though as family. Just amazing.
More about Benazir.
And a Gibraltar link (!):
Operation Gibraltar was the codename given to the strategy of Pakistan to infiltrate Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, and start a rebellion against Indian rule. Launched in August 1965.
Wonder what was the significance of that codename?
Meanwhile, having finished one book, and being too idle to go to the library (scrubbing the shower does take it out of one), I picked up a freebie from the neighbour.
Five hundred pages of, what? Jane Harris’s acclaimed novel, The Observations, shortlisted for the Orange Fiction Prize for 2007 and a Waterstone’s Author for the Future.
The ‘heroine’ Bessy something is compared on the blurb with Moll Flanders and Becky Sharpe. Possibly, but the writing and plot aren’t quite the same.
Plot = Servant girl gets new post in odd place, strange goings on, boils down to an old story of some previous servant got pregnant by a preacher, and chucked herself under a train. The master of the house had refused to bring up the kid as his own, and the mistress went mad.
Criticisms? Well, one woman, Bessy actually a girl, coming out through it all right doesn’t negate the bad themes in there. Her mother had sold her into prostitution at aged not very much. The mistress of the house has a loopy obsession with controlling servants and wanting obedience. The preacher obviously has a roving eye, wandering hands and more. The master of the house is more interested in his political career, and when his wife is committed to an asylum, he is soooo remorseful, and even visits her a couple of times before he decides to resume his legal practice and is never heard from again. Bessy’s mother is killed by loopy mistress of the house, when she pushes her over a railway bridge.
So we have a mad murdering woman, a drunken prostitute who sells her daughter (and has lesbian sex with her in front of someone for money), and a feeble woman who can’t avoid some lecherous old religious bastard.
Meanwhile the men get away with everything. Now, while I accept that may well portray real life, I don’t need to read 500 pages of a non-existent plot to tell me something I already know.
Recommended read? I think you have guessed the answer – no.