By: Saroj Thakur
The year was 1972. The war with Pakistan had ended and we were so happy that India had not only defeated Pakistan but had captured many Prisoners of War (PoW). The All India Radio (AIR) had a special slot for the messages aired by the POWs to their own people back home. We would listen to the names and the numbers of the POWs and would sometimes feel bad about them being away from their own kith and kin. At the same time, the feeling that they were the enemies would overtake all other feeling of compassion for them.
I was barely 16 years old at that time, and had experienced the first horror of the war. We would be so scared at the thought of a bomb being dropped on our heads, whenever the hooter would blare in a dangerous manner heralding an enemy war plane nearby. So the end of war brought a sense of relief as well as the winning glee on our faces. The elders at home talked about the fate of the POWs and the happiness at captured land of the Pakistan regime. We kids, too, would be happy. But sometimes the voice of the POWs would reverberate in my ears and I would feel a little uncomfortable. I would clutch my father closely and would be happy that he was not in Army. I didn’t want to lose him.
It was under such circumstances that we came to know that Z A Bhutto, the President of Pakistan was coming to India (Shimla, Himachal Pradesh) for a treaty. The news was great as he was coming to Shimla – the place where we lived. The feeling of watching a defeated Prime Minister was too strong in my heart. News started to make waves that Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of Z A Bhutto, too would be accompanying him. This added a little romance to the visit of Bhutto the senior. Our annual exams were around the corner but we would be busy talking about the ensuing visit of the Pakistani convoy. Shimla started to get a facelift. The roads were being prepared for security cordons and the welcome that would be accorded to the Pakistani convoy. There would be a feeling of awe that why we Indians have to be so good even to our enemies. The story about Alexander and Porus would come to my mind and I would accept, though unwillingly, the great Indian tradition of according respect to even our enemies.
On April 2, 1972, the entire Mall Road turned into a small cantonment. The road was barricaded on both sides and we could stand outside the barricades waiting for the famous caravan to pass by. It was a sunny day. There was chill in the air, as well in our hearts that we were giving so much of love to our enemies. But the excitement of watching Benazir overtook all other feelings and I stood patiently for a long time to welcome the guests!
She looked cute. A young girl of about 19-20 years! She was wearing something dark coloured. Though I was barely able to get a glimpse of her face and loose hair, but it was a pleasant face. She was smiling and waiving at the crowd. I tried to put myself in her place and tried imagining her state of mind. I thought what she must be thinking of? Would there be any pride in her heart or plain humiliation to have come to a country for begging their soldiers and land back? But the smile on her face signified that, despite many odds, she carried herself with great dignity. I liked her for her courage. I again thought, would have I accompanied my father on such a mission? Perhaps not. I was full of admiration for the courage of the girl.
Next few days were full of buzz with the Pakistani troupe and its escapades. I don’t know how much of it was true but we had an eager ear to take all that was being said about. “You know the Pakistani troupe is being shown some classic Urdu movies!” someone would chip in, “like Mugal-e-Azam, Anaarkali and Chaudhavi Ka Chaand.” And the information that some regular movie shows were cancelled at the Ritz Cinema, so that special shows could be arranged for the “guests” made us angry. “Why so much of trouble to our people and that too on account of showing courtesy to these Pakis?” we would ask. But the smiling face of a young girl, on a mission impossible, would make us go soft towards the Pakis. “She loves eating paan,” another one would add to our store house of information. “She relished paans of Guru Prasad Paanwala at the Mall,” the same source of information would add. “She came to the Mall?” I asked in disbelief. I thought of having missed a chance to see her from closer quarter as howsoever did I want to, but could never acknowledge that I loved the girl. I put on an expression of indifference when it came to Benazir. I would watch at her black and white pictures that the photo studios on the Mall displayed and would admire her for her bubbliness.
She looked bewitching in a saree. It was a picture where she was with her father and Indira Gandhi.
Z A Bhutto, Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto during the Shimla Agreement in 1973 (The irony: All three met a tragic end)
Later on, we forgot about the episode but when she became Prime Minister of Pakistan, I could put all the earlier references in my mind and relate them to her present. All the training that Z A Bhutto, her father, had provided her, made her a polished politician. I admired her many a times and all the time, the picture of a girl with face hidden behind loose short hair would come to my mind. I used to think that her father must have wanted to groom her the way Indira Gandhi was groomed by Jawaharlal Nehru and must have wanted to learn it quite early in her life – the lessons of politics. But when she decided to come back to Pakistan after having lived in exile for such a long time, I watched her with interest. It was a pleasure to watch a mature lady instead of the young girl that I admired for her freshness. I don’t know why, but her visit back home reminded me so much of her visit to India in the year 1972. The mood back home in Pakistan was hostile. The woman still moved on with the same winning smile as her armour. But the day I heard of her being killed, I just thought that it was unfair to a woman who had taken her first political lessons in 1972 by visiting a so called enemy country where people had hostile mood. But we showered them with all that India is famous for – love, care and respect. And here, her very own country and her very own people had killed her. It was a shock to me. The newspapers reported that she was buried next to the grave of her father and I could not help feeling more sorry.
She lay dead and cold, in a grave next to her father’s who had taught her the first lesson in politics in 1972. What a pity indeed!