Archive for October, 2019

Imran Khan will never make a comback: Pak Author /Rashmi Talwar/ Kashmir Images

Imran Khan will never make a comback: Pak Author

Rashmi Talwar


The Begum Tahmina Ayub Aziz

Rashmi Talwar

Pakistani author Tahmina Aziz Ayub was ‘surprisingly’ in Amritsar. I met her, at Majha House- a cultural Hub of the city for the curtain raising event of her co-authored book titled ‘The Begum’ along with co-author Deepa Agarwal.  The book is a collaborative account of the life of Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first lady, wife of Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan.   The 216-page Book ‘The Begum’ is a product of an India-Pak joint venture, authored by Indian Author Deepa Agarwal and Pakistani Author Tahmina, moderated by Namita Gokhale. Tahmina also happens to be the intrepid daughter of Pakistani Politician Sartaj Aziz who served in many exalted positions as Finance Minister, Foreign Minister, NSA (National Security Advisor) during former Pak PM Nawaz Sharif’s tenure. Guests from Pakistan to India and vice versa are rarities, in these times. Some top level personalities in Pakistan were declined Indian visa in recent years, some even for the Jaipur Literature Festival, where their events were charted and printed in the festival inventory. Tahmina’s visit therefore is pleasantly surprising as she unexpectedly travels to India on a SAARC visa, a facility between the two countries that remains active and honoured, despite rancour and fissures between both neighbours. RASHMI TALWAR caught up with the forthright Pak author Tahmina Aziz Ayub, about the book and her take on varied layers of Pakistan, including political.


What really got you to this write the book-“The Begum”? How did Namita and Deepa Agarwal, the co-author of the book, figure in?

The inspiration was just Namita Gokhale and her desire to write this book; she had no time, and couldn’t get down to it, although it had been on the back of her mind for years. So when she approached me, she said-“I have been talking to many people in Pakistan regarding the life of their first lady Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan. But they raised many questions and objections, that irritated me so much, that I told myself- ‘just forget it’, but you (Tahmina) are a person who would not bother, I know you will just do it, just write this book.”

Namita Gokhale- A name in World Literary circles as publisher, author of 16-books and co-director Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) was the vital suture between the two authors, who insured the penned piece on ‘The Begum’ saw the daylight of the two nations at loggerheads. Namita’s interest emanated from the fact that she shared a common Brahmin lineage; some of her aunts and her sister even resembled Ra’ana in appearance and a shared maiden surname ‘Pant’ with the first lady of Pakistan- Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan. Namita was born Namita Pant while Ra’ana was born Irene Ruth Margaret Pant.

Deepa Agarwal, the co-author of the book is an award winning author-poet of India with almost 50 books to her credit and was deeply interested in this subject since she shared a common ancestral town of Almora with Pakistan’s first lady. Over her growing years she learnt a lot about the Begum’s grit and gift, from stories that wafted around her hometown.

Were you connected with first family in any way?

No, not at all. There are many people however who are very friendly with them. Her son born in India- Akber Liaquat Ali Khan is known to be very social, but because I live in Islamabad and he in Karachi, I don’t know him. Out of Ra’ana’s granddaughters one of them lives in Lahore, whom I never met, her name is also Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, after her grandmother.  The other one lives in Islamabad, who came from London, is working for an NGO, I never met her till I met her for this book. So I was not connected to the Liaquat Ali Khan family in any way.

Were there problems, connecting, researching for this book, since you didn’t have the initial connections with the first family?

Yes there were, because the family was hesitant to open up. They were unwilling to share any information. There was her (Ra’ana’s) daughter-in-law who is British and lives in Karachi and who has all her diaries in her house but did not share it with us. Once we had written the first draft of the book, the son who was married was very concerned and wanted to see our draft and so we shared it with him. His was a major concern as he wanted nothing to be printed that was derogatory or negative.

Yes it was Akber!

Why they felt that, I don’t know, because this book was to be purely a tribute and homage from Namita via us as writers. It was quite upsetting for us, but …

I believe Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan and Namita, shared the same surname? Did Pakistan’s first lady have a Hindu ancestry?

Yes Namita and Ra’ana both shared a surname ‘Pant’. Yes, Pakistan’s first lady, Ra’ana came from a Brahmin lineage. She was born as Irene Ruth Margaret Pant. A generation earlier, Ra’ana’s Hindu grandfather Taradutt Pant and his family had converted to Christianity and Ra’ana as Irene grew up in the shadow of the Brahmin community’s still active outrage over the conversion.

Taradutt Pant faced drastic ostracism in the form of Ghatashraddha –Trees were burnt to symbolize a living person as dead, as a ritual, in grave protest to his (Brahmin’s) conversion to another religion, by the ancestral community. Tree burning – symbolizing burning of ‘living wood’, on a cremation pyre, a social death. Later, Ra’ana too converted to Islam following her marriage to Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, who became the first Prime Minister of Pakistan.

How did this coordination between an Indian and a Pakistan woman or rather writers carry forward?

Through Watsapp, the social networking site (laughs).

Were there any issues between the two of you while writing this book, was it cordial, and were there any differences?

Not—at–alll ! (Exclaims) It was very cordial and an extremely cooperative partnership. Deepa is an amazingly gentle person and I understood that immediately and dealt with her accordingly. Also, I am a very pro-Indian person so I had no preconceived negative feelings towards this country. India is as beloved to me as my own. If Deepa found anything of my interest, she would immediately share it with me. Similarly, if I found something relevant to Deepa’s portion, I would share with her. Like for instance, Rati Soni, Ra’ana’s sister’s daughter-in-law lived in Delhi, I came across someone who knew her so I gave Deepa her address, phone numbers, contacts.

So you had divided the portions?

Yes, Deepa worked upon the pre-Pakistan life and I worked upon post-Pakistan life of Ra’ana. But of course they were continuations, interconnections and overlaps pouring from first half to the second half of her life.

Did you encounter any hurdles with Ra’ana’s family members?

Yes, a few. While Akber, Ra’ana’s son was keen to see the manuscript before its publication, there were also a lot of letters, there were diaries, Ra’ana had written, and the family didn’t share any of that with us. Those would have shed light on her, more as a person.

Namita Gokhale writes that Ra’ana was a keen Bridge player, liked a good life. Is it true?

Yes, there is a portion in the book that mentions that Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan regularly played bridge at the house located at 8, Tilak Marg in Delhi, which now houses the Pakistan Embassy and belonged to Liaquat Ali Khan and Ra’ana. This was also the house where both of their sons Akber and Ashraf were born before partition.

Don’t you find it strange that founder of Pakistan Muhammed Ali Jinnah ‘sold’ his house and the Prime Minister designate of Pakistan Nawab Liaquat Ali Khan ‘donated’ his house to the newly formed Pakistan  as its embassy?

(Laughs!) That is the difference between a Nawab who has inherited his wealth and a self-made lawyer who has made his fortunes with great difficulty. Mr Jinnah valued his earnings, so he sold his house close-by at 10, Aurangzeb Road, Delhi to Ramakrishan  Dalmia, for Rs 3 Lakh, who in turn gave it to some embassy on rent; while Mr Liaquat Ali out rightly donated his house for the embassy of Pakistan as the future residence of new nation’s High Commissioner.

In Delhi when you had the book release, it was met with a lot of opposition. Why?

Actually it was Deepa who faced opposition at the India International Center, Delhi regarding this book, I was not present. And the tirade was mainly by Mani Shankar Aiyer. I think, Mani’s opposition stemmed from his old age and feeling useless in life because he has been side-lined by the Congress party. I think Mani has become very cynical and this cynicism was pouring out. And he made a few useless remarks –‘O that playboy son of hers!’ referring to Akber Liaquat; ‘O madam was very arrogant and very difficult to approach!’ They were very flippant and cynical remarks, typically a-la-Mani-Shankar hallmark and style. I don’t think they can be taken seriously.

It’s also a coincidence that Liaquat Ali who became the first Prime Minister of Pakistan married a girl quite younger than himself (i.e. Ra’ana) and the Founder of Pakistan Muhammed Ali Jinnah too married a Parsi girl named Ruttie (Ratanbai) Petit, so much younger than him. Both of these men, lofty personalities, close friends, married girls from another community, so much younger than themselves. Do you read something into that?

They were both highly intelligent men and were obviously looking for companions; it wasn’t so much the age. It’s a fact that Ruttie Petit – Jinnah’s wife, at a very young age was a very bright girl, inquisitive and always trying to seek knowledge. And Jinnah noticed that about her.

Your book is being widely criticised for eulogizing a historical figure like Ra’ana with not a single dark remark or a single indication towards a character flaw?

We have been accused of that by many people. The main grouse of a Pak journalist -Sarwat Ali who writes about culture and classical music, was- “Why didn’t this book touch more on the on-going politics of that region, of her role, her place, except that one interview that is published at the fag end of the book”. Of course she (Ra’ana) had very strong views, she was not completely goody-goody and that everything was going fine with Pakistan and everything is going great with Zia-ul-Haq kind of Islam and Pakistan. Infact she was very critical towards her end about –“What we-(as protagonists who fought for a separate homeland of Pakistan) had envisaged, a secular Pakistan, not this completely Zia-ul-Haq fundamentalist type of Islam”. Hence on her views, we could have got a bit more critical in the book, but we didn’t want to get personal.

But her contemporaries, her friends, people around her could have had something more to say about her?

We got such adulatory reports about her (Ra’ana), our input was that she was inspirational and led by example, not wasting any time, except when she played bridge (laughs).

Was she also a drinker, like Jinnah was?

Yes, an occasional, social-drinker.

What is this Ghaghra -Dupatta story about Ra’ana and her attire?

It can be conjectured that she was brought up in Lucknow, where she went to school and college that the lucknavi culture must have rubbed off on her. She may have admired Ghaghra at some level, so when she got a chance to use the attire she adopt it and preferred it to the Salwar Kameez, which was the common attire then. Also, I feel, she was short (5 feet tall) and the attire of Ghaghra, Kurti and pretty diaphanous Dupatta, gave her a stature. She always carried a matching pouch on her arm to match the Ghaghra, which became her hallmark.

Did she want to portray royalty with this attire, as she was put on a pedestal of a commanding stature of first lady as the wife of the first Prime Minister of Pakistan?

She adopted the attire when she was in India in early 40s, I don’t know if it had anything to do with any notions of being a princess. Because she couldn’t then have known that her husband would become the first PM of Pakistan. What I learnt was that she was a very practical woman who solely wanted to enrich and empower the lives of women and worked tirelessly at pushing women to work.

What is her story with Walt Disney?

Haaa… that we never delved into! There was a picture of hers with Walt Disney and I know she loved children’s movies and she loved movies like Mary Poppins, and she used to watch them and make her grandchildren watch them too, but I am not sure about the Walt Disney connection. She met him in America. She had visited America four times. The last, in year 1977, when she was presented the Human Rights Award.

Do you think she died a very unhappy woman, seeing what she had thought, dreamt and envisioned about Pakistan. After all she fervently fought for this homeland, dreamt about the country, it’s women, the poorer lot, and where actually Pakistan stood, till the time she passed away. I am sure she would have cried a million tears seeing the state of affairs of Pakistan.

Oh yes!

You are absolutely right. I have written in the end of the book that she died a very sad, and a very broken woman. That she definitely felt that she didn’t see what she would have liked to have seen Pakistan become. Pakistan had very slow growth, a lot of problems, a lot of poverty, a lot of backwardness as far as women were concerned, and lack of education, majorly—Yes

Coming back to the book “The Begum”, did Sartaj Aziz , your father also assist you to get information on this book since he is a very important political  figure having held many ministerial positions and not long back was the de facto foreign minister in the Nawaz Sharif government?


Oh, not at all, he does not believe in interfering in our lives, he likes to keep the private and the public lives separate. His public life is his life and his private life is us and we can do what we like, he encourages us, he supports us, but he will never assist us.

I think he was a good minister and a sensible one at that in Nawaz Sharif’s Government.

And Imran Khan as Pakistan’s PM, do you think his second tenure could be better than his first, because it seems he is quite a novice at diplomacy and …?

 Do you really think he will get a second tenure?

I don’t know, sometimes the public forgives and brings back the underdog…

 No!  He will not make a comeback. The public has been disappointed too soon, too far. And they will forget him and will elect him down.

But the way he stated, in his first speech to the nation after winning elections –‘If India takes one step towards us, we shall take two steps forward’.

 He meant that.

But somehow he was not able to go forward on it.

I think Indian PM Narendra Modi stepped five steps backwards.

Narendra Modi did make a surprise stopover in Lahore to extend birthday wishes to then PM Nawaz Sharif and also bless his granddaughter on her wedding. This visit is viewed as the best friendly gesture and was a good chance for Pakistan and India to have been better positioned  in terms of brokering peace in the region.

But do you realize that Nawaz Sharif was removed soon after that event.

Yes, and Nawaz Sharif was also invited for the oath taking ceremony of Modi..

Which he happily came to …

Yes after many hurdles from the establishment or the Pakistan army. Sharif did come that was a good chance to make peace with India, but it just did not happen.

And then we had Imran Khan as PM, backed by the army and he doesn’t know how to handle Modi at all..

You see because Nawaz Sharif was trying in his own way, in his own style, independent of the army, to make gestures to India, which the army could not stomach. So the army had to have someone like Imran, who they brought, so that they could Yoo Yoo him, the way they want.

Is he Yoo-ing Yoo-ing to them now?

 Yes he is, a total Yoo-Yoo, a complete Yoo-Yoo.

And now that FAFT (Financial Action Task Force) is hanging on Pakistan’s neck?

Pakistan is in a list that is beyond grey but not yet black.  Imran has formed a committee, to see what measures can be taken immediately to move from that dark grey list back to the normal list.

If that be so, I wish it happens soon because Imran has very little time.

 You are right.

There are people sitting on his (Imran’s) head, who would not want him to work on that level ..

You see that list is unfortunately something which involves the Pak army to a large extent.  The Pak army is the one to decide to clamp down completely on every kind of activity even labelled slightly terrorist or any organisation that can be potentially -terrorist, they need to clamp down.

But don’t they think that if they do not clamp down this would be suicidal for the Pakistan army as well? Because where is the fund going to come for them?

You see right now the army’s back is against the wall because of what has happened in Kashmir (August-5, 2019 /Abrogation of article 370 of Indian Constitution, scrapping of section 35-A, bifurcation of state of Jammu & Kashmir into Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, delimitation of population count in the area).   And they really would not like to appear more cowed down before the Pak public, so they have to be very careful, how they handle this whole terror situation in Pakistan.

So what is Pakistan’s issue when it is attempting to change the status of Gilgit Baltistan?  Abrogation of articles of Indian constitution is the internal matter of India wherein an article and section enmeshed in our own constitution has been abrogated and an internal decision has been taken, it has no bearing on Pakistan at all, so why does Pakistan react so strongly?

Because in 1947, 1948, 1949 there was an indication by Mr Jawaharlal Lal Nehru, by Mr Abdullah, that yes there would be a referendum in Kashmir to ask the Muslims of Kashmir to ask what they want. So that is hanging.   Secondly, Gilgit-Baltistan has not become a province of Pakistan. I know because my father headed a commission directed at ‘How to bring Gilgit Baltistan closer to Pakistan’ and at present GB has an ambiguous status viz-a-viz Pakistan.

But the UN had clearly mentioned that there were three stipulations and they would be sequential, wherein Pakistan pulls out its forces, India pulls out its forces and there on the plebiscite could happen?

Can you imagine that happening?

It cannot. Then why do they hang on to it. Why doesn’t Pakistan move forward?

 That’s what they aren’t ready to do, mentally.

We had an international media session with Nawaz Sharif in Lahore in 2013, during that session it was mentioned that Kashmir should be kept on the back burner and India-Pakistan should move forward on other issues.

That a lot of leaders said- Vajpayee jee said that too…

In the long run, during elections, Kashmir again turns into a jingoistic issue…

 I must tell you this that in Pakistan Kashmir has not been an issue for elections, Kashmir issue is something which is just there. It is taken for granted. They don’t have to remind the public.

Rashmi Talwar is an Independent Journalist, can be contacted at email:

Kashmir Images/Published on: 29 September2019


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