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Fatima Bhutto: Borders exit only in our minds
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Fatima Bhutto: Borders exit only in our minds

Pakistani poet and writer, The granddaughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and niece of Benazir Bhutto, Fatima Bhuto talks about griefs in her past, and borders in our minds.

Your Twitter page begins with a quote from Vladimir Nabokov that reads, “My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.” Ironically, your first novel, The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, addresses all of the above. What made you write the story of those three Pakistani brothers?

– I was very disturbed by the direction I saw Pakistan going into –  I was very disturbed by the violence which had become acceptable and which both the victim and the perpetrator were complicit in. One by acting in violence and the other in refusing to remember it. There is only this now – how to survive? How to live? How not to die? And it was these questions that the three brothers in The Shadow of the Crescent Moon all struggle with as young people.

Do you feel safe in Pakistan?

No, I don’t think anyone here feels safe anymore.

You studied in the “West”. What made you go back to the “East” and live there again?

-I really don’t see there being two distinct places, for me the border is fluid. I suppose it comes from being a part of my generation that sees the world as essentially connected. Nothing is as separate for us as maybe for our parents or grandparents, and, in fact, they mix together both in the ‘East’ and the ‘West’. I came back to Pakistan after studying because my family was here and at the time, but also perhaps because for me one, never really leaves either the East or the West.

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Nineteen years ago, your father was killed outside your home. What do you remember most about that day?

– I remember my worry for my father before he left our home, heading out into an atmosphere which was frightening and was threatening him. I remember wanting to go with him and him stopping me because, in his words, it wasn’t safe. Pakistan was at the time a place of extreme, unstoppable violence and sadly it is more so now. Nineteen years ago, I was scared for my father’s safety but I didn’t think he would be killed and that afterwards his killers would be kept free and protected now sadly that is the norm in this country.

What was that feeling you carried most after your loss? Anger? Fear? Grief?

– For many years I was consumed by grief. My father was my closest friend and I adored him, to lose any parent is painful but to lose them in such brutal violence was very painful and I was heartbroken by my father’s murder.

Looking at the situation of Bhutto family now, do you ever wonder if this was worth it?

– My father died in the service of a duty he felt he owed his country. He loved Pakistan and he was ready to give his life for his people and he understood that to speak against corruption and the abuses of power endangered him. But of course, as his daughter and as someone who watched many members of this family lose their lives unnaturally I feel a great sorrow. But the sorrow is largely at a country that so readily sacrifices its own and that has absented the idea of justice from all parts of life.

What is the biggest misconception about Bhutto family?

– That all of us are destined for politics.

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As a writer, was it hard to find the inner peace after all you’ve been through? How did you focus on the positives?

– It was very difficult to find a way out of the grief and the fear which cast a shadow over me for a long time. I was 14 when my father was killed and I would say it took me another 14 years to release myself from a lot of sadness. But now when I think of my father, I think of him as I knew him – alive. He was a very joyous man, full of love and laughter. Thinking of love over anger saved me.

Do you feel any responsibilities to carry on Bhutto heritage/name?

– I don’t feel any responsibility to a name. I am a writer and as such my only responsibility is to observe and to speak the truth as I see it. As a human, I have a responsibility to practice compassion, but beyond that, no I don’t feel any responsibilities.

How do you describe your own political sensibility?

– I believe that politics is in everything – it’s in how we eat, how we learn, how we act. But I also believe the same about art and about compassion. The struggle in life is to go through it mindfully, thoughtfully and with kindness and the understanding that we are all connected.

No suprise, you’re political junkie. What’s interesting you at the moment?

– I just read Ta Nehesi Coates book Between the World and Me and at the moment I’m very interested in the narratives of power and how voices from the periphery that have been kept down for a long time are impossible to ignore.

Tell me about your experience on crossing the border between India and Pakistan which turns into a documentary called ‘Journey of a Lifetime’.

– I have traveled between the two countries often but in April I crossed the border by foot for the first time between Lahore and Amritsar and what it showed me was this: borders exist only in our minds. They are completely artificial constructs and they are artificial because a line in the sand can never separate any people. Nothing separates Pakistanis and Indians – not their language, not their history, not their culture, not their food, not their dress! nothing – except for their idea that they are different. I always say this but I truly believe it is the truth of the 21st century – we are all connected. Everyone, everywhere.


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