VIOLENCE IS EASY; IT ALSO LIMITS PEOPLE SAYS FATIMA BHUTTO
By Melanie Bamunusinghe
Seated at a quiet corner in “The Walawwa,” a hotel just off the Minuwangoda Road, she looked young, petite–and simple, but when she starts speaking, people realise that she is wise beyond her years. For her 27 years she is full of experiences; some not by choice but others due to exact and significant choices she made; her choice to become a poetess and a writer; her choice to become a journalist; her choice to travel out of Pakistan to the far corners of the earth.
Her interest in people is immeasurable. The depth and intensity with which she describes a persons’ character, actions, words, personality, talents and more specifically their emotions, perils, and opinions is vast. This is what she is here for, in Sri Lanka–to discuss her writing, her life and her views on a political dynasty.
“Whispers of the Desert”
She, the niece of the late Benazir Bhutto, arrived in Sri Lanka on an invitation to speak at the Galle Literary Festival, 2010.
Fatima Bhutto is an Afghan born Pakistani writer. Her first collection of poetry, “Whispers of the Desert” marked her rise to popularity as one of Pakistani’s new literary voices and won her critical acclaim. Her second book, “8:50 a.m. 8 October 2005” looks at a turning point in modern Pakistani history when a devastating earthquake swept through Islamabad to the valleys of Azad Kashmir. Fatima Bhutto is a regular columnist for “The Daily Beast,” “The New Statesman” and other publications.
The granddaughter of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and niece of former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, she has famously said, “I don't believe in birth-right politics. I don't think, nor have I ever thought, that my name qualifies me for anything”. In “Songs of Blood and Sword,” to be released next year, Fatima gives an account of her famous family and the events that have befallen it, including the murder of her own father–she believed–by people within the family. When asked of Benazir Bhutto, on a personal note she paused before saying, “You have to wait for the next book to come out,” referring to “Songs of Blood and Sword.”
Coming from an elite family, she is surprisingly modest and humble. Her explanations for some of the profound topics were the results of “out of the box” thinking, such as her ideas of politics. “Politics is about how people live: it’s the people’s imagination. Actually it’s one’s imagination of what a country should be or what society should be,” she said contemplatively. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, her Grandfather, in her point of view had that imagination, but not Benazir Bhutto. “For her, politics was about her, her dynasty. She was very ‘personality driven,’ which was not unique since we see that all across the world,” she said with an expression on her face that was quite hard to read. She agreed that her poetry is about herself and how she views things. “I’m specifically interested in those who are under the radar, the stories of those who don’t make it to the news. They are all around us, we just have to reach out to them,” Fatima said with a wry smile.
Writing is about memories
Speaking of “under the radar,” Fatima said that she hopes to find out what Sri Lankans read and which writers speak for and to the people of Sri Lanka–especially the local writers who don’t make the New York Times or become best sellers but who have reached out to the hearts of Sri Lankans. “I think it’s an interesting time to be here. With the end of the war, I want to see how Sri Lankans are dealing with the post war situation, how people are reacting, their mentality, both sides of the story, of the Sinhalese and of the Tamils,” she said.
Sri Lankans are moving on with their lives and many local writers are writing about the war or the war itself, thus Fatima’s definition of writing is timely and also appropriate. “Writing is about memories, a struggle to preserve things that happened to people. The ones that are overlooked by the fast flow of news, where words are controlled,” she said with determination and a tint of regret. According to her, many stories are misplaced, languages are lost, injustices collected, bravery wrongly highlighted. Thus writing gives an opportunity to correct them,” was another of her views. There was concern in her eyes when she said that writing is an art born from people’s difficulties in their community, politics and family. She is proud of South Asian women explaining brave traditions common among South Asian countries, specifically the emerging voice of the women. She had both the air of confidence and a whimsical smile only a South Asian woman could have, when she said, “I think many Non-South Asians are surprised how brave our women are in speaking to the public through writing and poetry. We see many female writers in South Asia who write about pressing and conflicting matters. They are strong and creative,” Fatima explained with a smile.
Warmth of Sri Lankans
She told me that this was one of the reasons for her to start writing and pursuing it. “I would write to cope with emotions I didn’t understand such as fear. On the other hand, poetry was the easiest way to express confusing emotions,” she said. She sadly explained that growing up in a frightening city, writing about what surrounded her, and how she felt about it, was her means of expressing herself. Expressing how overwhelmed she was by the warmth and friendliness of the Sri Lankans she said, “If you go to a Western country, let’s say America, you are just a number in the crowd.” She admired that here like in other South Asian countries, travelling is made memorable because of the warmth of the people. “When we head back home we take friendships, cultures and lifestyles with us,” she smiled. “Among South Asian countries there are similarities, as in cultural and traditional backgrounds and coming to Sri Lanka will give me an opportunity to talk about Pakistan, what is common in all of us, and share some ideas to bridge the gap between Sri Lanka and Pakistan,” she explained.
Fatima is a warm, sensitive person, full of life and inspiration for others. She perks up with happiness when she talks of people she had met and places she has been. Her hand movements vividly express her thoughts and her eye brows knot together in a worried expression when discussing some grave situations. It was easy to understand that she loves to read write and travel, that she is genuinely interested in reaching out to the people, or to be a voice to them or listen to their voices. In that light Fatima concluded that opportunities like the Galle Literary Festival will help foster communication as neighbouring countries; express what we have in common; what is important to our countries and engage in discussions regarding what is happening here as well as in Pakistan.
“Why?” she asked herself. “It’s because violence is too easy, it’s limiting people. But writing, speaking or listening is not restricted by the government. To speak, listen and write is one of the most natural and comfortable things a person could do.”