Book Review: Yeh Baazi Ishq Ki Baazi Hai
At a time when politics and politicians have been demonised to the extent that political activists are reluctant to disclose their calling, Farkhanda Bokhari’s narrative of her struggles during a long period of enforced exile comes like a reinvigorating breeze of clean air.
Coming from a traditional family, and married to a quiet, peace-loving poet-teacher, who avoided politics like the plague, Farkhanda was quite happy as a hard-working homemaker and mother of three children, who imaginatively negotiated the divide between Sunni and Shia rituals, till she was swept off her feet by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s charisma and became a PPP activist. When Bhutto was executed, she found herself among the party loyalists who were thrown in prison.
Her ordeal in the real sense began when she was lured into joining the Libya group.
The story of this bizarre expedition – the recruitment of a group of young men and women, after Bhutto’s execution, by an ex-brigadier of the army, to train in Libya for revolutionary work – has been told by several of its members, especially by Afzal Tauseef and Tariq. Their handlers might have been inspired by stories of the training in guerilla tactics Nelson Mandela had received from the Algerian freedomfighters but they were made of much more inferior metal. The young recruits learnt little in Libya except for qualifying as ‘terrorists’ in the eyes of the Zia regime’s torture squad.
Farkhanda was subjected to all possible forms of torture and humiliation in the Lahore fort, and other horror chambers, and she survived by the dint of the courage only an innocent person’s commitment to the truth can produce. She refused to buy freedom by signing a false chargesheet against Begum Nusrat Bhutto that her tormentors demanded. Then suddenly she was pushed into a plane that was taking 53 Pakistani political prisoners out of the country as part of the deal with the hijackers of the PIA plane in 1981. Thus began her eight years of exile in London.
These eight years transformed Farkhanda from an agitator into a mature party organiser. Her pride prevented her from seeking luxury through charity and she drew a line beyond which she wouldn’t even accept her brother’s help. Living within her limited earnings – they were so limited that her husband went to work in an icy (presumably meat-packing) chamber (and got sick) – she found time to work as a human rights volunteer and organiser of party functions. In this area she found support from Amnesty International and her steadfastness won her the respect of Begum Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. However, the joy of struggle was her sole reward. She received a hero’s welcome when she finally returned home after Benazir Bhutto became prime minister, but for the sake of peace in the family she gave up active politics.
The book is brimming with Farkhanda’s passion for politics and a burning desire to secure justice in the world. Her narrative has only a slight touch of the rhetoric; for the most part it is an account of the ups and downs in a political worker’s life without frills or cheap appeal to emotion. The sincerity of the narration is matched by a simplicity of expression. Her words come straight from the heart and easily find the reader’s heart. Her concerns will be shared by all women and all mothers. These are the concerns of a sensitive citizen who reserves her malice only for the dictator.
Farkhanda proves that politics is a noble mission. It does not corrupt anyone, only corrupt people soil the process. Pakistan’s politics would have been much richer and done far more good for the people if our political parties could produce more selfless fighters like Farkhanda Bokhari.
This book review was originally published in the June issue under the headline “A Hymn to Politics.”
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