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June 11, 2018

A perfect match


June 11, 2018

This country isn’t erupting over the achievements of Kamila Shamsie, the celebrated British-Pakistani author whose seventh novel ‘Home Fire’ has won the prestigious 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction in the UK.

Instead, it is going gaga over the prurient bits and pieces of a yet-to-be released book from a person of no standing. On a scale of one to 10 in the world of literature, Shamsie scores close to nine and Reham Khan is not even in contention. But it is the latter who holds the imagination of millions in the country and even among expatriates, not the former.

This isn’t surprising. Ours has become a society that satiates itself with ungodly gossip, and expends energies on the scandalous scouting of lustful dirt. We love it. The wider universe of life-shaping ideas does not form our mental horizon. We abhor books. Some of the best-known Urdu authors don’t print more than a 1,000 copies. Others have to be content with a mere 250. Nobody buys them. The ones who sell, and who don’t have to pay or beg publishers to print them, don’t earn more than a $1,000 on their bestsellers, whose plots are either cheap romances that excite basic instincts or fishy travelogues with abundant inaccuracies about other lands and people.

English authors can muster a sale of between 3,000 and 5,000, but that includes primarily pirated copies. We don’t read and we have no intention of reading good stuff. Instead we want to hear, see, fantasise and churn out bad stuff. We want dirty, lubricious stuff. That’s how we spend our time and this is precisely what parts of Madam Reham’s book seem to have given this nation, helped in no small measure by a typical PTI response that starts from abuse and ends on abuse.

It is of no consequence to anyone that the much-debated book has yet to be published. But as the book’s leaked material suggests, it doesn’t have to be now seen in hardcover to become the most talked about subject in Pakistan and among Pakistanis. And since the author has not denied any of the material that is being passed around like an elixir, it is fair to assume that she has indeed written probably Pakistan’s most audacious book, capturing the bizarre and salacious tales of Bani Gala and its occupant in chief, Imran Khan – her ex-husband.

Apart from showing how low our attention buds have fallen, the leaked material of the supposed book is a significant measure of how the power structure of the country’s elite is designed and what all goes on there. Take the author herself. She styles herself as an accomplished journalist without any significant journalistic work or history to show for her vast and varied claims. Her sole national achievement in life happens to be getting married to Imran Khan under the most curious circumstances.

The fundamental principles of journalism – such as not getting personally involved with your story’s subject, not becoming the story yourself, or declaring a clash of personal interest – did not matter to her as she covered Imran Khan and also discovered at the same time the possibility of him becoming her husband. She played all the games that she now accuses her husband of engineering about their marriage. When she was with him, there was not an iota of value she attached to the truth of the many bad things that she watched from the strong position of a youngish wife of an oldish celebrity.

She played along while the marriage lasted. And it is fairly reasonable to assume that if she had not been divorced, and had continued to be the lady of Bani Gala, she would still be wearing her usual plastic smile for the cameras – looking calm, suave, happy while blessing her husband every turn of the way. While in the book’s released content she attempts to distance herself from the alleged shenanigans of her husband, this is going to be a hard sell no matter how many interviews she gives to Indian or other channels.

She was not a beauty incarcerated in the castle of a beast. She had done all that is in the power of a resourceful woman like her to climb and land in that castle. Her marriage was not an accident. It was a consensus crafted by two adults who knew what the other was all about. So, the purported book is not really a personal account of a resilient journalist on a mission to unearth the Harvey Weinstein beneath the façade of a national leader. It is really a revenge that she wanted to serve cold and close to the elections to a man who left her and married again – in circumstances and to a proposition that is even more full of surprises than his previous wives have been.

Madam Reham wants to damage Imran Khan by turning the spotlight onto those facets of his life that he, for decades, has been able to somehow deflect national attention from, and which, while have seeped out from here and there, have not been outed fully.

Can Reham succeed where Sita White failed? Can she become that dragon fire that others before her and in different roles could not become and, therefore, faded away from memory and news, leaving Imran Khan to continue to maintain the image of a normal, regular kind of man whose enemies plot against him while he remains innocent of all that he is accused of?

Can she #MeToo Imran Khan and encourage others to say #WeToo?

We don’t know. The book, when published, will tell. For now, all we can say is that the method of the book is not exactly a convincing one: Reham Khan can’t act like the lovely alliance in Khan’s Neverland and make the pitch that what she says is the ultimate truth and her opinions (and she is so full of them that it is surprising that she has lung-space for fresh air) are an oracle talking to the uninitiated.

Indeed, she has much to explain about her conduct and her work, and she is not ideally placed to play the victim. But let it be said at this point that her attempt to inflate herself with assumptions about her professional standing and the credibility of her work do not let Imran Khan off the hook. Just because she is flying at his throat and other body parts in sheer vengefulness doesn’t detract from the core fact that she has been an insider. She has been the dweller of the inner sanctum that Khan has all his life wrapped in a million layers and which bears no relation to his carefully cultivated image of a great, straight and brave guy.

What Reham Khan is saying can only be countered by those who have been involved in Imran Khan’s personal life deeper than she has been – and that would put most male defenders of Imran Khan in a fairly awkward position because they can’t really claim to know about the man more than his ex-wife.

Moreover, Imran Khan has been at the centre of personal controversies of the most despicable nature. There isn’t a charge of serious delinquent behaviour that has not haunted him or which he has not brought upon himself through his own actions. He lives a double life and has deep problems that seriously affect his judgment and ability to lead.

This is what Reham Khan’s claims and allegations have highlighted – and damagingly so because these are from his very recent past and are not exactly old stories.

The PTI’s response to the purported book will not shield Imran Khan from what he is accused of. To call Reham Khan the most vile of names and to define her as the world’s most evil woman does not paint Imran Khan in the most glorious of colours. Also, for a party that has hurled unimaginable abuse at its opponents, whose spokespersons have ripped apart the reputations of women of their opponents’ families (and even of their own party) and whose leader habitually and without any remorse or apology used the most foul accusations against anyone that he deems a target, the PTI is setting a rather high moral benchmark to assess the contents of Reham Khan’s book.

On January 8, 2015, after the Imran-Reham marriage was finally made public, I had tweeted that: “…Both are made for each other. Deserve each other. Perfect match”. And now, in June 2018, when they are divorced and fighting a bitter media war, the tweet still applies to them.

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @TalatHussain12

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