I have been asked many times for tributes and shared memories but I have always found it difficult to put pen to paper; it’s not easy to write about a mother who was so much larger than life. There’s so much to talk about I don’t quite know where to begin.
Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was so many things all at once: to the world she was an icon, with good reason. She was the first democratically elected female Prime Minister of Pakistan, recognised nationally and internationally for her multiple contributions. From challenging a military dictator to bringing fiber optics to Pakistan – she was a woman ahead of her time. Most importantly, and at least to me – she was simply my mother.
“Many who didn’t know her may well presume that she was unable to give the kind of time and attention a mother would, but the truth is she was everywhere, all at once, the proverbial modern day superwoman.”
Many who didn’t know her may well presume that she was unable to give the kind of time and attention a mother would, but the truth is she was everywhere, all at once, the proverbial modern day superwoman. Not a single parent’s evening was ever missed, she was always at the front row of school plays, supporting all my “phases” – the rapping rebellious teenager being the last. I have a plethora of memories to sift through, and like her archives, I am still working my way through them.
At my high school play, for instance, instead of being embarrassed at my ensemble, which was a fitted hat, headphones and chains, she was supportive and encouraging.
I remember on one birthday, she insisted that her children need not get her any presents. When we took that literally, she was quite shocked. Improvising on the spot, I quickly scribbled a song as a birthday tribute to save myself from more parental lectures. She was so incredibly touched by my song that it was (embarrassingly for me) shared amongst many guests for weeks to come.
It’s not as if she didn’t set boundaries or bars for achievement. In fact, she always expected the highest of grades at school. She equally devoted time and energy to all three of us. Education, she believed, was of the utmost importance – from her own experience she would always exclaim how everything could be taken away from you, except for your education, and therefore it was the key to real success. So since the age of 17, I have been looking after SZABIST, giving the same lectures to fellow students about the importance of their education. Some lessons resonate forever!
The good times are etched in my memory. Summers in London, walks in the park, internships and worries about university placements, were only some of them. I realise that it was due to all her efforts that we enjoyed a very privileged “normal life” amongst all the high-level party meetings and interviews. In 2007, Bilawal was already settled at Oxford and I was just applying to go to university – even when she was on the fateful homecoming truck on October 18th in Karachi, she was still forwarding me emails of referrals for universities I should apply to. None of us could have imagined that she would not be there when I actually received my grades, nor when I was finally accepted at the University of Edinburgh. At no point did I think that she would not be part of my graduation ceremony. Sadly, she could not be there for any of our graduations – Aseefa will finally be graduating with her Master’s this year.
Birthdays were certainly a time for celebration. My siblings and I would always attempt a midnight surprise – balloons and cake – the expected basics and every year, precisely at midnight the blushing roses would arrive. In dozens. Sent from my father in prison, each dozen to commemorate a year. I remember counting all 50 dozen on her 50th birthday.
Not a day goes by that we don’t think of her many times at different junctures. For the most part of our lives she was the only parent that we had, because my father was in jail, and we were not allowed to see him. I still miss her at our dining table. I miss the lectures. I miss the laughter. She was the most extraordinary woman, and I do want to say that we are indebted to her to have been raised like ordinary families.
TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS: BAKHTAWAR BHUTTO ZARDARI