Simi Garewal was smitten by Benazir’s personality

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

Mumbai : “I’m shattered. I cannot accept her going away. As I talk to you, I haven’t come to terms with her not being alive. She was strong and vivacious… That something so ghastly could happen…,” said actress and television host Simi Garewal reacting to the assassination of the Pakistan Peoples Party chief Benazir Bhutto.

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Expressing her agony, Garewal said: “It’s just so horrible. To say anything about what has happened would be belittling the enormity of the tragedy. Just five days ago, I found the most affectionate email messages from her. After the tragedy last night, crew of Rendezvous, the celebrity interview show that I host, messaged me to say they remembered how I interviewed her in Dubai.”

“The Benazir I knew was not just a superb states-woman and a politician, she was also a personal friend. The minute we met for ‘Rendezvous’, we bonded as though we had known each other all our lives. We spoke about girlie things over so many sessions that began with her appearance on ‘Rendezvous’,” the actress recalled.

Garewal is full of personal anecdotes. Benazir apparently walked into the room where the ‘Rendezvous’ crew was setting up equipment at her home in Dubai. “She came in without a dot of make-up, her hair tied in a knot. She came in, saw how we had moved everything in her home.”

Benazir exclaimed: “Oh my God! What have you done to my room!” Garewal recalls that her crew was instantly smitten by the “slain” politician’s warmth and spontaneity. “They found her so beautiful. Then she came down for the interview. We just bonded and it lasted far beyond the ‘Rendezvous’. I felt she was a friend I knew from school.”

The actress has vivid memories of the tea Benazir served after the interview. “She not only cut the cake and poured the tea herself, she personally served it to every member of my team. That was Benazir! I did not feel that I was sitting with a former and future prime minister. I felt I was bonding with a female friend. Yes, I felt the same with Jayalalitha. But not to this extent. Benazir and I giggled and giggled.”

Benazir told mutual Pakistani friends later how much she enjoyed meeting Simi Garewal. “After the ‘Rendezvous’ interview, she said we must meet again in London. We used to spend a lot of time in London over dinners and lunches. Benazir, her sister Sanam, my sister Amrita and I had a sisters’ lunch in London. I don’t know whether Benazir and her sister were as close as I am with my sister, but Benazir kept us entertained throughout that afternoon,” the actress recalled.

“She had seen my documentary on Rajiv Gandhi. She was very curious about him. She wanted to know details about him. And we talked about make-up. Benazir thought her make-up was terrible and she wanted tips from me…We spoke about everything from politics to astrology and the media. We spoke so much so fast! We met many times. She could never stop laughing about how I tried to make her pose for the opening titles of the Rendezvous,” the television host said.

The actress recalled that Benazir kept saying: “What on earth were you making me do?’ She’d burst into uncontrollable peals of laughter. That infectious laughter still rings in my ears. I still have her lovely letter saying how much she loved the show. We discussed her politics constantly. I remember once she asked me if it would be a good idea to do another show on television. I advised her against it. And she listened to me.

Narrating another anecdote, she said a friend in India had asked Benazir to attend an event. She wrote a lovely letter begging off. “Quite recently, Benazir was in Delhi I was supposed to meet her but couldn’t. I sent flowers to her hotel, which she did not get. Ah, those memories! My heart reaches out to her children, specially the younger daughter who’s 14 and needs her mother. What an adorable girl. I remember Benazir being certain she would be back as the prime minister. How was she to know death would be a much larger certainty?”