Pakistani politician father, Indian mother – a son tells all


Islamabad : Personal circumstances contain a bigger story and are a way to make “peace” with “personal history”, says Aatish Taseer, the 29-year-old son of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Indian journalist Tavleen Singh, explaining why he wrote a book on his tempestuous relationship with his father.

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“Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey through Islamic Lands” is “a personal memoir, about his life story in which he has depicted his father in a manner that will shock and repel many of his Pakistani readers”, Marianna Baabar wrote in The News Friday.

Indian magazine Outlook has acquired the rights to the book, which is scheduled to be launched in London in a week and in India soon after.

Defending his controversial decision to lay bare personal relationships and conversations, Aatish told Outlook that it came from his conviction that “the personal circumstances contained a bigger story”.

He, however, acknowledged that the writing of the book was also a way to overcome the despair he felt at having his relationship with his father suddenly run aground – “a way to make my peace with that personal history”.

On his part, the elder Taseer has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. A confidant of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, he was appointed the governor of Punjab province in what was widely viewed as a move to destablise the then government of chief minister Shahbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

“The memoir is a journalist’s engaging travelogue. But where the political and personal come together powerfully is in the last third part of the book, which finds Aatish in Pakistan among the Pakistanis,” Baabar quoted Outlook as saying.

“A short, intense relationship between a Pakistani politician, Salmaan Taseer, and an Indian journalist, Tavleen Singh, produces a child. As the relationship founders, the father (according to his son’s account) abandons the mother and the infant in London,” the article stated.

“They move to Delhi, where Aatish grows up in an elite Sikh family, but with an awareness of being “different” because of his Muslim and Pakistani ancestry.

“Twice in his childhood, he makes long-distance overtures to his father, but is rebuffed. In 2002, at the age of 21, he tries again, by simply landing up in Lahore, and meets with greater success. Salmaan’s political career has waned – the military rules; his party’s boss, Benazir Bhutto, is in exile – but he is, by now, a wealthy businessman and a media tycoon, with an elegant third wife and six other children.

“Relatives and family friends, who have known about Aatish for years, help him find a way into Salmaan’s life. So begins a father-son relationship that is, by no means, easy.”

Aatish, a London-based journalist, said while looking back on his struggles five years ago to write the book: “There is this extraordinary story, but what does it mean? It’s not everybody else’s.”

In 2005, Aatish wrote for a British magazine on the radicalisation of the British second-generation Pakistanis, “making the unexceptionable liberal argument that it was linked to failures of identity on different fronts”.

“Chuffed by his first cover story, he sent it to his father, to whom he now felt closer – and was shocked to receive a furious reply, accusing him, among other things, of blackening the family name by spreading ‘invidious anti-Muslim propaganda’.

“The accusations set off a storm of reactions in Aatish, from hurt and defensiveness to confusion and curiosity,” Baabar said while quoting Outlook.

Aatish said: “I hope for this to be a book for Pakistan (though) I know that is a very naive thing to say — Neither with my father, nor with Pakistan, was it written to settle any scores. I hope that despite what looks like a bleak look at Pakistan, it is possible to see a genuine concern and affection for the place.”

“The timing of the book is slightly insane,” he said, adding: “I wouldn’t have wished for it. He was just a businessman, and that was good enough for what I had to say. He didn’t need to be the governor of the Punjab.”

Was he prepared to lose the relationship with a book like this, coming especially at a sensitive time?

“Whether I wrote the book or not, I am definitely pretty much persona non grata,” he said, adding: “My father is a bright, intelligent man, and well read. I hope he understands some day.”