Benazir Bhutto may have been the prime minister for the people of Pakistan but, for an elderly family retainer, Muhammad Usman, she can be summed up as the girl who loved animals.
Usman, who was nicknamed Badal Flash by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, for his love for acting, was with the Bhutto household at a time when ‘Pinky’ was just a girl.
He remembers one cat in particular, named Fajjo, who climbed up a tree one evening and caused quite a stir in al Murtaza House.
“She was very upset with me because I had lost her pet. I had no idea what to do. I should have been more careful as I knew where the cat slept but at that moment I was too scared,” he said. “Thank God, Fajjo came down two hours later. None of her other cats, Biscuity or Filva, ever caused us such trouble.”
Badal Flash, the name he prefers, received many presents from Benazir, including her coins and matchbox collection. “She had a habit of collecting match boxes and coins from different countries. When she moved from 70 Clifton to Bilawal House, she gave them to me as presents. Later, she also gave me a camera,” he recalled.
On the occasion of her 58th birthday, Badal Flash brought out all the presents he had received from Benazir, including a tasbeeh [rosary] and some old photos. “She used to celebrate her birthday in style. Never invited too many people, only those close to her,” he said.
Badal Flash was there for the good times and the bad. He recalls a birthday long ago when Bhutto was alone and under house arrest. “She woke up and made some halwa [dessert] for herself. Then later in the evening she distributed food and Rs10 among the servants,” he said.
For him, Benazir was a pillar of strength who always put on a brave face in front of her household help. “The only time we saw her worried was when her mother was attacked after the Lahore rally. She was very upset with how the police had dealt with her,” he said. The last time Benazir celebrated her birthday with her household was three years ago in Naudero and they still cherish that memory.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd, 2011.
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