| DRESSED TO CONQUER: Hina Rabbani Khar
Beauty is in the eye of the Indian
At this time of the year, the rich people from Lahore are in London for the summer, so it has been easy consulting them about one of their own set, Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistans excessively photogenic foreign minister who has been wowing audiences in India with her Hermès Birkin bag, Roberto Cavalli shades and exclusive South Sea pearls.
Quite a few of the Pakistani elite were at a book launch where one man said (ungallantly): We dont think she is that good looking.
Is that a kind of indirect boasting?
From two women came the same comment: Shes just a cipher!
According to the dictionary meaning of cipher, thats not exactly flattering: Zero: one that has no weight, worth, or influence: nonentity.
Who do you think really calls the shots in Pakistani foreign policy? demanded one of the women.
Exactly — shell do as she is told, the woman added.
In Khars case, beauty does seem to be in the eye of the Indian but one Pakistani woman said she thought the young Benazir Bhutto was better looking.
This could be one of those apocryphal stories for it is about Khushwant Singh but apparently when the journalist and author went to Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore to deliver a lecture, he looked around the packed hall — and couldnt see a single plain face in the audience.
(Having attended Pakistan Fashion Week in Lahore in March, I am not inclined to dismiss Khushwant Singhs reported observation out of hand.)
Several Pakistanis also thought Khar, representing a country with so many poor people, had shown bad judgement by turning up with a Hermès Birkin bag, which can apparently cost anything from $9,000 to $1,50,000.
The bag is said to have been designed in 1981 after an encounter between Jean-Louis Dumas, the chief executive of Hermès, and the actress Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London. She complained after the contents of her inadequate straw bag, placed in the overhead locker, spilled out all over the floor.
Here, in London, we are more used to the feminist politics of the handbag — Margaret Thatcher used hers to handbag dissenting Cabinet ministers.
Only last month, Mrs Thatchers beloved black Asprey handbag, which the Iron Lady wielded for 30 years, raised £25,000 in a charity auction at Christies. Mrs Thatcher generously donated another — a Salvatore Ferragamo — for an auction in 2000. That raised £83,000.
Young Khar should take heart: the term, handbagging, was so widely used in reference to Mrs Thatcher that it has now entered the Oxford English Dictionary.
|WORDS AND WARS: (Top) Carey Schofield and Pervez Musharraf at her book launch
While waiting for his countrymen to recall him, rather in the way General Charles de Gaulle was by the French, I am happy to report that the former Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, an author himself, found time to attend a book launch last week.
The book, by Carey Schofield, is Inside the Pakistan Army (Biteback Publishing; £19.99), and is billed on the cover as a womans experience on the frontline on the war on terror.
The author has written about the Russian army in her previous books, Inside the Russian Army and The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces.
The choice of the spacious venue for the launch was ideal for a summers evening — The Orangery in Holland Park, an area with huge, freshly painted residences, many owned by the Saudi and other Middle Eastern royal families.
Careys book launch attracted the Pakistani power crowd — from V.S. Naipauls wife, Lady Nadira Naipaul, to the visiting Najam Sethi, editor of The Friday Times in Lahore, and his columnist wife, Jugnu.
Musharraf, who is effectively living in exile in London, made a brief speech, recalling his birth in Delhi and pointing out that in the 45 years he had spent in the army, the institution had become much more meritocratic.
In her acknowledgements, Carey thanks an impressive list of army contacts: I would like to record my gratitude to General Pervez Musharraf and to General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chiefs of army staff... and to the very many other officers and soldiers who gave generously their time and their insights.
Without reading the book cover to cover it is unwise to comment but Careys ultimate sweeping conclusion is: The Pakistan Army may be flawed but it is the best weve got. Despite its failings it works better than anything else in Pakistan.
Ah, yes, but do the interests of the army coincide with those of the ordinary people of Pakistan?
Meira Kumar was running a high temperature, I learnt later, but she did not make a fuss and retire to her hotel room when she hosted a dinner at the Bombay Brasserie last week. Maybe India is quietly but efficiently served by its top women.
The Lok Sabha Speaker was in London leading the Indian delegation to the 57th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference which brought together over 600 parliamentarians from 175 Commonwealth parliaments and legislatures to discuss Reinforcing Democracy.
At the Bombay Brasserie, Meira got up and made an elegant little speech and then later went from table to table, greeting each of her guests in turn without ever letting on that she was not well.
Speaking of top women, there is a vacancy for the job of high commissioner in London since Nalin Surie is flying back tomorrow following his retirement. There hasnt been a woman high commissioner in London since Vijayalakshmi Pandit, from 1955 to 1961.
Enemy No. 1
Writing in praise of Rupert Murdoch is a risky venture but newspapers (such as The Guardian) leading the hunt against the News Corp chief, following revelations of phone hacking at his defunct News of the World, ought to recall a vital piece of history.
Were it not for the brave Australian, many papers simply would not have survived. He took on the Luddite printers of Fleet Street and introduced computers and indirect inputting by moving News International to Wapping in East London in 1986. Other managements then followed Murdoch by also introducing computers which previously the print unions had not allowed. For decades militant union leaders had held managements to ransom.
Thats why I am inclined to raise a glass of champagne to the man long disparaged as the dirty Digger.
The home secretary Theresa May has made it mandatory for immigrants to speak reasonable English if they wish to settle in Britain. The government thinks this would help immigrants to integrate more into British society.
All this makes sense — except for one thing. The home-grown 7/7 British suicide bombers, including the three British-born youths of Pakistani origin, all spoke fluent English with regional accents.
Pranab Mukherjee got a bit shirty with me when I asked him about prospects for economic progress in the new Bengal under Mamata Banerjee. I dont profess to understand the political relationship between the Centre and the state nor between him and Mamata — nor the FMs answer.
I thought I had bowled Pranab babu a friendly full toss during his London visit last week but he dug it out as though it was a vicious Yorker.