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We 'Kissed' each other : Benazir Bhutto Lover (Bubbly)

“ Benazir loved suits, skirts, saris, gowns and jeans.  Seeing Benazir in a skirt reminded me of her times at Oxford, Surrey, Dubai and all those times when we spent together,” says Stephen Bubb,  CEO of ACEVO recalling his times with Benazir Bhutto during the 70’s adding that her death took a part of him forever….
By Stephen Bubb
At a dinner party this fall I had been told by colleagues that the ICFJ had sponsored a project for intercultural cultural harmony under the auspices of the UN. I am not very fond of the UN but when my assistant Marie Alison mentioned that Benazir Bhutto had been covered in that project I couldn’t help but have a look.
Since that dreadful winter day in Dec 2007, when she was assassinated, I had secluded and resigned a part of myself which was ever in touch with Benazir. The ICFJ article broke that seclusion and brought back a flood of memories.
Suddenly I was back under the cherry tree in Oxford locking lips with Benazir. She seemed to travel through sands of time, bringing back emotions that I thought were buried for ever.
Seeing Benazir in a skirt reminded me of her times at Oxford, Surrey, Dubai and all those times when we traveled to various Mediterranean resorts.
On meeting Benazir Bhutto, for first time in the fall of 1973, we had a fight over a debating issue. The second time even a worse fight, the third time we fell for each other perhaps finding no alternative. We were a good team for a while, before I moved on to other subjects and she opted for political science and foreign relations as her majors.  But beyond the debating society we stayed on together. We had a very close knit circle of friends.
She called me Bubbly and I called her Pinky.
Benazir was the most exotic girl on campus with her wild ways and penchant for lively discussions late into the night. She would cheer any one no matter what the mood and how down cast one would be.  We used to think of her as the delectable and glamorous jewel of Lady Margaret Hall.
When I lost the LC chair for the first time Pinky came to my college dorm with friends and champagne. She lifted my spirits and all the gloom of the day vanished during that night.
We would listen to Gainsbourg’s  J e t’aime moi non plus while sipping on glasses of R&B. Both were a favorite of Pinky and mine. Benazir would take me on trips to Stratford for watching plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company in her yellow sports car. She lived fast and drove fast. She would brighten the dance floor at the central oxford club, our favorite hang out spot.
She had developed a liking for roman sandals and short skirts by the time she came to Oxford from Harvard. There she was in hot pants sitting across me at the editor’s office and I was just thinking that this is really one attractive girl. Afterwards I found that she had the intellect and intelligence to match her beauty.
Once we celebrated national-dress day and every student appeared in their respective national dress. Benazir wore a sari (oriental suit) and looked like an angel had descended on earth.
At Oxford she would arrange the best parties and took pains to make sure everyone was involved or at least felt involved.
We would romp around campus canvassing for the society elections. Our friendship blossomed with time. Next summer the blokes played a prank and asked the losing team on the council if we would live up to our claims of an egalitarian society free of religious and cultural restraints. It was June and Benazir’s birthday was around the corner. She played their bluff and appeared at the party in her birthday suit. Everyone was stunned by her bold move and it shut up the dissenting chaps.
Six months later Benazir was elected President of the Oxford Union. The first ever by any Asian at that time.
Pinky was Pinky and she dressed her mood. The 70’s was a casual era, we were more concerned about being hip than fashionable. I remember seeing Benazir Bhutto attending classes mostly in Jeans. During the winter she would opt for the most expensive dresses. In summer she would opt for stylish suits to go with the family outing on the Brighton beach.
One time Ms. Asfahani Bhutto, the mom of Benazir, visited and Pinky decided to have a picnic at Brighton. We went to Harrods and she purchased swimming costumes for herself, her mom and brother Mr. Murtaza.
I still remember our last summer of 1976 when we went to Cap d’Agde. There was an anxious tone in the air; it felt like we were gathering for the last time. Perhaps it was the graduation season, or it was because Pinky said she was returning back home or perhaps it was some kind of prenomination. The amorous French air dulled our anxieties. Little did we know that life for Pinky, would change for ever after her return to Pakistan. 
In the summer of 1977 her father was illegally deposed. I had met Mr. Bhutto when he had come to visit. He was a very charismatic person and would brighten up the room with his candor. Afterwards for the very few and rare occasions when I saw Benazir happy, the humor and wit of Mr. Bhutto reflected in her.
The mid seventies was a golden time for us.
We didn’t have a care in the world.
Benazir returned to Pakistan.
I kissed her good bye.
She told me:
“ Bubbly I’ll be back next summer and we’ll go to Cap d’Agde again.”
I felt a sting in my heart, but I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would see Pinkie again after eight long years, instead of the next summer.

History then witnessed an elected representative and popular leader judicially murdered by a brutal military dictator. Pinky, against wise counsel decided to stay back and resist the military junta. She was first put under house arrest and then sent to a notorious army jail. I couldn’t even go and help her in Pakistan.
I lost contact with her.
The regime had placed travel restrictions on Benazir’s acquaintances in UK. I felt so guilty for not stopping her when I could have. I didn’t try to stop her earlier. I knew I couldn’t have stopped her even if I wanted to.
After her confinement of three years, I saw her photo in the newspaper which reported on Benazir’s illness. We were all horrified to see Pinky reduced to a shadow of her former self. She was almost a skeleton. We couldn’t believe the military regime would be so brutal. Her brothers had already gone into exile and had started a resistance organization Al-Zulfiqar which unfortunately turned militant afterwards.
 In 1984, under international pressure, Benazir was released although reluctantly by the military junta. She traveled to Switzerland and then to UK where she had to under go medical treatment for all the physical and mental suffering afflicted upon her by a cruel regime. I didn’t have the heart to see her the first week but managed to go and finally see her in the following week.
I went with Vijay Selvaratnam,our close mutual friend. She cried on seeing Benazir. I had to struggle in keeping a straight face.  Benazir saw me, smiled and said “” Oh Bubbly, I missed you,”  she made some jovial comment and I could only say Hi. Her spirit was as strong as before perhaps even stronger. The junta had failed to break her will.
Reporters asked her if she had gone into exile. Benazir said that she was born in Pakistan and would die in Pakistan.Tragically this statement would become true 23 years later. 
She quickly became active in organizing political opposition to the military rule and this is where her true competencies as a maverick agitator were revealed. Pinky was back in action only this time instead of protesting against University authorities, the opposition was real and a frightingly murderous military dictatorship.
Benazir changed after her return to UK. She had developed an iron determination. Whenever she smiled one could see the wounded emotions behind it. She felt anger at the regime and the judiciary which had conspired together in falsely convicting her father. She felt let down by the people who had allowed a popular leader to be hanged. Her focus was razor sharp and all her activities were now centered around exposing the military regime’s ugly face to the world. I tried to bring her back to normalcy, and we arranged a get together party in the fall of 1985 at a Rolling Stones concert.
Captain Eddington used to be our mentor in those days and suggested that we give Pinky a gift on her birthday that summer. Benazir was very fond of rolling stone and the Chippendales’ boys. So we bought her tickets to the Chippendales show.  She was slowly coming back to her original self and I was happy to see her enjoying her life again. We would visit the French Cannes spending hours hand in hand straddling the beach.

Benazir had become increasingly silent and then tragedy after tragedy struck. The military junta in Pakistan had used the Afghan war to befriend the US government. Her US contacts who had initially promised support for her struggle had become mild spectators as the dictatorship in Pakistan gave US a chance to avenge the Vietnam war from USSR.
It was such an irony. Pinky had told me that during her stay in USA she was part of the anti-war protests while the Vietnam war was raging. And now the very friends she had trusted left her in the lurch. Unfortunately that was not the last time the Americans would betray her.
By early 1986 she had decided to return back to Pakistan. I asked Pinky to rethink, but she had decided that her destiny was back home and it was now her time to find it. 
This time I really tried to stop her, but she was very stubborn and had her eyes fixed upon returning back to Pakistan. 
We kissed goodbye again, one year later I heard she was getting engaged and subsequently married to a person selected by her mother. I was shell shocked. It was so unlike Pinky. I never believed it until I saw it on BBC.
Another year passed and she was the Prime Minister of a country 150 Million strong. It seemed she had achieved her dream and conquered her destiny. 
I met her again in 1989 when she visited UK on an official trip as head of state. I was so proud of her. We were sitting at the Banquet Hall. She had returned after meeting Margaret Thatcher and was now talking about her trip to the US.
Benazir had become accustomed to wearing formal dress suits as part of her official status.She seemed so royal and different than her days in UK. She would tag along her husband every now and then, and because of him (current president of Pakistan) we would have to keep our distance and discretely call her Prime Minister.

Politics kept us apart, but only physically.
We would talk once in a while over the phone, however, those conversations were rare and far in between.
Due to the internal politics in Pakistan, phones at the Prime Minister house were being bugged at that time.
The early 90s was a tumultuous time and Benazir would either be leader of the house or leader of the opposition.
Like her Oxford days she played a leading role in both capacities.
By 1997 under an increasingly hostile establishment she was again betrayed by a person who was opted as President by her. She told me that her own President had colluded to bring down her Government. Pinky had had enough of this and in view of threats she and her children faced, decided for self exile in 1998.
A blessing in disguise was that now we were able to meet after a long time. 
We met again in 1998, and I felt a repeat of her struggle in the 80’s. This time she had the additional burden of fighting for a person who had been brought into her life as a husband.
While sunbathing on the deck of the carnival cruise liner Jubilee, Benazir once told me, how she wished that life back in Pakistan could be filled again with sunshine and joy. She always seemed to be thinking of her country and believed that her life and destiny were entwined with that of her mother land.  
Benazir was now shuttling between UK, USA and UAE trying to mobilize her party and keeping it intact.While holding the highest executive post in her country, a persona had developed around and about her.
In a country with fundamentalist streaks and religious dogma still strong, Benazir would be seen addressing political rallies with her chador (long dress and covering like a burka).
Politics of religion and conservatism combined to portray her as daughter of the east. It was a patronizing and condescending title which annoyed me when she didn’t take exception to it. In UK I used to meet her at Surrey where she would arrange parties for a circle of people close to her. After one such party I jokingly asked Benazir how she felt being daughter of the east. Wearing a short white dress she replied with a smirk that she was above titles and accolades. I knew better to argue with her.   
Benazir loved her suits, skirts, saris, gowns and jeans.
Now that she was in the west, paradoxically she found it liberating, like old times at Oxford. Benazir was hardly recognized when she accompanied me to the theater or opera wearing party dresses and gowns. Happy times seemed to have lurked back in her life.
Once, Benazir took me to watch the performance of Ursula Martinez, one of her favorite artists. At the gala dinner that followed, I introduced her as my dance partner. No one recognized Benazir and people kept complimenting her looks. We laughed so much afterwards and she reminded me of the giggling girl back in Oxford. 
By 2006 her plans to return and end her exile had gained momentum.Before she left for her country again we went to Loch Shiel.Benazir and I strolled the Scottish water front while I kept asking her to stall her plans of return but she was adamant. Our brief argument yielded to silence and we never spoke a word during that long walk. It was as if we knew that the time had finally come.
I remember she smiled, told me to cheer up and lose the long face, gave me a kiss and said, “Bubbly you know I always come back”.
How I wish that was true.
Benazir was a world citizen not confined to a single ethos. She embodied a true facade of being multi- cultural, tolerant and a laissez-faire liberalism.
 Thank you, Hijabskirt for reminding the world about this.
To live in the hearts we leave behind is to never die.
After Benazir our planet is a much poorer place now

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