Memories: Benazir and I
By: Maheen Khan
DUBAI: It’s difficult to describe Benazir Bhutto in words. She was a woman of so many faces; she was so many things to so many different people.
My story with the legacy began way back in Calcutta, during pre-partition in the early 1940s and then continued to grow in Karachi. Our families were known to each other and met often at family gatherings and other events. However, it was much later that I developed a personal relationship with her.
Just before her first elections in the 1980s, Benazir was having trouble with her wardrobe and that’s where I come in to the picture. I went to Bilawal House and saw Benazir had actually been shopping. This was not a generic woman shopping for that “jora” she just had to have but for Benazir it was serious business and she was not happy.
I found an array of fabric on the table in front of her and clearly remember saying to her, “You can’t wear any of this, but first we have to solve the ‘slipping dupatta issue’.”
I suggested we get soft blended muslin in white which would drape beautifully on her head and best of all not slip. She could just simply wear it with any outfit. We decided to get rid of the matching dupattas concept. I came back the next day with the fabric, draped it for her and she looked fantastic. It was just the right combination of stateswoman, politician and feminine. She had a beautiful face and soft folds of white around her porcelain skin made her look unforgettable.
From then on, it became her signature look not just locally but the world over.
I still look back and find myself humbled by the thought that I had created a ‘look’ for such an empowering woman. As time progressed, Benazir became more than just a politician gathering votes. She had won the elections and was going to be inaugurated as the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
The phone rang again. It was Benazir and this time she needed an outfit for the inaugural ceremony.
She had just given birth to her first born Bilawal and wanted to wear something loose. Benazir being the patriot that she was chose to wear the colour green and she wanted padded shoulders — there was no two ways about it. I loved and respected that about her.
Unlike women of today, she knew exactly what she wanted to wear and was very firm on always having padded puffed sleeves. Over the years friends have criticised her style of dressing but it worked. I on the other hand, could only salute her for being such a strong independent woman.
That green outfit with the white muslin dupatta is now at Madam Tussauds in London and Benazir rang me herself to say “Your outfit is at Madam Toussads. Why don’t you go and give a press conference there?”
Over the years, Benazir grew to become a good friend. I would meet her at family gatherings with my mother and even though I am much older than her she would invariably say “You are a silly girl, set up a factory and I will help you.”
In the end she was a woman like any other, who needed a home, a family and friends to laugh with.
One of my fondest memories of her is when I rang her up on one of my Dubai trips. She remembered it was my birthday and sent me an invitation for tea at a coffee shop in Jumeirah and asked me to bring as many friends as I liked. I did and it was incredible.
Benazir Bhutto was just a woman like any one of us- she was a passionate, brilliant woman who loved her country, her people, her family and friends and her legacy will always be missed.