A Man of Courage

I am still thinking about Salman Taseer.

I do not think I would have liked Taseer. I have met many people like him. Had I had to interview him, I expect I would have found him overbearing, brusque, without much time for people not important to his political, business or sex life. That’s the way such men are.

But he stood up for a person’s right to think what they want, to behave as they wish, as long as they don’t harm others.

What drives such a person to take such risks? Is such courage driven by other needs? Perhaps the desire to be famous, to be recognised and honoured in the history of a nation?

At least Democracy can find a use for people with great drive and ambition. In other societies they become tyrants, dictators, Big Men, who ruin their countries, murder their opponents.

Taseer, I find, was born in Simla, now called Shimla, once summer capital of the British Raj.

His mother was a British writer and intellectual. He came to study accountancy in the UK before becoming a successful businessman in Pakistan, and a supporter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was later hanged under the regime of General Zia ul-Haq.

For a single disparaging remark, Taseer was arrested and was tortured during the regime of ul-Haq, the military dictator who had fomented the rise of militant Islam in Pakistan.

My mother used to talk about Simla. She spent much time there as a young woman before Pakistan became a separate country. It was the summer retreat of British officers and their families. When she came to England, she said, the sound of the church bells always reminded her of Simla.

She used to tell us stories when we were children and show us things like her topee, which, she said, all children hated having to wear.

She would imitate her old amah or nanny: “Baba put on topee, otherwise telling father”.

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