To move away a little from serious topics, I found your encounter with Noor Jehan quite hilarious.
Oh, that was quite interesting! She used to be ‘Baby Noor Jehan’ in the movies. So, when I went to Lahore to interview Bhutto, these public relations people asked, “What can we do for you?”, because the interview was the next day. I said I’d never seen Noor Jehan after that time [when she was “Baby Noor Jehan”], so they took me to the place where she was.
Two fat ladies were sitting there, and they nudged me towards the one who was Noor Jehan. And you know, you usually talk about the climate or something to start the conversation. So, I started by asking, ke, “Noor Jehan ji, aap ke kitne record honge?”
She says, “Naa record-on ka shamaar hai, naa gunahon ka.” She said she has no count of her records, or of her sins. Then, she said this, you’ll forgive, and that, Allah will forgive.
It was such a witty retort, and since I remembered, I wanted to put it in.
While we’re on the subject of ‘Noor’, let me bring up the Koh-i-Noor. You raised a demand for the diamond to be returned, first as envoy to England, and later, when you were an MP in the Rajya Sabha. But despite signatures being collected, nothing has happened. Why are we so cowardly? Why can’t we ask for it straight?
Somewhere, I quote the then-External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh saying, “Don’t press for this. This will spoil the relations between India and Britain.”
To hell with it, what do you care if relations are spoilt? We should get the Koh-i-noor back. But nobody now is doing anything about it.
You know, when we went to the Tower of London, they were very much on the defensive. They said, “This is yours, really, sir.” But I was High Commissioner then, maybe that was the reason.
And there was a very pertinent remark by my servant on that trip. He said, “Babuji, jab jaayen toh is ko le jaayen.” [When we go back, let’s go back taking this with us.]
You’ve quoted an instance from when you were envoy, when the journalist Farzad Bazoft was executed in Iraq, and you wanted to register your protest as a fellow-journalist. But you weren’t allowed to, because you were seen as the voice of the country. What was the hardest aspect of being an envoy? Was it such restrictions?
No, no. The hardest part for any envoy is that he has to defend the decisions his country makes. Take for example, Iraq [in 1991]. We were not very particular about the Iraq war. For whatever reason, we thought Saddam will win.
Now, it was so obvious that he was going to die, or in some way, suffer reverses. So, how to keep your posture whereby you can say, ke, look here, we are not pro-Iraq, but still in our heart-of-hearts, we were, and people knew it. That was the hardest part.
In Picture: An undated photograph of Pakistan's legendary singer Noor Jehan (L) with her daughter Zillah Huma.
Image copyright: AFP. Any unauthorized reproduction is prohibited