Reham Khan, the person, is extremely likeable. She’s affable, effusive, forthcoming and self-deprecating. She peppers information and anecdotes with jokes and laughter. It’s tough not to be charmed by her. But it’s tougher to arrive at one-word or even one-line description for her, or even her recently released self-titled memoir.
But no matter what you make of her or her literary foray, one thing becomes increasingly clear within even one cursory conversation with her: the book doesn’t quite do justice to the person. The book is self-indulgent, the woman I spoke to several times in the days leading up to the official book launch is not.
In the course of our conversations, Reham emphasises, several times, that the book is not a tell-all about her famous second husband — the current Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan. <!–
–> “In so many ways, it’s a story about all women, everywhere. It’s a story about how we women act like blind fools when we’re in love. How we make excuses about the men in our lives, and keep giving them chances no matter what they do,” says the 45-year-old British-Pakistani journalist. “My story is about the pervasive power of conditioning. Despite being an educated, free-thinking woman, I was so desperate to please my mother, both as a child and as an adult, that I chose to stay trapped in an abusive marriage for 13 long years. The idea of being divorced was a matter of such shame that for a long, long time, I didn’t even consider it. Being miserable was easier.”
Reham’s assertion is partly true. While the book is most certainly a detailed, unforgiving portrayal of what goes on in Imran Khan’s life away from the public eye and the camera’s glare. But it’s not just that.
For the first 200-odd pages, there is little or no mention of Imran Khan. Ironically, they make for the most arresting reading, easily drawing the reader into her world and making them empathise with what seems like a hopeless situation.
In the first half of the book, Reham details her early childhood in liberal Libya. As the unexpected and much younger third child of expat parents, hers was a life of luxury and indulgence, along with a Western education. She talks about her independent streak and free-spirited nature, even as a toddler, and how everything about her personality was at odds with the conservative Pakistani culture when the family suddenly moves back home. Reham’s prose is quietly proud as she describes how she understood and connected with her Pashtun origins.
But the real meat of the book is in the way she describes her reportedly emotionally and physically abusive 13-year-long marriage with first cousin Ejaz Rehman, and the transformation of a doe-eyed, 19-year-old bride into a mother of three who finally finds the courage to call the cops on her “respectable” doctor husband to protect her son and two young daughters.
“Everyone asks me about Imran while talking to me about the book, but almost half the book is devoted to talking about domestic and sexual abuse in marriages, and the impact it can have on the partner going through the abuse. I talk at length about being a single parent even while being married, and desperately keeping up appearances for the sake of so-called “respectability”. But no one dwells on that,” Reham rues.
That part is true. She truly sinks her teeth into the parts describing the loneliness of a woman as she struggles to protect her children in a hostile home environment — penniless and in a country without any family or friends (the couple lived in the UK) — until finally, one day, after more than a decade of moving houses and countries on the whims and fancies of her paranoid husband, she decides she has finally had enough.
But the empathy and emotion she evokes dissipate rapidly as the memoir suddenly jerks into a narrative that reads as if it came straight out of the pages of a banal romance, instead of the introspective memoir of an intelligent woman.
Reham painstakingly describes how she crossed paths with Imran several times in her capacity as a journalist, and his cringe-inducing attempts to win the affections of her and her three children. Despite her own better judgement and her family’s counsel, Reham finds herself secretly marrying Pakistan’s favourite ‘bad boy’.
The marriage lasted only 10 months, but was doomed from the get-go, if Reham’s exhaustive descriptions of Imran’s bewildering world and his vices are to be taken at face value. She speaks at length about his sexual perversions and substance abuse, and her many shocks as she stumbles across proof of his many indiscretions and uncontrolled drug and drinking habit.
“It was a bizarre life. It was all sex, drugs and rock n’ roll… Imran would even boast of a threesome with a famous star that he really wanted to replicate with me. He went as far as suggesting going to a discreet place like Hong Kong where no one would recognise him… His stories had a terrifying effect on me,” writes Reham.
Excerpts from the book, leaked several weeks before the book’s release, paint a similar salacious picture. They talk about Imran’s illegitimate children (five, according to the book) with married women, his superstitious nature, and belief in black magic. One particularly eyebrow-raising account talked about how Imran rubbed black lentils on his genitals to thwart the effects of some black magic performed on him. The book is filled with shocking revelations of an equally salacious nature.
“On the one hand all these things were happening around me, and on the other, I was saying things like, ‘Mera shauhar hi mera zevar hai’ (my husband is my jewellery) to the press,” she laughs. “Love really does make us take leave of our senses.”
Reham Khan pulls no punches as she analyses and tears down everything to do with Imran Khan: his violent marriage to Jemima Goldsmith, awful relationship with his sisters, fascist politics, misogynistic beliefs, lack of principles, ignorance of the Quran, and sycophantic bootlickers; but casts a rather benevolent eye on her own place in the circus. He is irredeemable, but she is above reproach; an innocent bystander watching the drama play out in wide-eyed shock, curiously unaffected by all the power and wealth at her dispoasal.
Believe that, if you will. And if you don’t, read the book for its meaty first half, and entertaining, if harsh, second.