Fatima Bhutto Looks East for Culture

The writer, from Pakistan’s dynastic family, grew up in exile around the world. In her new book, she talks about phenomena from Bollywood to Dizi, and the gaps that Western culture can’t fix.

Shrai Popat

October 9, 2019

Fatima Bhutto Looks East for Culture
Fatima Bhutto (Naina Hussain)

Fatima Bhutto recounts a particular memory from the time she spent with the Kalasha, one of Pakistan’s smallest indigenous ethnic groups who number about 4,000, one that she can’t quite forget. The Kalasha practice an ancient animistic form of Hinduism and migrated to Pakistan from a “distant place in South Asia.” Bhutto recalls seeing a poster of Shah Rukh Khan hanging in an otherwise bare community center. In a mountainous village with little running water and no electricity, she couldn’t escape the Bollywood star that adorned the walls of this seemingly culturally removed community.

The poster appeared almost iconographic, and Khan seemed to “transcend electricity,” Bhutto joked. But, the thing is, she’s not really joking. Mainly because Bhutto has been thinking a lot about culture lately.

Bhutto is the daughter of the late Pakistani politician Murtaza Bhutto. The Bhutto mantle carries a certain dynastic weight, whether it be her father, her grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, or her aunt Benazir Bhutto (both former prime ministers of Pakistan). Yet, with her father in exile during General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, Bhutto spent most of her early life in relative anonymity abroad, born in Afghanistan, and raised during her early childhood in Damascus.