50 shades of lentils

Naseeba Umar offers a feminist reading of Reham Khan's book

50 shades of lentils
It is election season, which means Lahore is plastered with posters of convicted criminals and Imran Khan gazing into space, silently asking “What on earth do I need to do to add prime minister to my resume?”

Recently, whenever I see Imran Khan’s face, all I see is him in his underwear rubbing kaali daal (black lentils) over his body to cure himself of black magic. This image haunts me, thanks to the “explosive” expose by Reham Khan. Her book has been receiving media attention for her account of the Hugh Hefner world of politics: drugs, scandal and sexual experimentation. Headlines regarding her book continue to emphasise political debauchery.

Reham’s rigorous attention to detail has gone unappreciated. In the acknowledgments section, she thanks her son Sahir. “In bringing this book to you, Sahir, was my only support, he motivated me to work harder.” I am perturbed by this for the sake of her two other children. Sahir is the Kim Kardashian to Reham’s Kris Jenner and such a setting never ends well.

It is rather self-evident that Sahir and his friends were in fact the editing team on this book as Reham claims. The book is raw with passion and twilight-esque angst. Reham has been criticised for wanting to achieve political success through her book. However, she clarifies her motivation: “This is a story for my son, if you love a woman, she will give you her life.” Sahir should steer clear from this very unhealthy advice but I fear that as the editor, he may have taken this to heart.

The first half of Reham’s book provides a thrilling narrative of her life “My daddy made it a rule to take me to and personally from school. I was only picked up by the driver once in my entire school life.” At this point I am on the edge of my seat. What happened to daddy that one and ONLY day that the driver had to come pick Reham up? Was daddy okay? She does not offer an explanation.

On her school life, Reham states, “The strictest teacher Miss Chand Rehman tried to restrain her smile at my free-spiritedness. Although she was a much feared teacher to our seniors, she had a soft spot for me. In return, I was never late for her class.” I am sure that Miss Chand is eternally grateful that Reham was never late for her class; she encouraged her to add it to her resume. Miss Chand sets the tone for the rest of Reham’s book. I believe the point she is trying to make here is regarding favouritism and what it does to a person’s ego. I hope you read this book Miss Chand and realise the narrative you helped create.
The revelations regarding the PTI leader are, of course, the selling point of the book. The start of Reham and Imran's romance is touching. Imran Khan's flirtation tactics are fascinating

Reham Khan’s take on feminism is particularly hard to digest. She places emphasis on women, how they need to be a model of hard work, modesty and the right kind of upbringing in order to represent empowerment. She rarely acknowledges her own privilege. Such a pink-washed model of empowerment is not new. I have always wondered where it originated from. Reham solves that mystery: “The Spice girls entered our lives that year too and we were introduced to the concept of girl power. We watched, sang and were unknowingly influenced by these subliminal messages of female empowerment” I blame you Spice Girls, for your subliminal messages.

Reham goes onto provide details of her first marriage to Dr Ijaz. I do not think anyone who bought this book particularly cares about him. Therefore, he should not flatter himself and go through the trouble of filing for defamation. “Ironically my kids grew up to be more attached to our culture and tradition than most kids from Pakistani villages. In our house there has to be haleem and aloo gosht cooked regularly. And a month without gol gappas or barfi would mean employment of complex system of couriers.” If Reham adopts me, I will forego her interlinking tradition to desi food and hence claiming her children are culturally more informed in contrast to rural Pakistan. I would love to live in a household where haleem is served everyday, albeit without the presence of the tyrannical Dr Ijaz.

The second half of the book rips into the salacious world of politics.  Recounting Naeemul Haq’s harassment, Reham mentions the PTI leaders text: “Gloria is waiting in her jeans for you.” Gloria Jeans should definitely file for defamation against Naeemul Haq.

The revelations regarding the PTI leader are, of course, the selling point of the book. The start of Reham and Imran’s romance is touching. Imran Khan’s flirtation tactics are fascinating. “Baby, you are so fiery, like a true tigress,” he says. Despite appearing to be conservative and ancient, it becomes evident that Khan is greatly inspired by the sexist Pakistani romcoms which feature his best friend (or more?) Hamza Ali Abbasi.

I imagine Bani Gala to be a mansion akin to 50 Shades of Grey, complete with dungeons and dragons. The romance starts when a mosquito attacks Reham in the mansion. “The next thing I knew his hands grabbed my ankles, protectively but gently in order to soothe the insect bites. He leant forward to kiss me, groaned and got to his feet. He took me to the garden and said I want to marry you.” Damn! That escalated quickly. But do not worry, he explains his urgency to get married. “He was used to women who wanted no strings attached sex but he wanted to change because he was unhappy. He wasn’t looking to sleep with me. He wanted to get married. I repeated that he had no idea what I was like, and he repeated that he was only waiting for the green signal (istikhara that his pir was doing)” There has been legal controversy surrounding Reham, therefore I read this book with a keen interest in exactly who can be sued. I would suggest that Imran take his pir to court.

The pir trolls Reham and Imran, gives them the green signal and they get married. As the marriage unravels Reham realises that Imran is unhinged. She reasserts the fact that Khan enjoys drugs “You, Reham have never done it.  A line of cocaine is just like half a glass of wine.” Imran Khan’s drug habits have been public knowledge for a while. I am more concerned about the kind of wine he has been drinking.

Reham alleges that Khan sexually exploited women working for the PTI, even forcing one girl to undergo an abortion. “He described the girl as a bit of a nerd. He had been surprised at her getting pregnant and insisted it had scared him.” This led to Khan arranging a doctor for her in London who “cleaned up any mess created by the leader.” It is further alleged that Imran was abusive to Jemima Goldsmith in his first marriage, breaking her arm on one occasion due to a confrontation.

Despite Reham Khan’s self-indulgent style of writing, she has to be credited for speaking about her experience with abusive men. Allegations lauded against men, especially those in a position of power, are silenced by force or threat before they can reach the public sphere - which is a battle that Reham did face prior to the book being released. I do not doubt her experience as a woman in a world of politics dominated by men. When leaders such as Khan are criticised in the media, sexism is a topic which seems to escape mainstream political analysts. Reham Khan’s critique of the leader is centred on his behaviour towards women, a critique which is necessary and therefore stands to be one of the strongest points she makes.

Another important revelation Reham Khan makes is that Imran Khan has, in fact, had a hair transplant. This should settle the debate.

The author is a PhD student in Gender Studies at SOAS. She can be contacted at naseebaomer@hotmail.com