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COVER STORY: Pakistan times

December 03, 2011

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Biyyothil Mohyuddin Kutty, widely known as B M Kutty, is a remarkable person in many ways. At the age of 19 he abandoned his home in Kerala and chose self-exile in Pakistan, for reasons that failed to convince many, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as the hand of destiny sometimes hides restless souls’ search for new worlds under the label of wanderlust.

Kutty’s life over the next six decades resembles a ride on a roller-coaster. He has served his adopted country in a variety of roles — he has been a dependable manager in business firms, a trade unionist, a journalist, a publisher, a political worker, a leftist intellectual, a trusted negotiator, a firm campaigner for peace and, last but not the least, the author of an extremely readable autobiography. Aptly described as a political autobiography, (Sixty Years in Self-Exile: No regrets; A Political Autobiography), Kutty’s narrative follows two parallel tracks — one presents the portrait of a proud Mapilla and his ceaseless desire to tilt at the windmills and the other offers a course in the political history of Pakistan.

Kutty writes about his eventful life honestly and with innocent candour. As he moves through a cavalcade of characters of various hues, he has a way of telling who are worthy of his friendship and respect and who of his anger or contempt. Most of the time he maintains his homespun modesty but there are quite a few flashes of well-earned pride. He does not conceal his attraction to the fairer sex and his admiration for women achievers is revealed, among other things, by his decision to dedicate his book to four women — Biriya Umma (mother), Nirmala Deshpande (peace), Benazir Bhutto (democracy) and wife Birjis (love). Nor does he hide his penchant for conspiring against his own career in business administration by taking up the causes of the victims of his benefactors’ malfeasance.

The account of Kutty’s movement from one business house to another and his struggle to raise a family without compromising his principles also offer a good peep into the social fabric of Pakistan during the period 1950-1974 — snapshots of life in Lahore in the early fifties, the rise of Karachi as a industrial and commercial capital in the sixties, and the ways in which society reacted to political upheavals throughout the first six decades of Pakistan’s history. Much may have changed since, except perhaps for the dehumanised factotums who punished Kutty for his innocence by condemning him to solitary confinement.

As for Kutty himself, nothing offers a better key to his character than the last two decades that he devoted to the promotion of peace and labour rights.

The other strand of the narrative is a valuable addition to the material on Pakistan’s political history — it is a fairly detailed account, from a leftist’s point of view, of the country’s journey from one political blunder to another. It is doubtful if Kutty has had a notable predecessor in this area. His strength lies in the fact that he is neither gathering material from a library nor does he present a bystander’s view of the turbulent politics; he is mostly in the thick of battle. Always a conscious believer in communism, he worked for the Awami League, the Communist Party, the National Awami Party, Pakistan National Party, and he has a great deal to tell us, not only about national politics but also about what went on within the progressive political parties and the movements for democracy.

The man Kutty was really devoted to from among the political leaders in his gallery — Mian Iftikharuddin, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri and a host of BSO leaders — is Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo. Kutty paid off his debt to Bizenjo by editing his biography, In Search of Solutions, some time ago. Here he presents a broader review of the nine-month tenure of the NAP government in Balochistan, and his own role as Bhutto’s emissary to Bizenjo. He also offers several close-ups of Bhutto in a variety of moods and in the peculiar roles he liked to play. That Bhutto never treated his requests lightly and Benazir invited him to join her government reveals the level of respect Kutty came to enjoy among the political elite because of his professional efficiency, his understanding of politics and his capacity for calling a spade a spade. Students of politics will find in this book a large volume of reference material; some of it not readily available elsewhere.

What Sixty Years in Self Exile tells us about Kutty and his assessment of Pakistan’s political travails are important and relevant and this material should enable serious students to comprehend the present crises. Here and there Kutty’s memory fails him, literary critics may find his prose exceptionally simple, some may question his excessive use of the word “I” (unavoidable to some extent in an autobiography), and professional analysts may challenge his assessment of famous/notorious political figures, but that does not diminish the merit of the work.

It is not the autobiography of a run-of-the-mill politician who promises a revolution without knowing what it means, nor a sermon from a usurper of the pulpit; it is the story of a generation whose capacity to throw up nameless builders of a nation the state did not have the good sense to use. Kutty will find a prominent place in the group of activists who tried to show the path to Pakistan’s glory by fighting for peace, justice and the dignity of labour. States do not achieve greatness by the brilliance or the exertions of their leaders alone; far more important is the role of brief writers and prompters in the wings and Kutty has filled both roles with diligence and a gusto all his own.

The book is a good addition to the splendid works the Pakistan Study Centre of the University of Karachi has issued over the past many years.

The reviewer is secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Sixty years in self-exile: No Regrets; A Political Autobiography (AUTOBIOGRAPHY) By B. M. Kutty Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi 562pp. Rs600