The reaction was expected. The curiosity was inevitable. However, the responses were…OMG. The wedding of Imran Khan, unarguably Pakistan’s biggest celebrity to date, and arguably its most popular political leader today, was going to be sensational news, and yep, it didn’t fail to be. Incredible as it may sound to most sensible folks, the second marriage of not too many people evokes such a huge response, and that too in ways that are comical if one sifts through the venom and derision.
Come on, yes, it was the Imran Khan’s marriage, but he was hardly the hottest bachelor around at the age of 62, notwithstanding his still attractive face and super-fit body. And his political moves despite being noble-intentioned end up making him a subject of undue criticism because of his often over-the-top oratorical rhetoric couched in language that’s occasionally beep-able, and ideas that sound like melodramatic dialogues from a 1980s Manmohan Desai blockbuster. That having said, there’s no denying the reality that Khan turns heads, evokes the OMG responses, and is more followed than most politicians wherever he goes. Literally, and on Twitter. Ergo, no surprise that his second marriage got more responses – positive and otherwise – than Nawaz Sharif’s third-time premiership. Such is the Khan mania in a country called Pakistan.
And the woman whom he married – or who married him – became an easy target for those who consider Khan to be inconsequential, politically and otherwise, yet appear to be obsessed by all he does, or even plans to do. Reham Khan. The “mystery” woman whom no one truly knew but many became an authority on. Who is Reham? Where did she come from? Why does she say this? Why does she do that? Why does she walk? Why does she breathe? AND why is Khan marrying her? O the inanity of questions that even when well intentioned sounded like the buzzing of fat mosquitoes when one’s trying to sleep after a long day.
How do political differences become so misplaced that all decorum is set aside, and all lines of civility fade into a free-for-all mud-slinging contest? Instead of respecting a politician’s decision in a very private matter, there appeared to be a tasteless expression of mirth when dissecting Khan’s marriage to a media personality. Envy? Jealousy? Morbid fascination? Rabid curiosity? Myopic opinions? Harsh judgments? One, or the other, and there you are. A very simple personal affair like a marriage of two consenting adults became a voyeuristic sideshow for those who think opinions need to be venom-dipped, and responses must be acid-toned. Man, the sheer inanity of that is tedious. At least to a few of us who think someone’s private life is just what it is: someone’s private life. Duh.
Courtesy that very strange yet very cool medium, yes, Twitter, one became acquainted with Reham a bit. We interacted once in a while, and we exchanged a few texts. And I was a guest at one of her shows a few months ago. That was the extent of my online interaction with the journalist about whom I had not much to say except comment on her constant graciousness on Twitter, and her noticeably attractive presence on TV. Occasionally, I’d sigh reading her tweets explaining this and defending that. Without knowing her, one detected a vulnerable honesty and an almost transparent need to set the record right in her Twitter interactions. What people thought mattered to her, and while my advice to her as a well-wisher would have been to refrain from engaging with naysayers, it was, sort of, praiseworthy to see her react so patiently to negativity. Sooner or later, trolls, or semi-trolls, or those-who-think-they-are-not-trolls (read: any and everyone who attacks/questions-your-IQ simply because the party/ideology they endorse is different than yours) get bored of your non-aggressive reactions, and they go in search of a new prey. Sigh, the snakes are aplenty; it’s always a good idea to wear knee-high boots in the grass. Of thick skin.
As I met Reham for a cover story for India Today Woman, there was an expectancy of a dull interview with a recently-married wife of a very high profile politician, and that wasn’t the only thing that I got wrong that sunny yet pleasant April day. The first being the “palatial” house in Bani Gala, Islamabad, I had heard so much about. Oh yes, Khan’s house is on a hill, and it is 300 kanals – that’s many, many acres – and it has the feel of aloof splendour amidst wild trees and untended shrubs, but it is anything but a palace.
Accompanied by the very talented photographer from Karachi, Madeeha Aijaz, the first person I met was Reham’s youngest daughter, Inaya, an absolutely delightful 12-year-old, who introduced me to the family dogs. All six of them! While we waited for Reham in Khans’ very elegantly yet simply done living-room, there was a brief hello-hi with Imran as he breezed through the room attired in what’s like second skin to him: his workout gear! Although I’ve met him many times over the years, there’s always that goofy feeling of delight talking – even if briefly – to one’s childhood/teenage/adulthood hero!
|Reham Khan with Mehr Tarar.|
Meeting Reham was a pleasure. And the first thing that one noticed: Reham’s a whole lot prettier than how she appeared on TV! For a Punjabi chatterbox like me spending four hours with a Pakhtoon chatterbox was a hoot. Her two oldest children, Sahir, 21, and Ridah, 17, were so much fun to talk to, one felt one was interacting with one’s own nephew and niece. Looking at her children is a testimony of what a great mother she has been despite being a single parent for ten years.
Reham has seen it all: how she made ends meet living in the UK going from one job to another, her eviction from the house during one of Ridah’s birthday parties, her four-hour commute for a job because of her reluctance to move Sahir from his grammar school, her single-parent existence.
Now Reham’s biggest passion is to work for the cause of street children to ensure their plight is noticed and changed, and the conviction of her belief in what she’s doing is evident when she talks about children many fail to even notice around them. Besides producing two films on Pakhtoon history/culture, Reham’s jewelry business is also aiming to provide work and skill-learning opportunities for people in her province.
Talking to Mr and Mrs Khan at the gate before my departure, it was good to see Imran look relaxed and happy despite looking tired and thinner. One could go on and on but then this is not Alif-Laila. Suffice it to say Reham is hardly the person the relentless social media has stereotyped her into, and without making any claim to know her well, I trust my instincts, once in a while. Anyone who has that 500-megawatt smile, and laughs artlessly – and that too very, very often – is anything but a “mystery.” Another thing: Ridah was not facing her mother during most of our talk, and her instinctive nodding-of-head to a great deal of what her mother said was enough to convince me that people who deride her, judge her have no idea what Reham Khan-Khan is all about.