Imran unplugged

The one image that readers will take away from this book is of a stark naked Imran Khan, lying in bed, rubbing kaali dal (black lentils) all over his body (including his genitalia) when his wife, Reham Khan, walks into the room. Unperturbed, the former Pakistani cricket captain — and now, the man widely tipped to be the country’s next prime minister — rolls off the bed, shaking the dal off his body and on to the bed. The dal is then collected, boiled for 72 hours, and then thrown away — along, presumably, with the evil spell that had been cast on Imran.

In her re-telling, Reham Khan refers to this incident as her entry into “Hogwarts” (Harry Potter and the Devil’s Dal, anyone?) because this incident was yet another illustration not just of her husband’s love of black lentil but also his belief in black magic. Imran Khan comes off as a superstitious man who was constantly worried that someone had hexed him, and would consult with pirs (religious leaders) on how to remove the curse. The solutions ran all the way from magic amulets tucked away in drawers to kaali dal strewn all across the bed.

There’s more to these black magic stories than mere black magic, of course. They are a way for Reham to illustrate that Imran does not have what it takes to be the leader of a truly Islamic nation. Belief in superstition is strictly forbidden in the Sunni version of Islam, which Reham and most Pakistanis practise. And she uses these incidents to paint her former husband as a lesser — and less observant — Muslim than herself, helpfully pointing out that Imran doesn’t know Arabic, so he can’t even read the Koran.

But the impatient reader will have to wait a long time before getting to all the juicy Imran gossip. The book begins with Reham’s childhood, her brief stint as a child star on TV, followed by an early marriage to a first cousin whom she barely knew. Ijaz Rehman is a psychiatrist and the young couple fly off to England, where he starts practising while she plays the dutiful housewife.

In Reham’s version of events, the abuse begins almost immediately, and she recounts in excruciating detail her first husband’s controlling behaviour, his emotional torture and his physical attacks on her. This part of the book makes for troubling reading and is the more powerful for that. Reham skilfully paints a portrait of a young wife and mother trapped in an intolerable situation, looking desperately for a way out.

It is only 12 years and three children later that Reham manages to break free of this relationship. And then begin the single years, in which she works two to three jobs to bring up her kids, working in radio and television. It is hard not to root for the young mother as she drives herself from job to job to make sure that her kids have the best life she can make for them.

But these are not the bits for which people will buy the book. It will sell only because of whom Reham marries next — and the acrimonious divorce that follows. It will sell because of the scandalous, and mostly unsubstantiated, gossip that abound in the latter half: Imran’s alleged penchant for sending naked pictures of his genitalia to journalists in Pakistan (one woman who apparently asked for proof that this was, in fact, Imran’s junk was sent another picture with his watch in the frame); his promiscuous lifestyle that took in everything from drugs, drink and fornication; the women who sexted him all the time, even after he and Reham were married, with one of them promising to “ride him hard”; his inability to perform because of his drug habit; the size of his “package” (“naam baray aur darshan chhotey,” a famous 70s Bollywood star is quoted as saying); his bisexual tendencies; and so on and so salacious.

The book, though pacy and readable, is rather unevenly written. It starts with a high-minded tone as the plucky tale of a young woman who is stuck in a loveless, abusive marriage and how she summons up the courage to leave. By the time Reham has her first “encounter” with Imran, it has veered irredeemably into Mills & Boon territory. (“He started to say something, and as I looked up expectantly, he instead closed the distance between us and leant down to kiss me. It was a light brush initially. I froze in fright. As he proceeded to kiss me more ardently, I put both my hands on his chest and pushed him away… In a daze I fell to the ground beside the swimming pool…”).  And after the marriage collapses, the narrative descends into straight-out revenge memoir territory.

Nobody knows the truth behind the allegations that Reham was paid by Imran’s political opponents to publish this tell-all book just before the elections were held in Pakistan to destroy his prospects. But equally, nobody can deny that this book has the potential to do much damage: if only to Imran’s reputation rather than his actual election tally.

Maybe it’s time for Imran Khan to break out the kaali dal again. This time, with a brand-new recipe to cope with the fury of a woman scorned.

Reham Khan
S K Publications
548 pages; $22.50

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