Thursday, January 3, 2008

Looking like Benazir Bhutto

Buffalo Beth in Bali
©Beth Surdut 2007
In 1999, after a trip to Bali where I was repeatedly told I looked like Benazir Bhutto, I wrote a somewhat snarky piece called “Benazir and Cher” about the public’s desire to identify me with famous people and my desire to be known for my own accomplishments as an artist. To my sorrow, but not to my surprise, Benazir Bhutto, born the same year as I was, was murdered in the last week of 2007.
The Balinese villagers who called me Benazir and held up their children to look at me as my driver negotiated through their festival parade were not the only ones who saw a resemblance. After 9/11, juggling a dual career as an artist and journalist, I was assigned to interview a Pakistani terrorism expert in Massachusetts. Before meeting him in person, I mentioned the Bhutto connection, thinking it might help us bond. He invited me to come to his home to meet his family and to break the fast at the end of Ramadan. As the day lengthened, he told me that the reason he left Pakistan was because he was informed that his death had been ordered by Benazir’s father. So much for bonding! I was thinking that maybe I should have picked a more benign famous person—you know, like Joan Baez--when he said, “I think you’re smarter.”
A couple of years later I was at a party chatting with a Pakistani journalist who had interviewed Bhutto extensively. An American man married to a Pakistani woman said, “I think Beth looks like Benazir Bhutto!” His wife and the journalist chorused, “No!” and decided I looked like Rajiv Gandhi’s wife. Has anyone told these women that they look like me?
I was emailed by a guy in India saying he was writing an article and asking for pictures of me if I really looked like Bhutto. Having seen that someone had landed on my website by typing the search terms “Bhutto+nude+pictures”, I suspiciously asked him what periodical he was writing for and, no surprise, he disappeared.
What I wrote eight years ago, seemingly flippant about a leader I truly admire, ended with this:
“In Hawaii, after being ignored by a maître d' of a restaurant that catered to the famous and infamous, I considered renting a limo and going there dressed as Bhutto... Then I reconsidered, figuring some crazed assassin would pick that same night to make a political statement to the world. I think after all I would rather be killed for who I really am.”
May her courage and spirit continue after her death.

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