Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, has a good shot at becoming the country’s next prime minister after the election later this month. While his main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), is under fire from the powerful military establishment as well as the judiciary, Imran Khan’s party is riding high on a mixture of anti-corruption rhetoric and religious conservatism.
Imran Khan’s dramatic past includes leading the Pakistan cricket team to victory at the 1992 World Cup and cultivating a playboy image, one that has now come back to haunt him. On Thursday, his former wife Reham Khan released a memoir, titled Reham Khan, that left no salacious stone unturned in recounting her time with the politician. Reham Khan, a British-Pakistani, tied the knot with Imran in January 2015. The marriage lasted less than 10 months.
Tales of drugs, sex and black magic abound in the book, which is quite problematic for Imran Khan given his positioning as a conservative Muslim. That aside, there is much for a watcher of Pakistan’s politics or a fan of Imran Khan. There is plenty in the book connected to India as well.
Bollywood film on Imran Khan
Reham Khan claims she invited a couple of Indian producers who had wanted to make a film on her ex-husband. Imran Khan liked the idea but wanted a curtailed narrative, one that stopped at his first marriage.
The book provides no further details about the proposed film and, as is common to the narrative, switches to an excruciatingly banal bit: water seepage in their house since “plastering had been done on unprepared surfaces”.
Be like Modi (and Mandela)
Reham Khan talks about advising her debonair ex-husband to imitate Narendra Modi. Imran Khan dreamed of being Pakistan’s prime minister, but she “knew it wasn’t happening” and advised him to keep his nose to the grindstone if he wanted the top job. “I would gently and repeatedly give the example of Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, who was Chief Minister of Gujarat for a decade, and then elected to the top job because his seemingly strong governance record, despite all the other negative baggage,” she writes.
In another section, Reham Khan says she would motivate Imran Khan with examples of Modi and the iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela.
“It was clear that Imran felt it was high time he was ‘given the prize’. I would reason with him by saying, “But Imran, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in a cell with no end in sight. Narendra Modi was a Chief Minister for 10 years before he became PM. He was voted in despite his radical views because of a good governance track record. Prove yourself in KP [the province of Khyber Pakhtunwa, ruled by Khan’s party] then look to the centre”.
‘Do you know how old I am?’ he would angrily snarl back at me.
‘But Hilary Clinton is 67 too. Does that mean she will just give up?’
I should really have saved my breath. Imran was like an impatient toddler at heart.”
Relationship with a top Indian actor
Reham Khan recounts Imran Khan’s rumoured relationship with a Bollywood superstar of the 1970s, providing more than enough detail to identify the actor.
“Considered to be one of the sexiest heroines of all time, there had been rumours of Imran and her. We had heard these whilst we were growing up. Imran confirmed to me that they were true. Though Imran was happy to sexually engage with actresses, he and the family clearly thought little of them. He recalled with a smile how his mother had been called by the newspapers, asking about the actress. She had replied, ‘My son would never marry a prostitute!’ and slammed the phone down.
Imran’s stories always painted the women in an unflattering light. He told me how he met her in Bombay, had his fill, and moved on. But, according to Imran, the lady followed him to London and became clingy. Imran said she scared him because she would ask to be slapped around during sex. Apparently, she was used to this kind of violence. Her boyfriend at the time had reportedly hit her in front of his guests at a party in a hotel, and so badly that her eye was left with permanent damage. I would check both these stories with a film producer friend of hers months later, who told me that it was actually Imran who had chased her, and that she had been very financially benevolent towards him. The sexy bombshell of the 70s had described the interaction with our mutual friend rather disparagingly (in her filmy words) as, ‘Naam baray aur darshan chotay’ (the hype was bigger than the rather small package on offer).”
Imran Khan’s alleged children in India
The relationship with the 1970s superstar was not the only romantic association he had with an Indian woman. Reham Khan claims he has children in India, who have no idea that their biological father is the former Pakistan captain.
“He grinned mischievously. “There are 5 in total, that I know of.’
‘Five what?!’ I gasped.
‘Kids,’ he laughed.
‘What? You have five illegitimate children! How do you know?’ I asked.
‘Well, the mothers told me,’ he said.
‘No, some are Indians. The eldest is 34 now.’
‘How Imran? Why did the mother not come out with it?’
‘Because she was over the moon! She had been married for ages and couldn’t get pregnant. She was overjoyed, promised to keep it a secret, and begged to keep it. So I said OK.’
‘And the rest? Why did they never speak?’ I fired at him.
There were so many questions in my head. ‘Well, because they were all married and they didn’t want their marriages to be destroyed,’ he said.”
Pervez Musharraf is a Kumar Sanu fan?
Reham Khan recounts an event for Pakistanis in the United Kingdom where the former Pakistani president got a bit sloshed on red wine. “Musharraf would grab the mic and break into his favourite songs,” she writes. “The one I remember is the famous Bollywood number Tu meri ashiqui hai.”
Given his public image as an “upright, no-nonsense guy”, Reham says she was “disgusted” with what she saw.
It is not completely clear which song Reham is referring too – there seems to be no Bollywood song with that exact title – but it might be this Kumar Sanu classic from the 1990 movie Aashiqui.
Reham Khan blames Bollywood for her marriage
Like all British Asians, Reham Khan grew up on a diet of Bollywood movies. The patriarchy they promoted, she argues, weakened her judgement when marrying Imran Khan. “I put my brain to the side at the time of the nikkah,” she regrets.
“Like many of my generation, I was fed a culture of Bollywood, where the practice of Karwa Chauth (fasting and praying for the long life of your husband) was presented so romantically. The concept of the husband being like a god is promoted in both Hindu and Urdu literature, with terms like Pati Parmeshwar and Mazaji Khuda liberally sprinkled on both sides of the border. The husband is referred to as the Sartaj (crown); the sanctity of marriage symbolised by the Mangalsutra (sacred thread) and the central parting coloured with red sindoor (powder). Widows in the subcontinent traditionally wear only white, to show that all colour in their lives is gone when the husband is no more. These were concepts we had seen a million times over. The woman as a dasi (devotee) is glorified in our culture regardless of our religion. Young, progressive men across the country would be bowled over by my spontaneous declaration in the famous press conference in the constituency of NA-246 (Karachi) in April 2015, only a few months from this moment, where I would refer to my husband as the only jewellery I needed to enhance me. ‘Mera shohar hee mera zewar hai’, I would cry out.”
Warning: Don’t read this book if you like daal makhani (or dislike Islamic heresy)
Memoirs should always be frank. But as is clear now, they can also be a bit too frank. Reham Khan describes Imran’s fascination with superstitions, one of which involves a curious act – with kaali daal, the lentils used to make the famous Punjabi dish daal makhani.
“On a day in November, I’d walk into the bedroom to find my new husband lying naked on a white sheet, rubbing kaali daal (black lentils) all over himself. He laughed in embarrassment as he rubbed them on his genitalia. He then stood up and shook the lentils onto the sheet for Anwarzeb, the home help, to take away. I stood there in shock. Imran explained that Ahad, his brother-in-law, had brought a man with him who had recommended the treatment because he believed someone had done some black magic on Imran.”
Tales of grown men massaging their private parts with daal is embarrassing enough, but his ex-wife’s book hurts Imran Khan politically as well, striking at the heart of his positioning as an orthodox Muslim. His mostly urban supporters won’t take kindly to their leader indulging in any sort of black magic, with or without kali daal. To drive home the point, Reham Khan underlines her own Islamic orthodoxy. Imran Khan’s superstitious beliefs were a “huge culture shock” for her, she writes, since she came from a family that “had always adhered to a strict code of simplicity, as prescribed by the Sharia”, and in which “biddah” is not practised.
Biddah is an Islamic notion of heresy that conservatives often employ to decry the practices of South Asian Muslims they believe have pagan origins, such as visiting shrines or wearing “magic amulets”, which Reham Kham also accuses her former husband of.
Reham Khan also wields a trope popularised by political Islamists to attack Imran Khan: she accuses him of being associated with “active Zionists”, through another former wife Jenima Goldsmith, who is of Jewish descent, prompting this angry tweet: