Power Failure is truly a great autobiography by Syeda Abida Hussain on many counts. Firstly, it is a riveting and beautifully written page-turner and, secondly, the reason it is an absorbing read is because it comes across as a very personal account, what the author felt and experienced deep down. Begum Abida writes with her heart and soul. What is equally exciting and enthralling is that it is not a ghost written book and it definitely does not resemble the memoirs of any former minister boastfully highlighting and even detailing the ‘achievements’ in the official/diplomatic realm the author was so close to accomplishing.Chandi’s life, like the lives of millions of South Asian citizens, is a combination and even a litany of accidents of history which, in her case, happen to be mostly pleasant and fruitful ones. Getting her schooling – away from the sunny plains of Jhang and its residents with burnished ruddy faces – in the cooler and more sedate climes of the French speaking region of Switzerland was never guaranteed despite being the only child of a pir and a notable landlord of the Punjab. Despite being the scion of a family with the above-mentioned double-barrelled feudal credentials, the probability of young Abida being sent abroad for studies was not very high due to her gender, she candidly admits. The accident in her case was the awkward and uncomfortable marriage proposal by Field Martial Ayub Khan’s son, Tahir, which resulted in her being shunted out to Switzerland in order to avoid a showdown with the ‘upstart’ military dictator. As it still happens in the subcontinent, Tahir Ayub was ‘impressed’ by Chandi’s glowing beauty and had decided to ask for her hand after just having met her once! Yet after having been compared to Gina Lolobrigda in beauty and poise while prowling the streets of Florence, she was destined to marry her talented cousin, Fakhar Imam who had, incidentally, driven her to tears during their courtship by casually remarking, “Do I want to marry you?”Like it happens in any influential political family so familiar with power and privilege and with a distinctly feudal background – which Chandi claims was benevolent feudalism in her case – her political career flourished despite and due to the inbuilt paradoxes and self-contradictions of the social and political milieu she operated in. For example, the preferences for her family had invariably been dictated by the primordial instinct to survive and, in the process, be politically relevant; hence the approach over the last seven decades has remained tactical rather than ideological especially on critical occasions during her political life. Military interventions on a regular basis may have influenced her decision-making by deterring her from holding herself back from the politics of protest and avoid creating a political vacuum in the cut throat, sectarian constituency politics of Jhang. Her late father, Colonel Abid Hussain, on the other hand, was bolder and more vocal in his words and actions due mainly to the reason that his idealism was alive and kicking when he decided to support Fatima Jinnah in the presidential election as in those days only Ayub Khan stood between the country and its democratic future. Later generations were less idealistic and acted more out of ‘pragmatism’ of not going against the grain during a dictatorship at the expense of democratic principles, Chandi not being immune to that malaise.Contesting elections as non-aligned candidates and deciding which party to join later has been a convenient and recurrent tactic of many an aristocratic clan. In what proportion the above phenomenon has contributed towards direct and indirect military rule in Pakistan is anybody’s guess. Even those observers and commentators whose estimate is on the conservative side will say that the proportion is high if not overwhelming.The book moves ahead while giving a fascinating insight into the corridors of power and into the minds of the protagonists through the eyes of an insider who happened to work closely with both Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sahrif, a rare if not non-existent occurrence. In a fast paced account one is spellbound to read how Chandi, in a male chauvinist society became a permanent part of the political tapestry of Pakistan rising to become a towering figure. There is hardly any dull moment in her account, as she makes trivial and unimportant incidents sound interesting on most occasions, such is her gift.Some of the episodes have been described with great wit and remarkable skill keeping the hilarity and mirth connected with those to reasonably pronounced levels for the reader to join in and feel like a protagonist in her story. True to his reputation for flying with a bevy of female guards, the Libyan leader sits with one of his rather masculine looking wives during the 1974 Islamic Summit who used to be one of his female bodyguards with an equally masculine and gaudy dress sense, Chandi tells us.Contesting elections as non-aligned candidates and deciding which party to join later has been a convenient and recurrent tactic of many an aristocratic clan. In what proportion the above phenomenon has contributed towards direct and indirect military rule in Pakistan is anybody’s guessBeing enamoured of ZA Bhutto as a politician, she is very fair to him while enumerating causes of his downfall, the main cause being the incarceration of his opponents that many of his ardent admirers found difficult to defend. She vividly remembers Bhutto finding out Soviet leader Kosygin’s charming daughter expressing high praises for Chandi hard to swallow with the body language to match. Similarly her first encounter with Nawaz Sharif, the ‘rosy-faced young man’ carrying a large box of sweets in the Punjab Governor’s House inhabited by General Ghulam Jillani during the Zia martial law days leaves a grin of amusement on the readers’ countenance.While resenting Ziaul Haq’s self serving approach and not thinking much of the “short, balding, insincere and greasy looking General Jillani, Begum Abida and her husband did contest the 1985 party-less elections. Both took a principled stance against Zia, though when a conspiracy was hatched against Fakhar, the National Assembly Speaker, for declaring ‘Martial Law Illegal and without lawful Authority’.Although she pays glowing tributes to Benazir Bhutto as a politician and a friend, she recounts some personal exchanges with BB that throw some light on the state of her marital bliss or, the lack of it, with Asif Zardari. It is pretty moving to read Bhutto confiding in Chandi Zardari’s infidelity and the fact that she still loved him deeply and forgave him whenever he hurt her. Benazir’s sense of humour is very much on display as she calls Rehman Malik ‘Dr Malik’ when she finds out he is doing his doctorate in “craminology” amidst peals of laughter.Expressing her regrets on what could not be done or achieved by her generation, she lists some issues to be addressed urgently by Pakistan and its younger generations; population explosion, economy, terrorism, static levels of tax collection, water shortages, need for change in proactive policy towards wars in neighbouring Afghanistan and corruption to name but a few.After having spent more than four decades in the political and diplomatic arena, one can expect Begum Abida to share her experiences and lessons learnt therefrom with the coming generations by writing frequently. But about Chandi, one can safely say that all that glitters is not always gold. The writer is a lawyer who is based in Lahore. He Tweets at @Tariq_Bashir Published in Daily Times, July 8th , 2017.