So when friends and relatives of the late Bhandara, who died nearly two years ago after being seriously injured in a road accident in China, gathered at his home near the famous Murree Brewery in Rawalpindi on March 21 for the launch of a book of his selected writings, there was nothing maudlin about the event.
“He made many enemies but he held enmity towards none,” Sidhwa told the gathering that included businessmen, diplomats and prominent members of Pakistan’s minority Parsi community to which Bhandara belonged.
And it was an unusual sight to see shalwar kameez-clad waiters serving chilled beer among guests seated on the lawn of Bhandara’s house, located a stone’s throw from the official residence of the Pakistan Army chief. Ah well, at least one former occupant of Army House – General Pervez Musharraf – was known to favour a Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch or two in the evenings.
Bhandara’s son Isphanyar told me his father had always held fast to Jinnah’s vision of a Pakistan where “all angularities of the majority and minority communities...will vanish”.
“My father was the biggest fan of Quaid-e-Azam (Jinnah)’s speech of August 11, 1947 to the constituent assembly of Pakistan, in which he said people should not be judged by their religion and should be free to go to their mosques and mandirs,” said Isphanyar.
“My father was also a staunch believer in India-Pakistan friendship and led many peace missions to India. Honesty and speaking the truth were two hallmarks of his life as a businessman and politician,” Isphanyar said.
Under Bhandara’s stewardship, Murree Brewery’s turnover grew from four million rupees in the 1950s to 2.5 billion rupees in 2008, despite the fact that the company cannot advertise its products in any way within Pakistan and not many Pakistanis are even aware of its slogan: “Eat, drink and be Murree.”
Born in 1938 to a prominent Parsi family of Lahore, Bhandara graduated from Punjab University and studied philosophy, politics and economics at Brasenose College in Oxford but had to return to Pakistan in his final year because of the death of his father in 1961.
Besides serving as the managing director of Murree Brewery, Bhandara was known for his efforts to promote arts and his political career as a parliamentarian. He even served as adviser on minorities affairs during the reign of Zia-ul-Haq, the dictator who ordered that anyone consuming alcohol should be punished with 80 lashes. (As we recounted earlier, alcohol continues to be available, albeit at a premium, in most urban centres of Pakistan.)
Bhandara was also a raconteur par excellence, and if ever proof of this was needed, it is there in plenty in “Calling A Spade A Spade”, the new compilation of his selected writings. Beginning with a colourful and risqué piece describing an encounter with Hollywood star Ava Gardner during her visit to Lahore for the shooting of “Bhowani Junction”, the book contains a series of incisive and insightful articles on issues as diverse as prohibition, terrorism and nuclear diplomacy.