I am pretty certain the first time I met Padma Bhushan Fareed Zakaria (well-known journalist, author and columnist), he was wearing half-pants. He was a schoolboy living in his parents’ home in south Mumbai, and we were friends of the Zakarias (Rafique and Fatima). The handsome, suave and very refined young person we subsequently ran into over the years is today a global figure, and at 59 carries off his multiple international awards and accomplishments most elegantly. Fareed self-identifies as a “çentrist and a secular, non-practising Muslim”. His father was a prominent politician from a Konkani Muslim family, and was an Islamic theologian, who was known for his advocacy of traditional Islam. Fareed’s mother was an editor, and gave me my first major break as a national columnist. Our ties go back decades.
This time, we were meeting in Udaipur, at the wedding of my god-daughter Malika, Fareed’s niece. Tasneem Vikram Mehta, Malika’s mother and Fareed’s sister, is one of my dearest friends. The occasion was emotionally charged and deeply sentimental, as all the invitees to the three-day celebration in the magnificent Mehta family haveli, overlooking the Fateh Sagar Lake, enthusiastically participated in the well-curated festivities. Malika’s father, the erudite Vikram Jagat Mehta, and Tasneem, made sure every guest at the intimate ghar ki shaadi was made to feel special. Fareed, clad in a brocade bandhgala, played the benevolent maamu [maternal uncle], receiving guests and enjoying the proceedings. The man about whom it was said, “Fareed is so well-versed in politics, he can’t be pigeonholed…’’ sensibly avoided talking shop at the shaadi, which may have disappointed his admirers, dying to pick his brains and get his take on issues like the Ram Mandir. Given that Fareed has made it to several international lists of top analysts of our times, his decision to respect the mood of the rituals and not hog the limelight was the right one.
Fareed’s cover essay in a news magazine, after the 9/11 attack, was titled, “Why they hate us…’’ and was passionately argued at a time the world needed a deeper perspective. More recently, when Fareed declared, “The world sees what America does not…” people paid attention. Ditto, when he announced “A new world order needs new thinking…” Forbes had him on the list of “25 most influential liberals in American media”, making it clear that Fareed’s words count.
His weekly show on TV is eagerly watched by several diehard fans, including my 87-year-old sister, who was thrilled to see her hero in the picture I sent from the shaadi. His provocative topics ensure he keeps his viewers riveted. In his characteristic non-intrusive way, I noticed how Fareed is never ever “off the job”—quietly asking relevant questions, probing, observing, without the other person feeling the slightest discomfort.
That is the hallmark of a professional journalist, who rarely ‘relaxes’ even in a social setting—who knows where the next scoop can come from? His book, The Post-American World, talks about the “rise of the rest”—us! And others. Well, it is a perspective nobody can afford to ignore. It is refreshing to learn Fareed loves cooking! Food, that is. Not media stories. Seeing how fit he is, one wonders about his palate-discipline, given his culinary passion. The Mumbai boy in half-pants to the tuxedo-wearing Upper West Side New Yorker, our Fareed has come a long, long way in the world. We are proud of him!