First Lady Samina Alvi and her husband, President Arif Alvi, hosted Nida Yasir at their residence for an exclusive interview where they shared a glimpse into their lives. The couple got personal, laughing and sharing stories and insight into the spark and connection necessary for a marriage approaching 50 years.
It was refreshing to see President Alvi in this new light, and to see the woman who made it possible.
President Alvi, a dentist by profession, first stepped into the political arena during his academic years in Lahore. He was an energetic and dedicated budding politician, rising to lead student unions and even getting shot on the streets of Punjab's capital city for protesting against General Ayub Khan's military rule. Bullets from the incident still remain lodged in his body. Enough has been written and spoken about his career since, and the missing piece of the puzzle that makes it all coherent, the president confessed, is his wife.
"She provided valuable support to me in my political life, even though she was not cut out for it. Since the party [PTI] was established in 1996, and in fact even before that, we'd have 20 people coming over for a meeting on very short notice, sometimes 50. Even with such urgency, she always hosted the visitors well," he explained.
"I'd be informed hours before that Imran Khan was coming with a bunch of other people, and I would just tell her, never having to worry about her getting annoyed," the president said.
"I love meeting people. Even on days I'm tired and not feeling it, I enjoy being among people," the extroverted first lady contributed, turning to her husband with a laughing "and he's just the opposite."
The First Lady is also the one decorating the house, the president said, noting her keen interest in it. "I trust her completely with that, I will never tell her that something is kept in the wrong place, or should be somewhere else" he said. Confessing that there have been times he points out a new decoration piece only to learn it's been there for months or even years.
The president sang praises of his wife's tolerance, confessing he jokes with her often, sometimes teaming up with their kids. "My mother was very humorous, we believe humour is a great way to deal with negative emotions," he said. Speaking of his wife's sense of humour, he said, "It is better than mine!"
"You also joke with him often?" inquired an excited Nida Yasir. "I joke with him less, and I tolerate him more, and show patience," replied the First Lady with a stern smile. They might be the president and first lady but they remind us of literally every older desi couple ever.
In true Nida Yasir fashion, she asked the couple, "Was yours a love marriage? Did you sneak looks at each other, or was it arranged?"
The two were distant cousins, we learned, and hence they had frequently met even before marriage. Though the president said the age difference was a bit much for there to be much friendship before the marriage, noting he's five years her senior.
"I've heard you two wrote each other letters?" was the host's next question, to which the president said those came after the marriage. "Even if there were letters before marriage, they're not on the record at all."
Speaking about what they wish for each other, the president said brightly, "I've never had any wishes for how she should dress. She wears what she likes, I don't have much to contribute there. But she however, often tells me to change a certain piece of my clothing and then I have to remind her, 'Have I ever asked you to change something you're wearing?' I have never."
His wife confessed this is where most the couple's differences occur, though saying it's not really a big deal. "Its because I dress well," she said confidently. When Yasir asked if she succeeds in getting her husband to change, she was met with a sharp "No, no."
The First Lady, who is by all means a socialite, said people often ask her to invite her less social husband to their events, confessing it's not easy. "It's become difficult to manage that now, to his benefit," she said. This is not the time, the couple literally said together, as it's commonly faced problem, and the issue is his security.
President Alvi is big on fitness and exercise, his wife noted disappointingly. "Oh yes, he's always asking me to do exercise and diet," she said, "And sometimes I do it, sometimes I don't," she confessed.
"To be fair, I was never much into exercise," said the president, "but I've always been into sports. I played squash till 2005, when my political career got in the way." Of his own habits, he said, "I work out five days a week, and on the other two I take long walks of 12 to13 kilometres. Yes, I have to do it in hiding, but that's easier these days, and I sometimes even go to the trails for a hike."
Of his wife, he complained she doesn't accompany him on these endeavours often. "She's got a bit of an attitude. Long walks are a hard now, but she sometimes joins me for shorter walks.
"All my elders have always told me I was a mischievous child," he said, "I have nothing but fond memories from school." He confessed he often got into trouble for his antics as a kid, and looked back at them fondly. The president shared a story from his childhood when he came home to tell his mother the school was off the next day, trying to be intelligent and making up a story, but he confessed in hindsight his lie was too obvious. He mom also didn't buy it, and he had to go to school the next day.
The couple laughed and spoke with great energy, plainly enjoying each other's company. Though it was a limited window into their private lives, the interview was truly heartwarming. The Alvis share an energy that couples together for almost half a century do — eager to share each other's story, struck but not shocked by each other's words. We hope to see them together and happy for as long as time allows.