Tragedy in Pakistan, dream home in Sentosa

1502
Sara Taseer

By Abhijit Nag

Sara Taseer
Sara Taseer

Her father was shot dead by his own bodyguard. Her brother was abducted by armed gumen. Sara Taseer, daughter of the former governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salmaan Taseer, however, feels happy and secure in her idyllic hideaway on a tiny island shaded by rainforests, visited by tourists and home to millionaires.

It is the only corner of Singapore where foreigners are allowed to buy land, albeit on 99-year leases. That is how she and her husband are now happy owners of a piece of the island, enough to build a dream home.  After life in three cities in three continents, they have made their home in Sentosa Cove – and have every intention of staying on.

It’s a comeback for her. A Singapore returnee, the 43-year-old willowy, elegant banker-turned-jeweller was a student at the United World College here as a teenager. She went to the London School of Economics for further studies and then back to Pakistan to help her father run his businesses.  In 1997, she married Pakistani financier Salman Shoaib, 46, a Brown University graduate. They lived  in London, Hong Kong and New York, where she founded her own jewellery line, Sara Taseer Fine Jewellery. A trained economist who had been with Citibank in London and Rothschild in Hong Kong, she gave up banking when she became pregnant.

The couple, who also own property in New York and Pakistan, chose to raise their three children in Singapore because this is one place in Asia where English is widely spoken.

The land was still undeveloped when they bought the plot – just over 8,000 square feet – for $8 million in 2007. They commissioned local architects K2Ld to build their home when they moved in to Singapore three years later. The whimsical, slant-roofed three-storey house with a gleaming glass-and-wood façade and a swimming pool cost $4.3 million to build.

Tragedy struck during construction. Ms Taseer’s father was assassinated by his bodyguard in Islamabad in January 2011 because he opposed Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

A few months later, in August 2011, her brother, Shahbaz Taseer, was abducted by armed gunmen who surrounded his car and whisked him away in Lahore.  His whereabouts remain unknown.

Last month, his wife, Maheen Taseer, a psychologist, wrote in Newsweek Pakistan a poignant account of her life since his abduction two years ago.

Her half-brother, Aatish Taseer, who alternates between Delhi and London, also did not hide his bitterness. The son of the Indian journalist Tavleen Singh, he wrote about his estrangement from his father in his book, Stranger to History (2009), and – after his father’s death – about religious intolerance in Pakistan.

 

Ms Taseer, too, worries about Pakistan. “I wonder if the youth of Pakistan will ever know the safe and peaceful Pakistan I grew up in,” she wrote on her Tweeter account recently.

Sara Taseer home
Sara Taseer’s home: Wall Street Journal

But she can relax by her poolside at the back of her house in Sentosa Cove. Only a hedge separates it from a lush green golf course. “We feel extra safe here, so there was no need to build a house that keeps everyone out,” she told the Wall Street Journal.

“When you wake up in the morning, it’s like heaven,” she added in a rhapsody about the gorgeous view from the master bedroom on the second storey.

A portrait of John Lennon looks over the open-plan living room with a Greek marble floor. “There are few people whose faces you can live with, but Lennon is gentle and his song Imagine reminds me of why we are in Singapore, for the peace and quiet,” she said.

Feeling safe and secure, the family wanted to bring “the outdoors in” to their airy, ultramodern home.  So there’s a passageway with a walk-in closet leading from the master bedroom to an indoor garden. It boasts a single tree, hoisted to the second storey by a crane. A parrot sometimes perches on the tree and squawks away.

The couple’s 10-year-old son has his room on the ground floor while they and their daughters occupy three of the four bedrooms on the second storey, leaving one aside as an extra sitting room.  One floor up is a study with a slanted ceiling and a family sitting room with a stand-alone bar facing an outdoor deck with a ping-pong table. Further improvements are planned.

“One way to put roots down is to build your own house, which we never did elsewhere,” Mr Shoaib told the Journal. “But we moved to Singapore to settle down and we fully intend to grow old here.”