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‘Did you hear?’ An office colleague came rushing towards me on the day Karachi began to shut down due to aerial firing in many areas of this Godforsaken city.

‘Hear what?’ I asked.

‘Farooq Sattar has been shot!’ said the colleague, going almost pale in the face.

He was taken aback when I let out a cynical chuckle: ‘Where?’

‘I don’t know. But he was shot a few minutes ago,’ he explained, still going pale and at the same time intrigued by my cynical posture.

‘I mean, where was he shot – on Facebook or Twitter?’  I asked.

It was on Twitter that the news of the MQM leader being shot was proudly broken.

I knew it was nonsense the moment I heard Sattar’s name. Because this was at least the third time he had been ‘shot’ in the last five years and each time the ‘news’ left shops and offices closing and people scampering home.

Yes, there was commotion and some ‘unknown miscreants’ resorted to aerial firing in many areas and forced many shops in the city to close down, but louder still was the nonsense that arrived in the shape of tweets on Twitter.

By mid-afternoon (on Twitter), Sattar had gone on from succumbing to gun shot wounds to simply dying from a heart attack!

It was amazing to note that men and women tweeting this simply refused to bother switching on the local news channels that were saying absolutely nothing of the sort.

Then, very conveniently, Sattar’s name vanished from the animated ‘OMG’ tweets about the ‘deteriorating situation’ and replaced with that of MQM chief, Altaf Hussain.

Now it was him who had died of a heart attack. No, said another tweet. He hadn’t died but was arrested by the Scotland Yard for the murder of Imran Farooq.

I kept checking the TV channels and all they were reporting were shops being closed due to aerial firing.

Things finally settled down when some MQM leaders appeared on TV and announced that they would be holding an indefinite strike in Karachi against the killing of Shias in the Abbas Town bombing.

There was Sattar talking to some media men and I saw no bullet holes on his body and nor was he clutching his chest, gasping for air.

Farooq Sattar: ‘Shot’ at least thrice in the last five years on social media.
Farooq Sattar: ‘Shot’ at least thrice in the last five years on social media.

As the city settled back to normality when the MQM finally took back its decision to strike, it seems many on Twitter were somewhat disappointed.

What an anti-climax to what seemed to be such an exciting day to Tweet and Facebook.

Not quite. Because some time near midnight a little fire broke out in the kitchen of one of Karachi’s most popular restaurants, ‘Bar B. Q. Tonight.’

Dozens of such fires erupt in kitchens of restaurants and are almost immediately taken care of. The same happened at Bar B. Q. Tonight as well.

But since the restaurant is in close proximity to President Zardari’s personal resident, the Bilawal House, in the Clifton area of Karachi, TV channels began to run a ticker about a fire in the restaurant.

True to our TV channels more-than-sensational form, the ticker began with the words, ‘Aag lag gai!’ (Fire erupts!).

One immediately followed the rest of the ticker that went on to say a fire had erupted at a famous restaurant near Bilawal House and that the customers were being escorted out.

The ticker ran for about 10 minutes but no video report of the incident appeared.

Since I am a regular take-out customer of the mentioned eatery, I decided to call and find out.

But before I could even start dialling the restaurant’s number on my cell phone, the ticker changed. It now said ‘Aag bujj gai!’ (Fire extinguished!).

That was it.

But I did call. The guy on the other end was as calm and courteous as ever: ‘Hello, Bar. B. Q. Tonight, how may I help you?’

He was all set to take my order when I asked him about the fire. He didn’t know.

I told him who I was and he recognised me as one of their regular customers: ‘Jee, jee Paracha Sahib, konsi aag?’ (Yes, Mr. Paracha, but what fire?’).

I told him about the TV ticker and he asked me to hold on. A minute later he returned to the phone to tell me that a small fire did erupt in one of the kitchens of the restaurant and a few people were moved away from that area.

The fire was extinguished within 10 minutes. He was surprised that the incident had become news: ‘These sorts of fires are common in the kitchens of restaurants all over the world!’ He laughed.  ‘So, what would you like to order tonight?’

Of course, on Twitter the ‘fire incident’ had taken a life of its own.

‘OMG! BBQ Tonight set on fire!’ screamed one tweet.

Retweet, retweet, retweet. OMG! OMG! OMG!

‘Was Bilawal House the real target?’ asked one.

‘No,’ another clarified. ‘BBQ Tonight is owned by a PML-N guy. The fire was set off by MQM.’

And all this was going on even an hour after the supposedly devastating fire had been extinguished.

Where there is smoke there is chicken tikka: The famous ‘Bar B. Q. Tonight in Karachi.
Where there is smoke there is chicken tikka: The famous ‘Bar B. Q. Tonight in Karachi.

Then, one of the persons who had tweeted that Bar B. Q. Tonight had been set on fire suddenly changed track and retweeted this: ‘Just got call from friend. She was chased by guys in black car who tried to kidnap her. She was breathing heavily.’




In one of the chapters in Aitzaz Ahsan’s The Indus Saga — perhaps the finest book written on the history of the region we call Pakistan — he makes an interesting point about our habit of blaming foreign/ hidden forces and of rumour-mongering.

Ahsan marks the starting point of this custom to be the period between the decline of the Mughal Empire and the arrival of the British colonialists.

It is during this time that Ahsan claims people of this region developed the habit of accusing malicious outsiders working with the ‘corrupt rulers in Delhi’ for all the economic and political misery that the people faced and of taking and making rumours to substantiate such theories.

Well, today it seems this habit is not only alive, but thriving; perhaps a lot more fervently than ever, which is kind of strange.

It is strange because in the last decade or so the media has been almost entirely free in Pakistan and along with the internet, provides enough opportunities for one to investigate the validity of conspiracy theories and rumours.

But, of course, where’s the fun in doing this, no? Especially when one can actually reflect one’s political and social wishes and desires by generating and/or highlighting rumours and then get an adrenaline rush after watching the rumour turn into ‘news.’

The fact remains that Pakistan continues to be a fertile ground for the spreading of  some of the most absurd rumours.

And I think Aitzaz is right. It’s been this way in this region for ages.


All this reminds me of something that my late father once told me.

He was a Masters student of Psychology at the Karachi University in the early 1960s.

In 1962 when protests had erupted on the campus against some of the Ayub Khan regime’s educational policies, my father’s class decided to conduct an experiment in rumour-mongering and hearsay.

A group of students belonging to the university’s Psychology Department decided to visit the campus canteen and announce that one of their colleagues, Muneeb Arif, had passed away.

Muneeb was an unassuming and little-known student in my father’s class and since he was the one who was absent that day, his name was used in the experiment.

The Psychology group sat having tea at the canteen and discussing Muneeb’s sad demise. But they were loud enough to attract the attention of some students at a nearby table.

‘Who passed away?’ one of the students asked.

‘Muneeb,’ a Psychology student responded, with a sad face.

‘Was he in your class?’ the other students enquired.

‘Yes. He passed away last night.’

‘What happened? How did he die?’

The Psychology group did not answer the last question. They just got up and left.

After an hour they all went back to the canteen. They approached the canteen owner: ‘Did you hear about Muneeb?’

The owner shook his head: ‘Yes. Poor boy. Did the police catch the culprit?’

‘Culprit?’ My father probed.

‘Yes,’ said the canteen owner. ‘I heard he was hit by a bus.’

‘Heard from whom?’ my father enquired.

‘Some students were talking about it. They said he was hit by a bus while crossing Bandar Road (now M A. Jinnah Road).’

After another hour the Psychology group went to the Arts Lobby. Some of them talked to the students whom they did not know.

‘Hello. I heard a student was killed by a bus?’ One of them asked an Arts student.

‘Yes. Muneeb,’ the student replied.

‘What happened?’

‘He was picked up by the police, tortured and thrown on Bandar Road. A bus ran over him when he tried to get up,’ the student told him.

‘Was Muneeb a political activist?’

‘I’m sure he was,’ the student replied. ‘Otherwise why would the police pick him up and torture him?’

According to my father, who in those days was heading the left-wing National Students Federation (NSF) with Meraj Muhammad Khan at the University, Muneeb had absolutely nothing to do with politics and was completely apolitical.

Another student at the Arts Lobby told the group that Muneeb wasn’t picked up by the police, but by NSF hooligans.

‘He was a Jamaat worker,’ he explained. Jamaat being Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT), the student-wing of the fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami and an opponent of the NSF at the university.

‘He was picked up by some NSF guys and killed! His body was dumped on Bandar Road,’ he informed.

Meraj Muhammad Khan (centre) with progressive poet, Faiz Ahmad Faiz (third from left) at a poetry recital organised by the left-wing NSF at the Karachi University in 1963.
Meraj Muhammad Khan (centre) with progressive poet, Faiz Ahmad Faiz (third from left) at a poetry recital organised by the left-wing NSF at the Karachi University in 1963.

The group then convened back at the canteen to exchange their individual notes on the experiment. In the canteen they were approached by the owner.

‘You NSF guys killed Muneeb?’ He asked, pointing at my father and two other members of the group who were associated with the student organisation.

‘Who told you that?’ My father asked. But before he could answer, Muneeb entered the canteen with a shocked look on his face.

He at once joined his department colleagues at the table.

‘Muneeb?’ one of the members of the group exclaimed.

‘You won’t believe what I just saw,’ said Muneeb.

‘But we thought you didn’t come to the university today.’ said my father.

‘I had a bit of fever. So I got late,’ Muneeb explained. ‘But wait till you hear this: At the gate I saw four guys carrying hockey sticks and looking very angry. They were on two bikes. One of them almost banged into my bike. He said, ‘move’! I asked him, ‘bhai, jaldi kya hai?’ (Brother, why are you in such a hurry?).

He said one of their party members from the Psychology Department had been killed by NSF guys. I told him I was from that department and who was it that was killed? And do you know what they said?’

‘What?’ One of my father’s friends giggled.

‘They said the guy who got killed, his name was Muneeb Arif!’

They all burst out laughing, leaving Muneeb totally perplexed. Then they told him about their experiment.

He wasn’t amused.

‘Did you tell them that you were Muneeb Arif?’ My father asked.

‘Yes, I did,’ said Muneeb. ‘But they just refused to listen. And where on earth were they going?’

By the next day the whole saga had become a joke but not for Muneeb. He told my father that in the evening of the day the experiment was conducted, some men and women from the Chemistry and History departments landed at the gate of his home.

‘I opened the door and there were these boys and girls wanting to see my father,’ Muneeb told him.

‘I asked them what for, and they said they wanted to offer their condolences for the death of his son. I told him I was his son but they said they were talking about my father’s other son. The one who was killed by a bus …’ ‘… on Bunder Road,’ my father tried to complete the story.

‘No,’ said Muneeb. ‘On Burns Road.’


My father at home in 1966. He graduated from the university in 1963. Instead of a psychologist he became a journalist. He passed away in 2009.
My father at home in 1966. He graduated from the university in 1963. Instead of a psychologist he became a journalist. He passed away in 2009.

Muneeb Arif, after passing his CSS Exams in 1965, became a bureaucrat in the Income Tax Department and remained there till his retirement in the early 1990s. He passed away in 2002.


Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and



The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Author Image

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and He is also the author of two books on the social history of Pakistan, End of the Past and The Pakistan Anti-Hero.

He tweets @NadeemfParacha

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (48) Closed

haris Mar 14, 2013 12:38pm
"Come to India and settle here. Promise we will nominate you for booker, Oscar, Nobel
Sajood Mar 14, 2013 01:14pm

Really a great piece of writing, doing justice, to not just the article and the topic, but to his own ability to tell a tale and keep the reader with him through out the telling of the tale. As far as the habit of propagating the news and fighting for the rights of others (even when none were violated) is concerned, to my way of thinking, is taken seriously by people who have nothing more important to do. They jump like a firehorse to discuss and solve other people's problems but close their eyes like a pegion when it comes to their own. The day we decide, as a nation, to solve our own problems instead of commenting on others, I think we will be as great as were destined to be. Insha Allah.

Ali S Mar 14, 2013 10:43am
Let me turn down your invitation on his behalf - people like him are needed here more than anywhere else. Maybe you should tell your media should give more time to non-rhetorical intellectuals instead of keeping everyone busy with the Bollywood jhing jhing
bkt Mar 14, 2013 05:10am
This was pretty amusing. Nice job Paracha
Aneela Dawar Ali Mar 14, 2013 05:12am
Fantastic headline! Top article. Loved the third part. How rumors based on hearsay get twisted, indeed. Loved it.
munis Mar 14, 2013 05:22am
Its always a pleasure to read your columns
arslan Mar 14, 2013 05:35am
hahahahhahahahhaha, classic
yawar Mar 14, 2013 05:37am
I agree. The third part was very telling and wittingly relayed. Also, this is exactly what happened to the whole institution of Hadith and how most of them got distorted.
Syed Hydar Mar 14, 2013 06:02am
WAH! maza agya Paracha saab! too good!!
Raza Mar 14, 2013 06:02am
Your father, Farooq Paracha, was a great man, Nadeem. Meraj Bhai still talks very fondly of him. I had the honor of working with him in the magazine he took out with Mehmood Sham, Al-Fatha, in 1974. A very charismatic man he was. Soft-spoken, thoughtful and a true friend of the people. It was sad to hear of his demise in 2009. During Zia's crackdown he had the chance to go into exile. I did, but he stayed. But I'm sure you already know this. Nadeem, you have done very well for yourself as a journalist. Jeetay Raho. Raza, Australia
Amin Hussain Mar 14, 2013 06:29am
It's funny how this habit of the people of the Indus of blaming external forces exists in Egypt and Bahrain and most of the middle east, as well as South America... I guess they too were somewhat traumatised by the decline of the Mughal Empire...
ZAFARI SYED Mar 14, 2013 06:46am
Good one after a long time NFP.
Nauman Mar 14, 2013 07:07am
Nice bit of a poke there. Don't take the works exasperation back home - in case you are working. Hope your day ends well too. In the meantime let me continue reading Aitzaz to see what else I can infer or blame.
Kash Mar 14, 2013 07:17am
Nice of you to throw in the Hadith here as a good measure. It paves way for a further long lecture on the same subject. Watch out.
sanjay mittal Mar 14, 2013 07:44am
NFP hats off!! Ill raise my glass of wine for you today evening !! Absolute masterpice!! Man you can write the way I will envy!! Come to India and settle here. Promise we will nominate you for booker, Oscar, Nobel....
Omer Mar 14, 2013 08:25am
Now that is a constructive piece written by NFP in a long time..
Zia Mar 14, 2013 08:50am
Each and every piece by this man is out of the ordinary . And he does it week after week after week. Amazing he hasn't written a book yet. Kudos, NFP. Rock on.
Zia Mar 14, 2013 08:52am
I think you haven't been reading him in a long time. He's been writing some amazing, amazing stuff for Dawn for over 5 years now.
G.A. Mar 14, 2013 12:25pm
Forget validating rumurs. People don't even bother spellchecking when printing placards, banners or posting on social media. Grammar one can forgive. But spellcheck? You can get good education in Pakistan but one aspect of education one misses is coming into contact with other nationalities and learning that the world is not trying to undo Pakistan or Islam. They just don't have Interest or time. We are doing a fine job ourselves.
Khomeni Fan Mar 14, 2013 02:33pm
Thank you abbas(whatever) - in disguise. Your post is as clear as mud but then it must be my muffed up mind. Come to think of it, are you on the right page?
Avtar Mar 14, 2013 02:47pm
Nice piece! I hope this is read by the mobs who go after allegations of blasphemy or other such accusations. Such exercises are also done in the area of communications. it is an eye-opener how "information" can be distorted.
Fardeen Mar 14, 2013 02:52pm
Are you diplomatically and gracefully saying you guys hate all of us Pakistanis except Veena Malik? Keep away!
Shubs Mar 14, 2013 03:33pm
Ali, and what do you know about the Indian media? "Non rhetorical intellectuals"? Really? Please name a few "rhetorical intellectuals" you seem to know so well. Pakistanis, whose only idea of the Indian media is the Times of India website, should avoid commenting on stuff they have very little idea about. Unlike Pakistan, the so-called Indian media consists of hundreds of newspapers, magazines, web publications, television, radio in dozens upon dozens of languages. Yes, Urdu included. People whose idea of a free media is a handful of newspapers in two different languages, taking constant potshots at the easiest targets out there, and maintaining stony, deafening silence when it comes to the biggest, most obvious culprits out there destroying their own country and the neighborhood around them, should not really comment on media in other countries which have known freedom, democracy and free media for the better part of the last century.
ghaleezguftar Mar 14, 2013 03:47pm
conspiracies and speculations breed where there is secrecy!
AHA Mar 14, 2013 04:19pm
Shubs - I would like to visit some intellectual Indian media sites, just as you are visiting ours - can you please point us to a few. I must admit that I exposure to the Indian media is limited to the Times of India and Zee. I think you will agree that those two stink.
AHA Mar 14, 2013 04:24pm
NFP, you are great at everything you write, but in satire you are beyond praise.
Sikri Mar 14, 2013 06:15pm
Dude, how did you decipher Haris' nationality? Trust me, I have seen enough of his "you (Indian) vs Us (Pakistani)" comments elsewhere. He's saying that us Indians should offer greener pastures to Pakistanis like Veena Malik that you Pakistanis don't need. Now what does that say about him? So easy to judge on perception, no?
Sikri Mar 14, 2013 06:31pm
The Hindu, but of course. Also, the Asian Age, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald. I am mostly disappointed with TV news. In the US I just turn to NDTV just because I know it, though it leaves much to be desired in terms of thought. Someone else who resides in India would be able to suggest better options.
saleem Mar 14, 2013 06:38pm
excellent nadeem bhai...angry bird good depiction of our angry online-revolutionaries
NFP Fan Mar 14, 2013 06:54pm
Good one.
Mohammad Faizan Memon Mar 14, 2013 07:27pm
Thumbs up;for all written is factual. Otherwise,though not for good in this case,the particular kink highlighted in the matter above speaks of the intuitive and contemplative frame of mind of the folks here.
sri1 Mar 14, 2013 07:32pm
Loads of wry sarcasm, clarity and conscience-arousers are indeed needed by the citizens. Aware Indians envy not having your Hoodbhoys, Hasan Nisars, Aitzaz Ahsans, Ayaz Amirs, the Najam Sethis and Parachas and even the Javed Chaudhris. Indians have good writers and media people too, but I guess recent times of turmoil have brought out the best in your media.
Jehanzeb Mar 14, 2013 07:56pm
I have read something similar on Express tribune, looks like the govt is countering the lawlessness by calling it hoax. Why is suddenly everyone writing on this topic and the content is the same. what's going on? I guess we all know that there is no smoke without fire... ARY, geo and several other channels covered it. If history is anything to go by, then we have the white corolla case which proves that the rumors are not completely wrong...but to dismiss them as mere rumors is wrong.
butseriouslyok Mar 14, 2013 07:59pm
Actuall Muneeb Arif is alive...but hiding from some goons whom he owes money.
bluefunk Mar 14, 2013 09:12pm
Tehelka, Kafila, The Caravan, all three are pretty good.
Suleman Mar 15, 2013 04:40am
Another anecdote from the 'Life and Times of NFP'. Thumbs Up!
Zia Mar 15, 2013 06:14am
Pakistan is fertile ground for rumors and misguided media - I remember once a news paper from Peshawar even mutilated 'kalima' written in kufic from an Ahmadiyya mosque. Today Pakistani media is the best ground for generating hatred without reason. People sitting in the media have lost moral sense while propagating rumors. Pakistani media is a step forward than Goeobbles propaganda machinery. God bless Pakistan
sanjay mittal Mar 15, 2013 06:16am
Arre baba! Everything said with feelings and admiration. NFP is a star for me. Even if he is in Pakistan we just adore every word he writes. And yes Pakistan could do well to follow his gentle, humanistic prescriptions as would most of humanity.
sanjay mittal Mar 15, 2013 06:17am
Haris I am still trying to comprehend yor second last sentence! For me and most of Indians who read NFP is a star... !
Raza Mar 15, 2013 06:48am
About time he wrote a book. We're waiting for it.
Ali Mar 15, 2013 07:43am
I know that this will not be published, but here goes. :) So NFP thinks every thing on the Social Media is a noise. Are you as dumb as you right? I would say open your eyes and pop your head from the ground to see the real happenings. Right something that is real, not convenient.
Talha Mar 15, 2013 07:57am
Bhai, first write 'write' as 'write' and not 'right'. Once you do that we might belive you. Write,I mean, right?
Alam Mar 15, 2013 09:34am
Dawn guys seem reasonable compared with some bigoted guys e.g. one who runs Capital Talk. However, lately Dawn has given a lot of space to some brainwashed freak and his hate posts in these blogs unabated and regardless of the relativity to the subject. But that's the 'khoobsurti' of democracy.
saleem Mar 15, 2013 10:08am
that's what NFP is trying to convey, think before believing or spreading them by adding your own masala to it
Mr Kim (Seoul) Mar 15, 2013 10:29am
What a road of lubbish. You are not light.
Tahir Mar 15, 2013 10:57am
Sanjay, we love your adoration too. Bless you.
a Mar 15, 2013 04:16pm
Mr talha, check your "belive"
Natasha Mar 16, 2013 03:26am