|The author (L) with Chaand Nawab. —Photo by Rizwan Tabassum|
On July 21, I arrived at the Karachi Press Club to find over a dozen people crowding around a 'celebrity'. This celebrity was Chaand Nawab of Bajrangi Bhaijan fame, and thronging him were journalists who had completely ignored him until very recently; they were now taking selfies with him.
Ever since Chaand Nawab has risen to fame after the release of the Bollywood movie Bajrangi Bhaijan, which features a character inspired by him, journalists have been queuing up to interview him. On this particular day, too, he was busy talking on the phone, as was Asif Mahmood, another journalist friend of mine who was speaking on behalf of Nawab. I was told that both of them were responding to calls from Indian television stations who wished to have a Skype interview with Chaand Nawab.
Nawab waved at me and I waved back. There are two things that have bound the two of us together: Nawab hails from Mirpurkhas, the town of my ancestors, and ever since we were first introduced, we have always exchanged pleasantries in Balouchi.
Later that day, I was in the backyard of the club (also its parking lot), about to leave for Urdu Bazaar to buy a book. Chaand Nawab happened to be there, too, again busy on the phone. I was about to leave when he ended his telephonic conversation and called out to me, “Bhai, Mirchi walas just called from India.”
“Mirchi walas?” I was puzzled.
He flashed a cheerful smile and said, “Bhai Balouch! India's Radio Mirchi.” Then he added, “Kabir Khan has also phoned me.”
“Who's Kabir Khan?” I asked.
“The director of the movie Bajrangi Bhaijan,” said Nawab, adding “He has assured me of royalty payment. An international news wire service has also contacted me, requesting to interview me at the Cantt Railway Station, where I had recorded my famous P2C (Piece to Camera). I have replied to them, ‘Why not! But you will make money from it. What do you have to offer me?’ They haven't called again.”
|The author (L) with Chaand Nawab. —Photo by Rizwan Tabassum|
Then Chaand Nawab's tone turned serious, “Akhtar Bhai, tera tto khabrian (Balouchi for 'you know very well') how I had worn myself out in vain, searching for employment, frequenting many TV stations here. Now, reporters from the same TV stations follow me everywhere. Sometimes, I don't feel like talking to them, but then I have to think that they, too, are just doing their job, like me. Besides, they are my friends. So, I respond to them. Maa shar kota (Do you think I'm right)?”
On 22nd July, I rang up Nawab only to find his number constantly engaged. When I finally did get through, he agreed to be interviewed at 8pm that night at the Karachi Press Club. Around 8pm, I dialed his number again and found it on another call, as usual. Eventually though, we connected and Nawab assured me that he would meet me at the library of the Karachi Press Club.
As soon as Nawab stepped into the library, he received yet another phone call. That's when he asked me to excuse him, citing a similar engagement elsewhere for which he had to leave, requesting we postpone the interview for a day.
|Chaand Nawab on the phone. —Photo by Mohsin Soomro|
Before he left, we had an interesting exchange:
Me: Your interview has been commissioned by Dawn.com. Let's begin. I think we should have a photograph taken first.
Chaand Nawab: Yar, it is not like any of us is leaving the city. We can have the photograph taken some time later. Maybe tomorrow?
Me: One photograph, please. It won't take long.
Chaand Nawab: Akhtar, my friend, we can do it tomorrow.
Me: My dear Chaand Nawab, how long could it possibly take to have a photograph taken?
Chaand Nawab: Bhai, we can have it tomorrow. I will come upstairs with you, and you can take the photo. Please excuse me for today.
Me: Okay. What time tomorrow?
Chaand Nawab: I will tell you tomorrow. You only want to take a photograph, don't you?
Me: No, no! I also want to interview you as well.
Chaand Nawab: Well, we will tomorrow. You can do it tomorrow.
Someone in the background chips in,“Ask him what time.”
Me: Tomorrow at what time, Chaand bhai?
Chaand Nawab: I'll inform you. I can't say for sure right now. You want to take a photograph for the interview, don't you? It will be done.
Me: But I also want to interview you. How can we just have the photograph taken without sitting for the interview?
Chaand Nawab: I will come tomorrow. I certainly will.
Me: Of course. At what time?
Chaand Nawab: Let's see. At 10am tomorrow morning, I will go to ... what's the name ... Express (TV station).
Me: Fine. Then?
Chaand Nawab: After that, I will visit the university where my son studies.
Me: Excellent! Then?
Chaand Nawab: Let's see what happens after that.
Me: So we can schedule it for 12 or 1pm?
Chaand Nawab: Bhai, I have to go to work, too. I'll go there after that.
Me: Okay, then what time? Can we schedule it for 2-3pm?
Chaand Nawab: I will inform you around 3pm.
Me: Right. I'll give you a call after 3pm.
Chaand Nawab: That's good.
Me: I say we should have a photograph taken right now. There is no harm in being photographed.
Chaand Nawab: Tomorrow! You can have three photographs taken instead of one.
Me: Okay, fine.
Chaand Nawab: I take your leave.
The way Chaand Nawab is being pursued by the media these days, I had little hope to interview him for the next three or four days. The situation I faced reminded me of the classical song “Anokha ladla khailan ko mangay chaand” (The overindulged child clamours for the moon to use it as a plaything). According to the renowned musician and Sittar Player Nafees Khan, it is called Khiyal (Imagination) in Indian classical music, and its melodic mode is Raag Darbari. The composition has lasted for centuries. Legend has it that one day a son of Akbar the Great was so fascinated with the moon that he demanded it for his sport. The scene moved Akbar's favourite musician Tansen to compose this piece.
I have no qualms admitting that I had failed to interview Chaand Nawab, as if I were an indulged child who had asked for the moon (chaand) but was left only with disappointment.
The next day when I arrived at the Press Club, Chaand Nawab was giving an interview to PTV, the state broadcaster. He waved at me and shouted, “Only 10 minutes.”
|Chaand Nawab speaking to PTV. —Photo by Mohsin Soomro|
Finally, we sat down for the interview. The interview was interrupted several times. Over and over, his phone kept buzzing up due to calls coming in from national and international media houses.
Finally, this is what Chaand Nawab had to say:
“First of all, I want to thank Almighty Allah, for however deeply I thank Him, it won't be enough. And also, Pakistan. If I am well known today, it is thanks to Pakistan. You see, the movie was produced in India, but they have talked about a Pakistani journalist. I am also thankful to my seniors in journalism who have encouraged me and who have been celebrating my success.
“Initially, when the video clip went viral, I had lost all hope to survive in journalism. Just because of the clip, nobody was willing to hire me. They said:
It's your video clip that makes it hard for anyone to offer you a job.
“Doors were shut on my face. People who adored me in the past, too began hating me. I was called unprofessional. I am a human, prone to error. I won't lie. You see, I went to the Cantt Station for a P2C. It was the last train and I had to produce a [video news] package. Obviously, I needed to earn my salary, which would then have enabled me to take my children for Eid shopping.
“It is unfortunate that nothing has been done to train our journalists. I entered the profession after obtaining a Masters degree. I also have a diploma from the Poly Technical College. I am fluent in many languages spoken in this country, including Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Balouchi, Persian and Arabic, but the right to be hired on merit was denied to me.
“You know Akhtar Bhai, wherever we go with a TV camera, people begin to mill around it. I made a mistake. I shouldn't have stood in a public place. If it had been trained well, I would never have made that mistake – a mistake that cost me several employment opportunities.
“Many bigwigs in journalism have made mistakes, but they enjoyed impunity. I was targeted because I am a junior. When politicians participate in TV shows, they break glasses, hurl abuses and punch each other, the rating goes up. The same politicians are invited again on TV.
“However, for me, the standards were different. A friend of mine, who rose to the position of Director News, remarked that it was a ‘funny clip’. I asked him to then give me a 'funny’ assignment, at least I would get a job.
“Today, almost all Pakistani TV channels have offered me a job. I am also being asked to act in Bollywood movies. Some foreign TV channels – you can verify this over the internet – have sent me contract letters, saying they would be pleased to hire me. That video clip went viral as a 'funny clip', however, as a working journalist, you understand the difficulties that fieldwork entails. There were only three coaches of the train left [before it moved out of view]. My passion for journalism caused that to happen; it wasn’t funny then. Politicians smash glasses on TV shows, but have never been banned; I was banned from the screen.
“I am thankful to Kabir Khan, the director of Bajrangi Bhaijan and Salman Khan. I am immensely thankful to Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who played Chaand Nawab in the movie. He has shown his love for the character and played it beautifully. If he had not done it so well, would you have interviewed me?
“I used to watch you interview people, and often wished that you would approach me someday. But Akhtar Bhai never paid attention to me, nobody ever did. Now you see, here comes Anwar Bhai to shake hands with me; only because Allah has made it happen. Not so long ago I used to sit outside his office for hours, and he would hardly pay any attention to me.
“The respect and fame I enjoy today is by the grace of God. I am indebted to my family and my friends – whom I never forget – for their prayers. I still sit amongst my old friends and ride the same old crackling motorbike.
“Those who had banned me when the clip went viral should have at least had a look at my background, my academic qualifications, and my experience. You see, people who graduate from universities lack experience. Neither KUJ, nor PFUJ, nor the Press Club have training programmes for new entrants. I implore the Prime Minister, Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid and others to make arrangements for journalistic training for new comers, so that Pakistani journalists could leave a better impact on the international audience. Pakistani journalists are far better than those of many other countries.
“My family supported me wholeheartedly (through my ordeal). They advised me to pray. You know, I had lost all hope. Many people would talk nicely to me, but all they gave me were empty promises for a job.
“I hold every Pakistani journalist dear to my heart, and I will respond to every TV channel that contacts me. I have no egotism; moreover, I am a journalist, too, and want to remain a part of the journalists' fraternity. So there is no question of ignoring anyone. I apologise to my seniors and colleagues [if they are hurt].
“Akhtar Bhai, I take these interviews as sign of affection from you and others. It is out of love that you want to inform the world about me. I dedicate this fame, respect and happiness to the parents of the children killed in Peshawar [APS school attack] tragedy.”
Chaand Nawab's interview – made possible after a great deal of toil and trouble – ends here.
—Translated by Arif Anjum from the original in Urdu here.