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They don’t care about us

Published Nov 30, 2012 08:23am


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"Bells were ringing, insistent and raucous, and there was the smell of acrid smoke." – AP (File Photo)

Truth be told, he was tired of pounding the pavement. No connections to smooth his way into offices, or money to bribe greasy palms. The only son of his parents, he was aware of his responsibilities to them as well as his sister. But lady luck had not been on his side so far. Today though, he felt more hopeful than he had in a long time. After all, he had a degree from Karachi University and his life lay ahead of him, ripe with opportunities. In his white shirt, grey belted trousers and polished shoes, he felt confident. His interview at the denim factory yesterday had gone well, but there were so many other contenders. Did he have the “X Factor”? Well, if interviews were conducted on grades alone, he would have been employed by now. Or if he was a seth’s son, of course.

His mother hugged him as he opened the door. “Don’t be disheartened, beta. Allah rewards honest people, my heart says you will achieve a lot in life.” He smiled as she said a silent prayer. Seated in his favourite armchair, his father rustled the newspaper and peered at him over the rim of his glasses. How much older Abba was looking and how tired. He owed it to his parents to get this job. “Don’t stay out late. Come home as soon as the interview is over,” his father instructed. He hid a grin and groaned inwardly. When would his parents stop being so protective? After all, he was a married man now. He still got a warm glow when he remembered his wife’s pep talk, “You have nothing to fear. We are all with you in your struggle.”

He looked towards his wife of a few months and thought what a beautiful life they could share if he managed to get hired. It was his dream to work as a structural engineer at one of Pakistan’s premier institutions. He would work hard, make a name for himself, and get a bigger place for his family. As he stepped out, a cool breeze caressed his face and clouds dotted the sky. Karachi was so beautiful in winter. It was as if the bracing weather disguised the eyesores which dotted the landscape. Even the traffic jam was more bearable today, the hawkers less persistent, the beggars less strident. The killing humidity was gone and he drew in big mouthfuls of crisp air. On the way back home, he had to get Baloch ice cream, chocolate chip flavour. What could be yummier than ice cream in winter?

The office building loomed in front of him, the pale sun glancing off gleaming windows, the doors humming with activity. He craned his head to count the number of floors and marveled at the smooth façade. Looking at his watch, he smoothed down his collar and went inside. He knew in his bones that he would be kept waiting as always, but he did like to be punctual.

He took his seat and waited for the call, his resume balanced on the knees as his feet beat an impatient tattoo. His mobile jumped into life, startling him into dropping the file. He mouthed sorry to the irritated secretary. It was a call from the denim factory, much sooner than he had expected. He took the phone outside, listening intently to the disembodied voice. Hanging up, he stood stock still at the window overlooking the main road. Karachi had never looked so welcoming. His mother’s prayers had worked, he had got the job. He wanted to run out into the street and dance his heart out to one of Shahrukh Khan’s mast songs and eat aaloo walay samosas from Nimco.

He glanced back over his shoulder, maybe he should just leave this posh building and disapproving secretary right now. As if someone from his social strata or means would ever be able to work here! But he was not a quitter, never had been, so why should these people hound him out? Be confident, he repeated his mantra and walked back in. There were less people waiting now so he figured his turn must be coming up. His collar was itching and he was starting to sweat. Was it getting warmer or was it an anxiety attack? He could hear raised voices floating up as the secretary left the room in a hurry. From the window, he could see people gathering below, pointing upwards. Bells were ringing, insistent and raucous, and there was the smell of acrid smoke.

He pushed his way into the labyrinthine corridors, trying to find an exit. People were screaming and running, but he could barely see them because of the black wreaths of smoke. It was difficult to breathe and fear was beginning to clutch him by the throat. He propelled himself through abandoned inky rooms, searching for stairs to guide him out of this hell. Coughing and sputtering, he was veering right and left when he felt a gust of whispery wind. His choking lungs gratefully inhaled the fresh air as he hunted for the exit. But it turned out to be only a window. Swallowing his crushing disappointment, he leaned out, frantically waving to the people below, smoke billowing out behind him. Why were the fire engines not here yet, he raged. “Yeh hai Karachi, meri jaan!” his mind mocked him.

In his mind’s eye, he relived the horrific scenes when the garment workers in Baldia had melted in the inferno.  He had to find a way out. With a sigh of relief, he noticed media vans and reporters milling about in the crowd. Surely someone would help him get down to safety if he drew their attention? Adrenaline pumped though his veins as he read the TV logos of ARY, Geo and Aaj. Now help would come. He looked down at the concrete ledge directly under the window, but it was too far and it would not cushion his fall. He needed a ladder or a mattress or a rope.

He thought of his family waiting in anticipation. He would not give up; if this was one of life’s tests, he would pass it somehow. He took a deep breath and clambered out of the window, placing his feet on the slim ledge below. It was difficult to maintain a precarious foothold in the shiny shoes, his hands felt clammy and his heart was racing. He looked towards his right, then to his left, people were beginning to gather in larger groups, and the cameramen were now focusing their cameras on him. The State Life Building glistened around him as the pale sun lit him up, making it easier for the cameras to track his desperate fight for life. He touched his forehead to the glass in despair as tears blurred his vision.

He looked down again, but the cameras were still whirring, no doubt zooming in and people were watching silently. It reminded him of the monkey dance at Seaview. He had become a tamasha, just like that chained monkey. Everyone was waiting with baited breath for the finale. He wondered if his parents were watching this breaking news live. His dreams were slipping away from him, but the media was intent on increasing their channel ratings so they could proclaim that their cameraman was the first to film this exclusive. His grip was faltering, but he was determined to hold on for the sake of his family and the dreams they had seen for him. Had? Why was he thinking in the past tense? Have, he muttered as he scrabbled to find a firmer foothold as the floor above belched out jet black smoke.

No sign of the fire brigade or ladder. Was there a light of anticipation now in the eyes of the cameramen? Their body language had become more excited as they watched him clinging to the side of the building. They reminded him of vultures encircling for the kill. “Why do they not help, for Allah’s sake?” he cried aloud. His hands were now aching from the strain of hanging from the eighth floor, his lungs were burning and his mind was so tired. In a blinding flash of clarity, he knew the finale the people were awaiting. They wanted him to fall. The cameraman was already licking his lips in anticipation of accolades from not only his Bureau Chief, but also from the Director News. No matter who won the media battle for cheap sensationalism and gutter press, he was destined to lose. What right did they have to critique politicians when their behavior was no less criminal? Images of his family and friends flitted through his mind like a film unspooling on tape. He wanted to hold them tight and never let go, yearning for his mother’s cool hands on his aching head. He looked down for some sign of rescue, but there were more crowds of useless people and media closing in. He had been dangling without any aid for 20 minutes, his hands were cramping and he could hear his friends joking yaar, even Tom Cruise couldn’t have done this for MI 4.

For the first time in his life, Owais quit. He gave the media the spectacle it had been baying for. His hands loosened and he flew through the air, landing with a bone crushing bang on the jutting concrete ledge.

Owais Rasheed did not survive to see his hurtling body being encircled in a red noose and shown repeatedly on ARY, Aaj and other channels with ARY crowing it was the first to bring amazing footage of the death leap. The cameraman was in seventh heaven as his boss patted him on the back. ‘Kiya shot tha, bhai …Our TRP’s have gone through the roof! Now go to his house and ask his parents ‘how did you feel when the boy jumped?’ Do you know his sister saw him jumping right on our channel?’

When the media rushed to interrogate his family, they found the father sitting in his armchair, glancing at the door, waiting for the son who would never come home now. Owais was 24.

Maheen Usmani is a freelance writer. She has reported on various subjects, ranging from socio-political issues to womens' rights to sports, travel, culture and counter terrorism.


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Comments (39) Closed

Sully Dec 01, 2012 10:40am
Like this article?
eefa khalid Dec 01, 2012 07:32pm
Dear Babur Dawn i'm sure has not become fictional but WE as a nation im sure have become to much BAYHIS and SELFISH. Also yes we can expect that kind of ruthless and inhumane act from the country's media so lets chop those sick animals out. But what about the other people who were watching the SHOW, what about the shopkeepers or random ABC on the street. Zainub Market i am must have carpets and bedsheets, no one thought of taking them out and putting them to save the poor guy. The entire 20 min the mentally sick awam was having fun with the guy taking his last breath and no one thinking about any measure to save his life. This act is the saddest thing, its just proves and give a confirmation how deadly we have become.
Ahsin Dec 02, 2012 04:42am
Nicely written.. But we need to keep the human factor alive.... bt how??? Very few among us , politicians and media persons will remember the learnings from your write up....
observer Nov 30, 2012 02:31pm
Like all institutions and almost all individuals of Pakistan, media is far from professional maturity. Ethics are often ignored.
Talk4real Nov 30, 2012 10:36am
I wish people crowding around such sights had done something to help the victim instead of filming the incident on their cell phones
AB Nov 30, 2012 11:49am
Could the cameraman and the reporter reply to the following statement / question. What if in the near future your loved one was recorded in a similar fashion while progressing towards a slow painful and gruesome death ... What would your honest reaction be ? Such channels should be boycotted to the maximum effect.
Omar Nov 30, 2012 11:49am
Beautifully written. Brought tears to my eyes. RIP Owais.
baakhlaq Nov 30, 2012 11:57am
If this is our "responsible media" what can be "irresponsible media"
Murad Iqbal Nov 30, 2012 10:56am
We have a shameless media who don't take consider the emotions of the effected family. How can they even say "we were the first to catch this on camera".
Ubaid Nov 30, 2012 09:45am
Pakistan, a place where barbarism sells.
mustafa Nov 30, 2012 01:30pm
Shame on Media and CDGK. Btw amazingly written :-)
diahameed Nov 30, 2012 11:33am
When I watched this footage on TV, I cursed myself for watching a news channel. I couldn't sleep that night. Its disturbing, really disturbing!
gujjar Nov 30, 2012 12:44pm
I wonder that so many people were watching but no one helped him. The writer is right, all of them were waiting for the final show. Those who had not helped him will also face such a helpless fate. and shame on our fire department.
Cyrus Howell Nov 30, 2012 04:59pm
There are going to be punished on Judgement Day? You wish!
Khalida Nov 30, 2012 11:29am
When I saw this footage on TV that night, I couldn't sleep. I cursed myself for watching TV. Its disturbing!!!
sehrish Nov 30, 2012 12:12pm
shameless media beautifully written maheen. RIP owais :(
Nimra Farrukh Nov 30, 2012 02:10pm
I am crying..and will be whenever i will think about this tragedy.. We all have become senseless and shameless.. We have lost the sense of humanity.. May ALLAH grant Owais bhai a very very high place in Jannah.. Ameen sum ameen..
zehra Nov 30, 2012 02:46pm
unfortunately our people going to be so selfish we now just care about our self that boy was there hanging for 20 minutes looking for help not a single person was there to arrange anything to help him out i miss that frog who were dropping water to the fire to save prophet MOSA that frog knew he could not completely remove fire but still he was doing that
fbn2 Nov 30, 2012 09:32am
These channels could not have stooped lower than this! I'm lucky I didn't get to watch it but when I think of his family and friends watching him go down like this....these channels would undoubtedly have ranted about how help never came after making a 'tamasha' of his tragic death when they themselves acted no better than monkeys. :'(
Nida Nov 30, 2012 03:38pm
Made me sick to the stomach. Hate Pakistani media.. no morals, no principles.. just a race for ratings as writer has said. Very well written indeed.
Yawar Nov 30, 2012 03:48pm
I thought I had just read a well written fiction article until I got to the comments. It is amazing how beyhiss and selfish our society has become. Of all the deaths from accidents and violence that occur every day in Pakistan, isn't there a single act of heroism from amongst the media or onlookers where a stranger stepped forward to save another stranger's life?
Ali Nov 30, 2012 09:21am
I think the media people covering the incident and the gathered crowd watching the tamasha are very much responsible for his death, for not making any effort to save his life. The same sort of incident happened when a boy was shot by a ranger. The cameraman who shot the video till the last the boy breathed his last could have easily asked/called for help. But he didn't and kept shooting the tamasha to please his masters. What a shame the we value a life even less than animals !!!!
Jo Nov 30, 2012 09:36am
You just made me cry @MaheenUsmani - Excellent article
Feroz Nov 30, 2012 09:51am
Very poignant and true. The Media will feast on every misfortune. 24 X 7 news is a monster.
Cyrus Howell Nov 30, 2012 04:40pm
"His mother hugged him as he opened the door.
Cyrus Howell Nov 30, 2012 05:01pm
The TV Media are ghouls.
Cyrus Howell Nov 30, 2012 05:03pm
Sometimes people do help. Often as not people don't know what to do in an emergency.
Babur Nov 30, 2012 05:07pm
Is Dawn becoming a fiction magazine. I am depressed. Cant we write happy thoughts or are we collectively depressed.
Cyrus Howell Nov 30, 2012 05:08pm
Yes. Indeed. A thousand women and girls would have rushed out to save a cute fuzzy little animal. Even a stuffed fuzzy little animal.
Cyrus Howell Nov 30, 2012 05:09pm
If he had been a panda we could have helped him.
Waqas Nov 30, 2012 06:36pm
Everyone is blaming only MEDIA and CDGK, but it is utmost important to recognize the sole duty of an individual who was watching him holding the window. That place is a crowded place and sort of red zone area(because of Governer House and Five Star Hotels) and numerous people were only watching and nobody dared to actually try to help him.I bet, this is true that we people are not going to change our attitudes towards our society and this is the shining example of our beghairti. No leader or any other political party can change the future of this society.
suresh Dec 02, 2012 10:32am
My heart goes out to Owais Rasheed's family after reading this. What a nightmare they must they have gone through seeing his death on live TV.
Zeeshan Ahmed Nov 30, 2012 07:48pm
We should raise money for this boys parents through reader donations on Dawn given the tragedy of how this young man's death was turned into a spectacle. This is the only way we can make up some compensation to the parents who had to endure watching such a horrible sight on television. The writer of this article should post a follow-up article to help the family. Dec 02, 2012 10:01am
Brilliantly written. As if Owais was clinging to the building right in front of our eyes.
salman Dec 01, 2012 08:37am
There is no justice for the poor in this country. What a horrible way to die. This really made me emotional. RIP Owais
Ovais Dec 01, 2012 02:03pm
I hope those who read this, and the one who wrote the piece above does not take offence because the only way forward is through debate discussion and patience to understand the background behind each and every argument that is put before us. Maheen, i think we know each other but barely. After i saw the link to your piece on my timeline, i was mislead to think it would be focusing on media ethics; what they are and what level of ethics we follow in Pakistan. However the entire piece seems like Owais chose you to convey what he wanted from Nimco, or which Bollywood jingle he wanted to dance to. As a journalist it is our prime responsibility to Inform the audience accurately. While your piece surly draws ones emotions out, it is also mostly flowery writing that makes me wonder where the Ethics went.. It is not a journalists' (reporter or cameraman) job to organize and facilitate a rescue operation. It is not a journalists job to leave his prime responsibility and start thinking about the greater good. No Cameraman (regardless of where in the world he is working) can take the decision of not filming someone jumping out of a building, or to turn his camera off instead of filming the last moments of a man bleeding to death. (For reference please cue footage aired by US News channels from back in Sept 11th 2001, and for a closer to home taste, cue the May 12th bloodbath in Karachi). You might also remember the footage of Sarfaraz Shah being shot by a rangers personnel in Karachi. Should that footage not have been shot ? Should the cameraman have said to himself "hey wait a minute, filming this man as he breathes his last might offend a few pseudo journalists and couch activists. No, he shot that footage because he was doing his duty. He was capturing life, unadulterated in anyway by him. Similarly all those people who were standing around the building, watching Owais as he clung to the window pane for dear life - who were not there to capture events as they happened so that you may be better informed - could have and should have stepped up and used their common sense. Maybe they could have cushioned his fall. Maybe they could have held a big net or one of those parachute covers custom made for cars (i know there are lots of such covers on lots of cars parked in the area). Maybe the secretary that Owais and Maheen did not like should have informed the fire department sooner (ir she did at all). Maybe Maybe Maybe... I should not say much more because i am stepping into the same filth that i started this rant to condemn. Understand, that it is not the journalists ethical nor moral responsibility to leave his primary task and go galavanting as a superhero, nor is it his responsibility to decide whether to stop filming or to continue (in any case, not just the one in question). The responsibility lies with the Controllers who are sitting back at network Headquarters. However i think you only mentioned them once in your entire piece that too in passing through a comment that was made. Which leads me to ask you this. How do you know what the "boss" said to his cameraman ?? You were there ?? If you were, then please be bold enough to identify who this sick man is; however if you wrote that just like you made up the bit about Bollywood jingles and Aaloo ke Samosay i must say "They don't really care about us." is a beautifully written piece that achieves nothing more than poking holes in the same platter that you eat from. Please, before we go around raising fingers and throwing blames, lets first understand what Ethical Journalism is. What ethical journalism challenges we face in Pakistan and maybe then you will be able to put the blame in the right place - and hopefully get some results. Please do not blame the doctor because he did not leave his operation table to run and catch you as you slipped and as a result broke your hip. Again, my intentions were not to offend or attack you Maheen. We pride our independence as journalists, at least those who understand what journalism is.
Fahad Rehman Dec 01, 2012 05:29pm
Well what can one say on such occasions. All I can say is that this is how much our society dwelled by highly advance educated and enlightened humans of 21 century has evolved and progressed. Nothing could be more embarrassing and shameful then this. Head held as much low as possible in despair and grief.
Rahema Dec 01, 2012 08:06pm
Ufff... heart-wrenching... wish our journalists in Pakistan would come on the streets and protest about this ... this is human rights abuse ... giving the international media another reason to point fingers at us... shame on our electronic media...
Farah Dec 02, 2012 01:39pm
After reading this emotional write up, all I can say is that may the cameramen who filmed the boy's last moments never know a moment's peace. RIP Owais