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Junaid Jamshed: Uniter, Divider, Singer, Soul

December 8, 2016 11:27 am

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Three weekends and half a dozen programs ago, my Executive Producer and I had a debate. The topic was Junaid Jamshed.

My EP wanted me to record an episode of “Mahaaz” with Jamshed. I was abhorred, and our argument proceeded.

In this debate, Junaid Jamshed was all the wrong things. A bearded, secular pop-icon turncoat. A fat cat fashion industry mover who didn’t like progressive women shaking things up a little. A capped and smug in-your-face Tableeghi who thought he could say whatever, about whomever; it didn’t matter if the whomever was a revered Islamic icon, a political leader or a kurta designer. Frankly, he was – in this argument – a rabid, over-zealous loser obsessed by his own brand, etcetera.

Clearly, in the wake of such a narrative, I didn’t pursue the recording.

I was wrong.

Here’s the thing. I didn’t know Junaid Jamshed. Despite of the country club size that is Pakistan’s celebrity circuit, I’d never met him.

Yes, I’d seen his TV preaching. Yes, I’d seen the ads for his new cologne line. Yes, I’d heard the stories – some real, some constructed – about the over-the-top religiosity. But I’d never met him.

Last night, as I was trekking up a mountain where his remains still lay, I realized that I was wrong. It wasn’t him. He was gone, burnt, incinerated on a hill with 47 others. It was me.

I was angry at him.

I was angry at him for leaving me years ago. For the man I was looking for – for well over two decades – was already gone by the time I was finally in a position to experience him.

By the time I was able to pick up the phone, call him and demand a slot of his time, I didn’t want to do any of that at all. See, he wasn’t the JJ I had been looking for.

I was looking for the other guy.

This guy, this missing Junaid, I’d heard for the first time as I headed back home from an end-of-term sixth grade school play. I was acting. My parents were attending.

My folks had just purchased the tape, and plugged it in as we headed home. Whatever we heard was so effective that we proceeded to take a detour and enjoy a great roadside dinner on Tariq Road. We blasted the deck. The onlookers and beggars got some entertainment. The waiters at the chargha restaurant seemed to like him, too. And so we preferred to dine in our car, with our new Vital Signs healthy, groovy and pumping. Before we got home, I would get another tape l, for the house, so that the both the car and home stereos would always have his chords.

That was the man I really wanted to see. This tall, lanky lad with piercing eyes and a three-day stubble, a love for his country that resonated in the Dil of every Pakistani I knew; who made me whistle out Goray Rang Ka Zamana in front of my uber-fair, middle school crush; who dominated my first few mixed tapes with his constant Samjhana. Who – by signing his band up with a cola company – made me a music industry critic before I even knew what that meant.

That Junaid Jamshed was burnt a long time ago by the new Jamshed, by the guy armed with the headgear and the beard. That’s why I was angry with him.

But I was wrong again.

As I saw them take him away, or take away what they thought was him, I sat on a hill of fire last night and realized that Junaid Jamshed was a lot of things, but mostly, he was brave.

In Zia’s Pakistan, he was brave enough to be a raging pop star who bled green, but also pink. In the violent ’90s, he was brave enough to do photo-spreads playing cards with the guys, a 9mm pistol on the table, with a lot of leather and glass. He would sign commercial deals, croon about dark girls, playing cricket, more girls with their great betrayals, having and losing wealth, fair girls and their lips, and friends and circuses and cars and bikes. And forgiveness. And fighting. And so, he would become a high mark on Pakistan’s great moral yardstick of youth, amour, love, pride and patriotism.

And then he would disappear; and reappear; and become braver.

In a post-9/11 Pakistan, as the country split down the middle on the religiosity and terrorism correlation question, he would “go fundo” (as the left, unfortunately, likes to call the beards, and which the beards, unfortunately, deserve).

But like last time, Junaid would do it his way. He wouldn’t Zakir Naik his way to TV with Wikipedia-like rote scripture. He wouldn’t Amir Liaqat Hussain his way with televangelical slyness. No, he would sing and recite. And host and chat. And design and create. And travel and explore. And find great enterprise. And the dark girls, and the fair girls, and their mums and husbands and brothers and fathers, and the broken hearts club of born-againers, and the others who’d lost their way but thought he could help – for he had found his, he proudly claimed – fell behind him. An older Junaid for a newer Pakistan. A sage for the sacred, not a rocker for the rising.

The thing is, by the time this new Junaid was becoming himself, Pakistan had changed, come full circle from its contrived Islamic roots to its new jihadist zeal within a couple of decades of war and history. Notably, Junaid Jamshed would become one of the Islamic Republic’s largest human shadows, large enough and brave enough to experiment, experience and then expose himself as Pakistan’s Contradiction & Passion, Exhibit A.

And so, he once made it cool to be cool. He then made it cool to be uncool.

Last night, as I walked on a mountain of dirt and blood and burning fuel, I was hoping they’d find more of him.

I was hoping they’d recover his iPod with Bob Dylan, or Leonard Cohen, Steely Dan. Something with zing. Or maybe find a Reza Aslan soft cover or a Rolling Stone in his back pack. What they found instead was an old man’s silver business card holder, with his initials and cell phones and emails and websites and Facebook pages on them. Organized religiosity and industry.

What they found, on that mountain, was the other Junaid, the one I was angry with.

And then, someone quietly hummed: “Dil Dil Pakistan, Jaan Jaan Pakistan”, and I got it.

The Dil was the Junaid I never met, but wanted to. The Jaan was what he had become, for millions, as disconnected and different as they are from me and those like me, but still relevant.

But here he was, a Pakistani for both types of Pakistanis. One of the chosen few who briefly united our Dil with our Jaan.

See you one the other side, Junaid Jamshed. Your interview awaits.

By: Wajahat S. Khan

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