As I sit down to write thesewords, it’s around 1am. I am not a late night writer nor had I any plans of writing this piece. It is just one of those articles that has happened. Just like senior journalist Nusrat Javed losing his job wasn’t meant to be but it has happened.
The news was disclosed by another senior journalist Mohammed Mallick, Resident Editor of the News on a special edition of Hamid Mir’s show which was specially being televised in order to do aanalysis on Altaf Hussain’s press conference.
Being a journalist, I must confess that I didn’t get to hear about Altaf Hussain’s speech till around eight pm — that too by chance when I stopped at a grocery store to buy eggs, where the shopkeeper was watching the press conference on a mini television screen, placed behind the counter.
Seeing me peering at the television, the shopkeeper turned up the volume. This was around the time when Altaf Hussain had picked up the Holy Koran. I don’t know for how longI stood there but it must have been at least fifteen or twenty minutes. Many questions were going through my head, as I watched Altaf, the most pestering one was that such a big event was happening and I didn’t know about it?
Earlier, it had been a regular day at the office. I had finished work on the pages, finalized the editorials, given final instructions to the page-maker and left the office around five thirty pm.
In any case — back at the grocery store — I postponed myshopping and rushed back home. The distance between my house and the grocery store must have been five minutes. But I had to do one or two chores, so roughly the television was turned on after a ten minutes gap. The thing that immediately hit me was that even though I had felt that I might have missed out on a lot of information but surprisingly,I had not.
At the grocery store Altaf Hussain was talking about Prophet’s (PBUH) Hudabia treaty with the Meccans and after ten minutes he was still on the same topic. Even the tickers running below were more or less depicting the same information. Then I sat down to watch the press conference with a vow that I will sit till the end. But after fifteen-twenty minutes, I began to have serious forethoughts about my commitment. I don’t want to sound biased, but after the Zulfiqar Mirza blast, one was expecting — if not more — than something at least as equally meaningful. From the very beginning, there was something lacking in the press conference, at the time I wasn’t sure what it was. Initially it was just a lagging feeling. Then during the press conference, I did something which I would have never done during a Zulfiqar Mirza press conference, I went to the bathroom and took a shower. I was feeling a bit pitch, pitch.
The repeat of the previous experience happened on my return: I felt that I had not missed anything. Altaf Hussain was more or less saying the same thing that he was saying before I had left for the toilet. The ticker update also said the same. After that I ordered dinner. Ate while I watched, even chatted with my better half, who was sitting across the dastarkhwan. The first obvious quirk was that one could follow the entire press conference, without paying too much attention to it.
The critical journalist inside me came out when Altaf Hussain started displaying articles written by western journalists about the breakup of Pakistan. As a journalist one reads such articles all the time and never takes them seriously.
But the mind was already making connections: obviously Altaf Hussain sitting in London — since 1992, disconnected from Pakistan — was taking these articlesseriously; has this reading lead him to think that America wants to break up Pakistan? One wondered. If yes, then this would be the first logically explainable link to what Zulfiqar Mirza said that Altaf had told him that ‘America wants to break up Pakistan.’
The other link was that AltafHussain said that his party was the only political party that took out pro-allied forces, anti-Taliban rallies in Karachi. This matches with Altaf Hussain’s 2001 letter to Tony Blair in which he promised to hold pro allied troops, anti-Taliban protests.
But even more importantly — like Kamran Khan rightly pointed — one wondered what was the need for this press conference, especially when MQM leader Mustafa Kamal had held a press conference a few days ago and countered Zulfiqar Mirza’s allegation. Technically a tit-for-tat hadalready taken place and one had hoped for a peaceful closure to these press conference wars.
It’s too early in the analysis game and too late in the night but the whole idea of telling the reader of what I did in my private life — on a Friday evening between eight pm and midnight — wasto highlight this feeling, this sub-conscious assessment that the press conference didn’t have that ‘engrossing’ power.
Throughout the press conference another Altaf Hussain related episode was running through the back of my head. A few months ago, I had purchased Altaf Hussain’s biography “My life’s journey”. When I was buying the book, standing next to me in line at the book store was a federal minister, who seeing me, asked, “What are you buying?”
I replied jokingly, “A book on your best friend,” and I showed him the cover. He laughed and said, “You know what? His father was a Punjabi.” I didn’t know if it was a joke or he was being serious. But later on, when I read through the book, which had lots of pictures, I realized that the accusation was false. Altaf’s father came from Agra. In the picture, his father looked like a Maulvi sort of guy.
But nevertheless, the book itself was lacking in information. Just like the press conference. It was more of a eulogy, translated from an Urdu version — I don’t know how badly the Urdu version was written because the angrezi version was pretty bad.
Although an interesting fact that came out of the book was that Altaf started his political career as a ‘stage warmer.’
For those who don’t know: In political and religious rallies in Pakistan, it is fashionable that the leader or the main speaker comes in late — and sometimes even hours late, thereforestage warmers are hiredto entertain the crowds. Talented stage warmers can speak for hours and usually about everything under the sun: religion, politics and even sing Indian movie songs.
This word ‘stage warmer’ was coming to my head again and again as I watched Altaf Hussain give his performance. We are obviously witnessing the birth of a new genre, an amalgamation of everything: media, politics and drama. All merged into one.
Which in a way is linked to what NusratJaved coming on television — after midnight — said that the nation had been ‘held hostage’ for five hours. Such media protocol is bequeathed to no-one in the world, not even to Obama.
One would agree with Nusrat, obviously Altaf Hussain is no Dr Zhivago. But MQM leader Haider Abbass Rizvi on the same show clarified that the MQM had not manipulated the media, they had simply informed the media of the press conference, the ‘historical coverage’ that followed or the historicism of the event, happened on its own.
But Nusrat was fuming; I have personally never seen him so angry. He was even singing couplets of Bulleh Shah to calm himself down, “Don’t take Bulleh for dead; somebody else went to the grave.”
Zulfiqar Mirza called Nusrat the first media martyr of the aftermath. Hamid Mir predicted that more martyrs would follow. Post midnight it was becoming obvious that the entire press conference was taking an entirely different, media centric turn.A new narrative was emerging. With Nusrat Javed’s sacking and Mohammed Mallick’s warning that media should not be exploited as a tool to echo the words of politicians; the media seems to have entered the frayall on its own.
Towards the end — if I may be allowed to have an intellectual moment of my own — this is what I would say: the jury is still out on political parties and the Karachi situation but Nusrat Javed will emerge as a hero even before the conclusion of this Mirza-MQM Mahabharata. The media never loses.
The writer is Assistant Editor Dateline Islamabad