Much like Smaug, the huge winged dragon in JR Tolkein’s The Hobbit, I’m a compulsive hoarder. Only I don’t hoard gems and treasure (impossible to do on my salary), but rather stories and information. I hold on to pieces for ridiculous amounts of time in the hope that some subtle alchemy will make them gel into a single, comprehensive magazine issue. This generally involves a lot of brainstorming (for ideas), a lot of flattery (for reporters to actually get interested in the ideas) and finally a great deal of pleading (to get them to actually file on time). As a general rule, deadlines tend to be fairly arbitrary although that little fact is not ever conveyed to the writers. It simply won’t do to say: “I love your story on the tribe of one-eyed transvestite beggars and I realise I called you every twenty minutes for a week to get you to submit it, but I can’t run it until I have my background piece on the myth of the Cyclops and how it leads to cultural myopia among third grade students. So shall we say I’ll print it three months from now?”
It was all a little scary at first. Coming from a TV background to a weekly magazine was one heck of a culture shock. I’d freak out if stories weren’t edited in twenty minutes or if breaking news took place a day before the magazine had to be sent to the printers. In the latter case I’d force everyone to drop the issue in hand and put together something on the current topic in the next three hours. I’d bask in the adrenaline glow and congratulate myself, until I was called to the editor’s office the next week and asked, ‘why on earth would anyone want to read the same thing on Sunday that they’ve been reading all week long? Don’t you think we’ve heard enough of the possible ramifications of Hafiz Saeed switching from using mehndi to Kala Kola?’ And so on.
We’ve managed to put together some issues that I am particularly proud of, like the one on cocaine, and the one on Pakistan’s very underground gay community (yes I am an illuminati pawn out to destroy the moral fabric of the country, didn’t you read my Facebook profile?). Along the way we also started a new segment called ‘Positive Pakistanis’, which highlights the considerable good that people do in this country. Currently, my latest obsession (finding good local cartoonists) has borne fruit and we’ve been running local comic strips in the magazine. Hopefully, that’s something that will continue and won’t die of content fatigue like the ‘ten things I hate’ section did. And if it does then, well, it’ll just be a good reason to freak out again.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2012.
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