The Junaid not many knew
Junaid was not as guarded with the media as I thought, not guarded enough. His utterances often got him into trouble.
Sitting here, writing a blog that is an obituary for Junaid Jamshed. This is surreal. It is unbelievable. And is an unpleasant and painful task, but one that I must carry out as someone who knew him well. Because he would have liked me to write this. For two reasons: Firstly, Junaid, or JJ, or Jay as close friends called him, was a people’s person. He did not mind the attention. He was used to it from a very early age.
I remember asking him, during one of the three interviews of his I did spanning over two decades, whether he was so used to attention as a celebrity that even when he came towards religion, he enjoyed the adulation. He laughed and did not deny it. So he would be okay with this.
But secondly, and more importantly, he would appreciate that the correct, and the factual, and the good is written about him. Junaid was not as guarded with the media as I initially thought… not guarded enough. His utterances often got him into trouble – he did not weigh words as one would expect from someone who had spent most of his life under the spotlight. So he ended up saying things that ruffled so many feathers at both ends of the spectrum. More than three years ago, after I met him and Shahi Hasan at Shahi’s studio for a feature story, he later requested that I write about the other side of him.
“People just see me as the person who stops women from driving cars and wants to deny women independence. I’m not like that! And there is more to me. Can you write something positive about me?” he had said.
I had told him that journalism is something I do with honesty, and I will not write positive stuff unless I find positive stuff about him worth penning. He agreed. I did end up writing some positive stuff after all. That is what I am doing once again right now. He would have wanted this.
So there are things about Junaid that we all know but then there are things that we all don’t know as well.
Like the fact that he was big on not just charity but in particular about the health of mothers and children, and had raised money and set up many medical care centres for maternal health.
“The year was 2003. I remember reading somewhere that a woman travelling from Jhang to Faisalabad on a tonga in full-term labour died because no maternal health facility was close by. That story shook me. Pakistan’s women should not have to go through this,” he had said in that interview.
During the interview, I had told him about the good work being done at the Koohi Goth Fistula Hospital. He was moved, and immediately requested me to connect him to the people there. He started working on gathering both funds and support for the cause, and then raised enough money to support and cover the cost of some major projects the hospital needed funds for. Those getting treatment don’t even know that the person who helped give them a new lease of life is Junaid.
Like the fact that he always, always struggled with his inner self after having chosen the path that he chose. I recall another pointed question I had asked, jestingly.
“So the beard is your choice. But why not trim it?”
“Yeh mat bolo (Don’t say that). It’s not easy,” he replied, and I felt guilty I ever asked that.
An excerpt of the interview went like this:
“Sitting in Shahi Hasan’s studio, his fingers, a couple of times, delicately traced the contours of the guitar strings. But an inner commitment is stronger than the temptation. He hummed a few lines, but stopped. The darling of the Pakistani masses is no longer a balladeer. The passion has been channelised towards a higher love. His songs formerly talked about how to woo a beloved… his nasheeds and naats still do. But the beloved has changed. JJ has evolved.”
Trying to practice religion is an uphill task. There is always discrimination, and criticism, and of course he had to bear all that. Misogynist. Chauvinist. Mullah. The titles were many. So were the attacks on his selfies with female friends. Ironically, these were often hurled by the very people who supposedly believe that one should live and let live. The very people who will forever rely on his songs when they feel patriotic or heart-broken or in love or happy or sad.
Junaid, like all of us, had his shortcomings. I disagreed with so many of his stances. But he was a good soul. He made an effort to help others. He did help thousands, both through his charity and through his role in reviving the faith of so many. Like all of us, he may have fallen and gotten up many times on the path he chose. But he chose to stay on that path anyways. Not many take that path after a taste of such fame and adulation. It reminds me of one of his songs:
Hum kyun chalain uss raah par jis raah par sub hee chalain
Kyun na chunain who raasta jis par naheen koi gaya…
He is just one story and this is just one obituary out of the 47 who lost their lives today. Each story unique. Each life unparalleled. Lives full of promise. Lives cut short.
Life is short. And unpredictable. If we take home one thing from Junaid’s passing, which I pray will be accepted by Allah as shahadat (martyrdom), it is to stop judging others.
Rest in peace JJ.