Writing for your audience
I am a firm believer in the dictum ‘personal is political’ (don’t know who said it and I can’t be bothered to Google it and include the reference here) and even a piece which on the face of it may seem frivolous and magazine-ish, it can still say a lot
A few days ago I was going to first write about Kainat Soomro – about how her brother was kidnapped and killed by unknown men, men she claims are the same people who gangraped her in 2007, the same men who denied these charges, and the same Kainat Soomro whose accusations against her gang-rapists were treated with much scepticism by large sections of the media – as if gang-rapes don’t happen in rural areas (or for that matter urban areas) of Pakistan.
I thought much about it till I went on The Express Tribune’s website and checked the comments section. And lo and behold, Omar Bilal Akhtar (OBA as he is called by those who know him), musician, blogger and now ET columnist, had done it again. His piece ‘I support the internet bans’ had generated 28 comments – and it was just 3.30 in the afternoon of the days of article’s publication in print. The article itself is a sarcastic take on a petition filed by a citizen in Bahawalpur seeking banning of websites like Google, Yahoo! and MSN and follows from his previous one ‘I am a burger – and proud of it’. I knew that when we were about to carry that article there would be many people – from within my organisation as well – who would say that such pieces don’t belong on the editorial pages of a national newspaper.
But then, should editorial pages carry articles on only political matters or should they try to be diverse and eclectic and stir debate and discussion. Also, just because an article posited a point of view, or a worldview, that ran contrary to mine (and this really didn’t in fact), doesn’t mean that the editor of that particular page not run it. After all, comment and opinion shouldn’t be only coming from one side or else the pages – of any newspaper – will be bland and monotone.
OBA’s article definitely managed to achieve the latter and managed to generate 148 comments. And while this new piece may not get that many, it will get quite a lot it seems. Not that one is arguing for a radical re-doing of editorial pages, but clearly readers do want to read about things that are not purely politics. In any case, I am a firm believer in the dictum ‘personal is political’ (don’t know who said it and I can’t be bothered to Google it and include the reference here) and even a piece which on the face of it may seem frivolous and magazine-ish, it can still say a lot. And I think this piece managed to do that because even many of those who hated it probably realised that it was true. It’s not easy writing for your audience and people like Sami Shah and George Fulton – and of course Fasi Zaka – have mastered it early on in their writing careers. I would say, OBA is well on his way because he seems to be writing what readers want to read. (This is quite similar to Express or Geo giving blanket coverage of a suicide attack – many people criticise such coverage but everybody watches it, because after all it is what we all want to see).
I can’t see a writer in his 70s or 80s taking such liberties. Unless of course, one has ZIM in mind (Zafar Iqbal Mirza to be precise) – a gem of a man and an equally writer and editor (he was my boss at Dawn in Lahore some ten years back and wrote the legendary A Letter from Lahori column for Dawn) and wrote with fire and passion in his heart. But writers like ZIM are hard to come by. Our job is to try and find those who can come close to his genius.