What I found by losing Junaid

Published: December 15, 2016
Junaid Jamshed and Salman Ahmad will jam together in Karachi. PHOTO: IMRAN AHMAD

Junaid Jamshed and Salman Ahmad will jam together in Karachi. PHOTO: IMRAN AHMAD

Junaid Jamshed and Salman Ahmad will jam together in Karachi. PHOTO: IMRAN AHMAD The writer is the Polio Goodwill Ambassador and Professor of Sufi music, Queens College. He is also one of the founding member of Junoon

I first saw him more than 30 years ago. Tall, fair, with a Waheed Murad-like KoKo Korina charisma. Even in his early 20s, he was larger than life. We were among the few college students in Lahore who were interested in playing music during General Ziaul Haq’s oppressive dictatorship. To me, he appeared like an oasis in a vast desert. As kindred souls, he and I immediately connected. We bonded over music, cricket, spirituality and our love for Pakistan.

Back then, I could not describe what it was that was so special about him. Today, I know that in a world where pretence sells, my best friend Junaid Jamshed was the real deal.

I was on a flight to New York, while Junaid embarked on that flight from Chitral that was to take him to his final destination. I got the news of his death while I was on the plane. Never have I experienced such ripping waves of pain.

Ever since, I have mourned not just the death of my brother and dearest friend but of someone who loved and served the nation. Pakistan has very few real heroes left. He was needed. And the way he went made his death seem senseless.

Helplessness, despondency and cynicism are addictive. My mind kept going towards what I had read of the pain of separation in Rumi’s poetry for Shams-e-Tabrez. But then, Rumi also is reported to have said that the wound is the place where the light enters.

Memories with Junaid are too many, and are all too precious.

When Dil Dil Pakistan gained fame, Junaid, as always, was the center of attraction. At times, there was an intense rivalry for attention for the fairer sex, although we could not compete with him when it came to girls lining up for autographs.

Even back then, Junaid was like an Islamic history search engine, while I knew much about cricket and classic rock. Over endless and candid conversations, we educated each other, filled up each other’s blind spots, and jointly discovered ourselves. We would also be forever sparring and trying to stump each other in every conversation.

Junaid was the equivalent of a best man at my wedding and the life of the wedding festivities. He even sang a duet with my wife Samina on the Valima, which the guests found either irresistible or shocking. But he never kept the music in his heart hidden; it always found some way to come out.

Bulleh Shah’s words Bullah kee jaanan mein kaun describe the evolution we all undergo. Junaid also was in the process of discovering the hidden layers of his wonderfully multidimensional personality. His transformation was a work in progress. To keep growing and changing is a sign of being alive, and my friend was very much alive.

Yet, some who could not stand his pull on people deliberately misunderstood him, and were quick to judge him as a reactionary, a hypocrite, and even a blasphemer.

Pakistanis generally have a love-hate relationship with their heroes and icons. Junaid was no exception. He was unafraid to voice his beliefs, and was unconventional. Thus, he had to face the darts being thrown at him from both the left and the right. While he never flinched from what he believed to be the right thing to do, it did hurt him deeply when people would deliberately attribute misogynistic remarks to him which he never said, or interpreted his words wrongly. His public apology after the alleged blasphemy charge was his way of transcending conflict and focusing on what was real, positive and tangible.

Junaid Jamshed’s predicament is both the predicament and the very solution of Pakistan. At a time when Pakistanis are questioning their individual and collective identity, he was one of the few who are brave enough to own up to the healthy contradictions that exist in all of us. He showed us that modernity and tradition can coexist, and peacefully so.

His last three years were filled with vitriol from the press, media, religious rivals and even the liberal elite. Yet he continued on in his spiritual mission until he was literally brought down to the ground by the incompetence and negligence of those who are supposed to serve the people.

We spoke before he left for Chitral. He had said to me in his ultra-confident and infinitely optimistic manner that we should continue to work together for good causes. We discussed how we had to raise awareness for polio eradication and to steer the youth away from extremism. He even expressed the desire to continue to support projects like he had done with Naya Pakistan and Chand Sitara, and we discussed him performing live with me in America. That was the last time we ever spoke.

He wanted to see Junoon’s Silver Anniversary successful as something that could potentially raise the morale of Pakistanis.He also urged me to invite Ali Azmat for a Junoon reunion concert tour. When I asked him why the sudden urgency to do so many things simultaneously, he quoted the Beatles lyrics: Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend.

Junaid’s passing has taught me that we are on earth for a very short period of time. We must utilize our God-given talents and fulfill our purpose on earth. Junaid, at 52, has achieved what many people could not achieve in several lifetimes. His contribution to Pakistani arts and culture, business entrepreneurship his passionate work as a social activist and humanitarian, and his role as a spiritual teacher and guide has touched the lives of millions across the planet.

The best way to carry forward Junaid’s legacy is to follow one’s heart with passion, and not be defeated by failure or society’s ridicule and mean-spiritedness.

I will forever miss his mischievous twinkling eyes, his breath-taking voice and his earnest belief in a peaceful, prosperous and enlightened Pakistan.

Barhti rahey yeh roshni, chalta rahey yeh karavan, Dil Dil Pakistan , Jaan Jaan Pakistan

Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Breera Wahid
    Dec 16, 2016 - 1:12PM

    My eyes are rolling tears and I’m still waiting for miracle. JJ will rule our hearts forever <3Recommend

  • Humaira.
    Dec 16, 2016 - 3:01PM

    Wow. I am speechless. You are a true friend sir and I agree with your assessment, completely. I am a kid of the 90s, so Vital Signs, Junaid Jamshed are my childhood, my life. His transformation meant more to me than I can ever explain in words.
    I am a school teacher, a revolutionary by heart, and a writer by choice.
    Too honour our hero, I want to help carry on his mission in anyway I can. I can help by motivating my students, in karachi and lahore, to join your cause, lend a hand. I can also contribute through my writing.
    Please tell me how I can be of aide. Recommend

  • Shabnum Butt
    Dec 16, 2016 - 5:02PM

    His death has freshen our Emaan! Changed our thoughts and priorities in our lives. He left dunya for his Allah and in return he got deen and dunya both! When he made a connection with Allah he got connected with many hearts.Recommend

  • Shahid Islam
    Dec 16, 2016 - 6:50PM

    Salman Bhai, I’m so grieved and speechless ! It seems I’ve lost something very precious. JJ Bhai was my inspiration.Recommend

  • Shahid Islam
    Dec 16, 2016 - 7:01PM

    Salman Bhai, I’m so grieved and speech less ! It seems as if I’ve lost something very precious, I’d be missing JJ bhai forever.Recommend

  • Bilwani
    Dec 16, 2016 - 9:53PM

    Junaid was a true humainbeing and real Muslim from the bottom of his heart Recommend

  • Nadeem
    Dec 16, 2016 - 10:52PM

    Heart piercing piece of writing. He was truly a Prince. Thank you Salman for this. Recommend

  • Faraz
    Dec 17, 2016 - 7:19AM

    A piece of Pakistan’s heart is gone. Every one is sad and i have never seen people people so heart broken over celebrity death, not even for Michael Jackson.. He truly ruled hearts. He is the first person you think about when you think about 90s Pakistan. I wish he had dedicated his life to his true passion (singing) not religion. Recommend

  • Asif
    Dec 17, 2016 - 7:48AM

    I understand your feelings as a friend. But this man encouraged husbands to stop their wives from driving, spreaded intolerance, Chitral mission of tableeghi Jamat is a mission to destroy peace in that beautiful place. May Allah forgive him.Recommend

  • Zulfiqar
    Dec 17, 2016 - 5:18PM

    It’s a gap that may fill in centuries . No substitute or alternative of late j.j. may his soul rest in peaceRecommend

  • Saleem
    Dec 17, 2016 - 10:03PM

    I don’t understand why you think only few heroes are left. For me a common person struggling to live in difficult circumstances is a hero. A labourer a driver a cook maids all are the real heroes not just famous personalities marketing themselves as suchRecommend

  • Naveed Memon
    Dec 21, 2016 - 5:22PM

    Salman bhai…May Allah take work of his precious din from u like JJ bhai.These r not only ur words but million of pplz.Recommend

  • Syed Nabeel Ahmed
    Jan 17, 2017 - 3:41PM

    No one knows where our lives gonna end, and we should not become too judgmental for anyone. Life is beautiful we should spend this in Best of character like JJ did and Allah blessed him with success of both here and hereafter.

    RIP JJ May Allah grant you best place in Jannah.Recommend

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