Influencers in Islamabad | Daily News


Influencers in Islamabad

Javeria Ali, a twenty-six-year-old photographer, was on a walk in an Islamabad market when she spotted a man ladling out cups of milky tea. He was wearing a turquoise shalwar kameez with a white scalloped trim. His hair was slightly tousled, with a few stray locks falling above his dark eyebrows, and his cheeks were peppered with stubble. He wore a black thread looped around his wrist to protect him from the evil eye.

She took three or four pictures of the chaiwala, or tea seller, while his head was bowed, then he looked up for a split second and stared right at her. She got the shot. Ali uploaded the photograph (captioned “Hot-Tea”) to her Instagram and Facebook pages on October 14, 2016. It was soon shared on various blogs and social media pages, with users commenting on the tea boy’s looks.

Mainstream media

By 2016, there were more than forty-four million social media users in Pakistan. Facebook had the biggest slice of the pie, with thirty-three million users, followed by Twitter with five million and Instagram with nearly four million. Arshad Khan, the blue-eyed chaiwala, had joined the ranks of a handful of viral stars in Pakistan: men and women who become household names, their images or videos spilling over from social media sites into millions of conversations on apps like WhatsApp, shared and forwarded on a loop until mainstream media outlets take notice and feature them on the news or on talk shows.

At the time his photograph was first taken, Arshad did know about these viral stars. He had never had a Facebook account. He could not read or write. His family and neighbors lived without electricity and did not watch TV.

In just five days, the photograph raked in more than fifty thousand likes and thousands of comments. His fame spread not just in Pakistan but around the world. His “good looks” were featured on CNN, the BBC noted that his “piercing eyes” have “thousands” of Twitter users “lovestruck,” and BuzzFeed described him as “damn HOT” with “effortless high-fashion model looks.”

Arshad had not seen his photograph on the news, and he didn’t think of the girl with the camera until she came back to the market, this time with reporters and camera crews. He found out they were looking for him. His memories of the day are hazy. He remembers Ali telling him she had uploaded his photograph to social media and it had gone viral. He panicked. His first instinct was to bolt.

Silver buckles

The next day, Arshad went to work in the market as usual, but the area around the café was crammed with people who had flocked there to meet him. He was whisked away to a television station for an interview and made to wear a suit. Before he went on air, he heard a member of the crew speaking Pashto, the language Arshad and his parents spoke at home.

He pulled the man to one side and pleaded: “Can you tell me what is going on? How is everyone in the world looking at my picture?”

On a cold evening four months after that day, I met Arshad in an apartment-a makeshift office, said his manager Fahim, a place to “do deals and whatnot”-in a residential area in Islamabad. Fahim wore a tight black T-shirt, purple velour tracksuit bottoms, and slippers that squelched with each step on the tiled floor. Everything in the apartment was brand new. Someone had thrown the box for a thirty-inch LCD TV onto the small balcony outside one of the bedrooms.

Arshad was skinny, and his black suit and shirt looked a little too big for him. The trousers were baggy, and a pair of pointed black shoes with silver buckles peeked out from under them. He was tired and not feeling well that day.

His whole body ached. His doctor said he was “mentally weak.” His only task that day was to record a video: a congratulatory message for Kismat Connection, a TV show that had just aired its hundredth episode. Arshad was a celebrity now, and the producers of the show had requested a short video that they could air during the episode.

Logical answer

We went into the bedroom with the best natural light. The room was empty save for a folding table in the corner stacked with rolls of bedding and blankets.

Arshad’s social media adviser, Rizwan, works in real estate and rents out apartments just like this one. He darted in and out of our meeting while he tended to a group of prospective clients in the apartment’s second bedroom.

Arshad relies on Fahim and Rizwan to read his contracts. When a TV anchor had asked him how he would give fans his autograph, he gave her what he thought was a perfectly logical answer for an illiterate person-“I’ll use my thumbprint”-but the audience hooted with laughter and clapped, and Rizwan had to spend hours teaching Arshad how to scribble out a signature.

Arshad’s team now included a personal groomer, a photographer, a speech therapist, and a psychologist who, Fahim explained, taught Arshad “daily life things” and “does therapy on how to live your life.”

Fahim fed Arshad the lines for the video. “Hi, friends!” he said. “No, wait-say, ‘Hi, doston!’ ”

“Hi, doston,” Arshad repeated.

“It’s me, Arshad Khan,” Fahim said.

“This is my Arshad Khan.”

The more emotionless Arshad sounded, the peppier Fahim tried to make his lines.

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