There are 20 days to go before 2016 comes to a close, but for Pakistanis it couldn’t be dusted sooner for the heartache it has caused.
The country has lost global icons like Abdul Sattar Edhi, a philanthropist with few equals known to history; Hanif Mohamed, the legendary opening batsman; and last but not least, a passenger aboard the ill-fated flight PK-661 last week that has sent his compatriots reeling into a despairing winter.
The passenger - one among 48 aboard the ATR-42 aircraft that was supposed to land in Pakistan’s picturesque capital Islamabad flying in from the wondrous Chitral up north, but crashed into a mountainous area shortly after a Mayday call - was Junaid Jamshed: one of the World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims named by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, Amman this year.
Jamshed himself wanted to be a pilot - but in the Pakistan Air Force, which his father served.
Destiny chose otherwise.
The handsome pop icon-turned-preacher was a man of many parts, but it is a measure of his unique appeal that despite leaving his legion of fans high and dry after renouncing music in 2004, the reaction to his demise has taken on a spectacular sheen, what with a heavily televised homage and social media tumult.
Part of the reason why the public sentiment over his demise appears to tower over Pakistan’s legendary heroes earlier in the year, has to do with the tragic circumstances - a plane crash that rendered every single body charred beyond recognition. Perhaps, it is in human nature to have a greater morsel of empathy in such cases.
But that the overwhelming reaction zeroed in on the celebrity loss (itself a subject of debate) - including stinging criticism about Jamshed’s controversial views and choices - lends credence to the conclusion that love or loathe, he is more celebrated than it may have otherwise appeared. And that his story will find a prominent place in the Pakistani cultural zeitgeist.
What has also emerged from the debate is his deep imprint on the psyche of Pakistanis of his generation, who, just simply could not contextualise or cope with his decision to turn to religion after giving them their first taste of liberation from General Zia-ul-Haq’s draconian rule as a youth idol, in consort with the band Vital Signs. To categorise it merely as a musical vocation would be to undermine the power of newfound freedom associated with it.
This explains why a vast majority of the grieving public - completely aware of Jamshed’s preacher avatar - chose to remember him for his phenomenal impact as a singer instead; someone, who, changed the landscape and became the poster boy of free spiritdom. It has rekindled a massive interest in his golden numbers - social media posts are all the rage at the moment - which carry an unmistakable defining edge about them.
The sense of grief is palpable with even the critics - no small in number - venting a spleen about his apparently misogynist views, but mostly expressing disappointment at how he declared his first innings closed.
In his religious avatar, many of them also found it difficult to reconcile with the preaching, especially related to women’s place, high-end pilgrim quotas as a business venture - all coming into play with him being a rich fashion entrepreneur as well.
Was this a typical fan’s anguish at losing his or her favourite singer? While it would be difficult to generalise the popular sentiment at the heart of all the melancholy, what is undeniable is that the musical memory has defied father time - even Jamshed’s own claim to have buried it!
The journey to becoming a born-again Muslim was not without trials and tribulation. Contrary to the general view about Jamshed leaving the music scene at the peak of his career, his solo stint hadn’t been much of a success, and it coincided with an inner turmoil about finding his calling.
Once the star had decided to quit showbiz, he went bankrupt and, at one stage, did not even have money to pay the children’s school fee. Still he resisted the temptation to even claw back for the while, rejecting one astounding offer (Rs40mn or over $380,000 at the current equivalent) for just a commercial!
In due course, he was to attain remarkable ascendancy as an entrepreneur - as evident in setting up the leading fashion label Junaid Jamshed (pivoted on men’s desi wear), which has a chain of stores across Pakistan and select few abroad.
As Jamshed took on the role of a missionary in earnest, crisscrossing the country and the world - his last was on the day he took the ill-fated flight - he became a regular TV evangelist, and it was during one of those shows where his controversial remarks about a wife of the Prophet (peace be upon him) led to the framing of a blasphemy case.
Following an outrage, he issued a tearful video apology, but went into exile to let the dust settle. He eventually returned, but was recently roughed up at an airport; however, he forgave the attackers after a police case was registered against them.
No obit or appraisal about Jamshed can be complete without a word about what, in the ultimate analysis, made him a star, and one suspects will, long after his demise, remain his USP. As the lead vocalist of Vital Signs - referred to as Pakistan’s Beatles - Jamshed’s patriotic rendition Dil Dil Pakistan went on to assume the halo of a modern day anthem that has no parallel in the country’s history for popularity, both as a paean for the motherland and a definitive emblem of youth.
But while it remains the alternative national anthem since its release in 1987, its appeal goes beyond Pakistan. In a tribute flood from all over the world, including India, on, the country’s leading media web portal, this is what Shiva Chaulagai, a Nepalese fan, while offering condolences, had to say:
“I’m Nepalese, currently living in Saudi Arabia. I listened to his patriotic song Dil Dil Pakistan over a thousand times long before I even knew who sang it!”

* The writer is Community Editor.
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