Although Balochistan is the most backward province of Pakistan, its people, according to some Islamabad-based independent analysts, hold bureaucrats in high esteem. One of its typical examples is Mr Orya Maqbool Jan , who, according to them, has formerly served 23 years as a bureaucrat in the province. That is why, they further say, he is always under discussion whether you are illiterate or literate.

Interestingly, when I spoke to the people, they did not concur that they respected and loved him because he was a bureaucrat in their province, rebuffing the claims of the aforementioned analysts. Instead, they said there have been many bureaucrats, but they did not even know their names.

Following the arrest of the finance secretary of Balochistan, Mushtaq Raisani by the NAB officials on corruption charges, they found it ridiculous to say that they respect Orya Maqbool Jan for being a bureaucrat. However, according to them, one of the main reasons behind showing respect toward him is that Oriya Maqbool Jan is a great intellectual whom they read and watch with great interest.

Nevertheless, what I experienced myself recently is given below.

Recently I went to a barbershop in Quetta to get a haircut. The barber, who happens to be my friend, is fond of watching talk shows on private TV channels. Hence, his shop is noisy round the clock, and it seems more like a hotel than a barbershop. It’s because his likeminded friends also sit in the shop in order to watch talk shows, while simultaneously enjoying tea. They argue among themselves as well, while watching the shows. When Orya Maqbool Jan is among the panelists and the program is being hosted by the one and only Kamran Shahid, there is pin-drop silence.

As we are friends, I usually go to my friend’s barbershop for a haircut. This time Orya Maqbool Jan was on a private TV channel, where he was giving his commentaries. When I entered the shop and paid those present my regards, no one responded since they did not hear what I had said. Silently, I took a seat. There weren’t any customers in the shop, except those who with a reputation of being fans of Orya Maqbool Jan .

Subsequently, the barber saw me in the seat, and he asked, “When did you come?” Without allowing me to reply, he went on to add, “Look at Orya Maqbool Jan! He is speaking brilliantly tonight!” Then he started cutting my hair. Thrice, I escaped ear cuts, as my barber friend’s scissors got faster in accordance with Orya Maqbool Jan’s rising emotions. After escaping ear cuts, I humbly told him to be careful. I even asked him if he wanted to let the program end before finishing the haircut. He continued to cut my hair, saying he would be careful.

As Orya Maqool Jan went into a rage on TV, lashing out at liberals whom he termed “jahil” (illiterate), the barber emotionally said, “Aap ne durust kaha!” (You said it right!). I started screaming, and he quickly asked me what happened. “You cut my ear, and it is bleeding”. “Oh! Sorry! I did not know how it happened!” Finally, he got an ice cube and put it on my ear. After half an hour, the bleeding fortunately stopped.

Even though he was willing to restart cutting my hair, I did not let him. “Let the noise made by Mr Orya and Kamran Shahid end, then start,” I said. On hearing this, he lashed out at me. And despite being friends, he did not let me sit then in his shop, and threw me out. “Why?” I asked. “Despite being a journalist, you do not know how to respect a great intellectual. “Sorry!” I replied. But he did not listen to me. Only, when I was leaving his shop, I heard him call me a “Jahil sahafi” (illiterate journalist).

As I reached home, my uncle—who is a retired teacher—was reading an article, which was written by Orya Maqbool Jan in an Urdu paper. As I sat next to him, he clearly wasn’t aware of my presence, as he read the piece. Later, after 10 minutes, he asked. “When did you come?” “Just now”, I said. Though he himself took 15 minutes to read the article written by Mr. Orya Maqbool Jan , he took an hour to preach it. While discussing the article, honestly, neither of us quite understood what the article meant. During that period, I kept nodding to give an impression to the contrary.   

When I switched on my laptop in order to do some work, my uncle asked whether YouTube was open. Subsequently, he told me to type “old talk shows by Orya Maqbool Jan”. So I typed that, not including “Jan” in the search box. He got really angry: “You cannot even write the complete name of a worthy man!” Despite my telling him that it did not matter, he kept on scolding me. Thanks to internet, it did not take a lot of time and Orya Maqbool Jan’s videos started playing immediately. When he (Mr Orya) started speaking, my uncle remained silent and watched him quietly. For hours we watched him silently.  Finally, thanks to QESCO that power went off, and I could go to bed. But I turned and tossed about my bed the whole night due to the noisy talk shows that I played for my uncle on YouTube.

The very next day, while travelling to my hometown, I had to sit in the last seat of the bus, because I had arrived late and had not slept properly that night. Also, I could not sleep en route due to jumps, as the road was bumpy from Quetta to my hometown, Dalbandin. A postmaster, who was my seatmate, asked me after staring at me: “What do you do?” I said I was a journalist. Besides journalism, he asked, what did I do? I replied that I did nothing, except journalism. As he laughed loudly at me, those who listened to us in the bus also joined in. “You should have then simply said you were unemployed, instead of calling yourself a journalist”. (Note: in Balochistan, journalists are considered jobless). Luckily, I did not tell them that I was a freelance journalist, because God knows I would have been even more ridiculed.

He went on to ask: “Whom do you read?” When I was about to answer, he asked me another question: “Do you read Oriya Maqbool Jan?” Instead of answering him, I surprisingly asked how he knew of him. “So, you think we do not know or read prominent writers while living in Balochistan?” he asked. As the bus reached, he said before leaving: “Orya Maqbool Jan also writes in a magazine, I know, in English, and the editor of that magazine has a double masters”. After that, passengers left one by one, laughing at me, and one of them also told me before leaving, “For your kind information, he has formerly served as Deputy Commissioner in several districts of Balochistan.”

I had come home after a long time, and my father’s beard had turned grey. In the late 1960s, he was a Trotskyist during his adolescent years. The reason being: some Trotskyists, excluding Dr. Lal Khan, had said that a revolution would be possible in Pakistan in the late 1960s, and that revolution unfortunately never came. Despite being betrayed by Trotskyists, he did not leave his comradeship.

“Ever since I have started watching Orya Maqbool Jan on TV and reading him in newspapers, he (Orya Maqbool Jan) entirely changed my mindset for good. Therefore, I am no longer a Trotskyist!” he said.

These days he not only offers five times prayers with congregation but also sets aside time every day to meditate. As he started meditating, Orya Maqbool Jan suddenly appeared on TV. Now, I could not dare say anything. Finally, when the show ended, he humbly asked me with his eyes filled with tears: “how much does it cost to perform Umrah?”