By Maira Assad
Liaqat Ali has been working as part of the classroom staff at LUMS for the past three and a half years. These days, you will often catch him in the SAHSOL building. He shows up for our meeting, wearing his warmest, interview-ready smile.
Early into the conversation, he shares that he’s getting married in another two months. While most people will be the recipients of congratulations and well wishes, Liaqat Ali has the added benefit of being asked, in good spirits, which celebrities he’s going to be inviting to the wedding. This isn’t odd, given the fact that when you open his Facebook profile, a picture of him and Shahid Afridi is the first thing one sees. This picture is only one from the collection that he has with Pakistan politicians, cricketers and celebrities – in fact, Liaqat Ali says that his social media is so carefully curated that he “makes sure to post a picture with a different person each time, and tries to avoid posting pictures of himself alone.”
It all began when a friend of his brought him to a post-PSL match dinner that was being held for police officials, and he uploaded a picture with three District Police Officers’.
“I come from Jhang, and there, it’s not common or easy for someone like me to get a picture with a DPO. Comments flooded in on my post, and people were asking how I had managed to meet with them. That encounter gave me a lot of confidence, and I formed the idea that this was a way for me to move forward in life.”
For him, moving forward in life meant moving to the city.
“It was difficult getting a job back in Jhang. Here, in the city, I feel like I can be successful in whatever endeavors I undertake.”
After his arrival in Lahore, he began actively seeking out ways to make connections to reach the people he wants to. LUMS was one such place for him, full of opportunities, and he relates that he’s “always on the look out for guest speakers (pictured below) arriving in LUMS on the days he’s on duty”.
Some of his meetings are planned as far back as six months. This was the case when he wanted to meet Hina Pervez Butt, a LUMS alumni and Pakistani politician. Liaqat happened to know her manager, and although he knew she was a busy person, he visited her boutique frequently over the course of several months, in the hopes of meeting her — until he finally did.
But of all his encounters, he says his favourites have been with Shahid Afridi, General Pervez Musharraf, and Fawad Chaudhry.
“Last year, I went to Dubai for a week. I roamed the city, saw the sea, but I wasn’t enjoying myself. Then, one day, I received a call from an acquaintance of mine, who was a member of Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League, asking me if I’d like to meet General Pervez Musharraf. I couldn’t believe my luck. When I went to meet Musharraf, he greeted me like we were old friends –– such a big leader was giving me so much respect. Good leaders will give respect to ordinary citizens like me.”
When talking about how he encountered Shahid Afridi, he explains how he was able to get in touch with his manager, and learnt the address of Afridi’s residence in Lahore, after which he ‘worked’ on the manager until he was able to get a meeting with Afridi.
Liaqat doesn’t reveal who his mysterious, well-placed friends are, but they seem to be everywhere. It makes one wonder whether he has any close friends at all. To this, he says:
“Those who know me through my Facebook profile think I’m rich, but those who know me are aware of how I really live. When I start my YouTube channel, I’m going to record my videos and go around on a bike. I want to ask Hina Rabbani Khar, and other politicians like her, who live in such expensive homes, whether they’ve ever dined with the poor people they want to represent.”
On the other hand, though, it’s not surprising that on some level, Liaqat aspires to be like the high-profile figures he meets — when we speak for a third time, he expresses his excitement at being written about, and says, “Mine is a story that people in LUMS might find interesting. I’m counting the days till people get to read about me [in reference to this profile].”
He says that the success of celebrities and politicians alike inspires his own ideas of success: he wants to own his own house someday, and to save up enough money to buy his first car –– a white Suzuki Cultus.
“These people have done something right to be where they’re at. I’ve noticed that people in Lahore around me don’t give celebrities the respect and stature they deserve –– but I do.” He says this matter-of-factly, but there is nothing condescending about his tone. He goes on to add:
“There are more educated people than me, but not all of them possess the confidence to talk to celebrities the way I have learnt to.” There’s a constant awareness of the kind of criticism he receives on his profile, but he balances that with his ability to take pride in his own confidence. It is this, in part, that already makes him the YouTube influencer that he wants to be (he’s currently planning the launch of his YouTube channel. Prospective names include Aaj ka Naashta, kisi celebrity ke ghar).
He admits that he’d never imagined that this was the turn his life would take, and that back in his days at Government Degree College, Jhang, he’d never thought he’d end up finding work outside of the city. He speaks of his parents, in their old age and retired now, and his voice grows softer when he reflects on the difference in the lives that they lived and the one he is living — his mother doesn’t even know most of the people he’s pictured with, he says without any of his earlier animation.
He lapses into a momentary silence, fiddling with his thumbs, before moving on to say, that even though he dreams of being as successful as the celebrities he meets, he also wants to show everyone that he’s an ordinary Pakistani citizen.
“I’m closer than ever to my manzil,” he says. “Lekin saath mein, I want to show the world that I am ordinary.”
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