Living with the ‘Waderay Ka Beta’
“This weekend we have to meet Aamina for dinner, don’t forget.”
The ‘Aamina’ in question is Pakistan’s most versatile model/actress, Aamina Sheikh. This is what a typical weekend looks like nowadays. Sometimes I come home at night to find the world’s second funniest man, Saad Haroon, chilling in our lounge; other times I’ll get a phone call saying we have to leave for the airport in an hour so that we can jet off to Islamabad because a music video needs to be shot with the internationally acclaimed rapper and music producer, Adil Omar and Talal Qureshi. Other instances, Pakistan’s adventure man, Moin Khan, will call to announce that he’s planning a camping trip in Skardu and we should pack our bags. And of course, at the end of it all, I sit down with the man who single handedly brought the ‘Sayein’ into mainstream popular culture, the Waderay Ka Beta, Ali Gul Pir.
Meeting interesting people is only a little part of what it’s like to be Mrs. Ali Gul Pir. For one thing, I cannot count the number of times people have called me ‘Dadu ki Rani’ or said to me ‘Sayein ki biwi bhi sayein.’ Or the number of times aunties at weddings, or even in public, have come up to Gul and told him how much his comedy inspires them. Don’t get me started on the number of girls who send him weird ‘frandship’ messages (One of them said: “Ali, I love your lips”). Some girls were quite upset when they saw pictures of us at our wedding; of course hateful comments were thrown at me quite a bit.
‘Sayein ki biwi bhi sayein!’
But more than the excitement of being around a much loved celebrity, what makes life with Gul fun is that there are so many sides to this extremely unusual human being. Let me first tell you that the person you see on television is far from who Gul is in his every-day life. The every-day Gul is a silent observer, who chooses to speak less and listen more. He is calm, eerily calm, and his calmness has been a source of concern for me since the beginning- how can he stay so calm all the time? I have yet to see this man ever get angry. People don’t believe it when they see him in person – they wonder if the kurta-clad, mad man dancing on top of a taxi is the same sober person that stands before them. And just like that, Gul has a switch which, if turned on, transforms this serious, mature person into the playful fun-loving person you see on television and otherwise.
It would be an understatement to say that Gul is funny. Sometimes, he will randomly start acting like a classical music teacher, or a sleazy salesmen who’s trying to flirt with me, or a misogynist wadera who’s bossing me around, telling me to stay at home and not go outside (Think Phoebe from F.R.I.E.N.D.S and her alter ego Regina Phalange). His voice and mannerisms will change; he’ll come up with a whole new identity in a matter of seconds. ‘Improvise’ he would say in the beginning, when I wouldn’t know how to respond to this character he’s playing out of the blue. I laugh my way through it now though, trying to keep up with his spontaneity.
But in the middle of that laughter lies something that is very central to Gul’s existence: in all of his jokes, you will find his need to speak up. In all his characters, you will always find a story that needs to be told. The sleazy salesmen – this is probably a commentary on an integral problem that many Pakistani women face, a problem that his song ‘Taaroo Maaroo’ addresses. Or how the feudal mindset oppresses women. And while he’s seemingly roleplaying a funny character, he’s simply saying “this is a problem and by making fun of it, I’m trying to show you how ridiculous this is.”
x Ali and Manal on their way to Samui.
From here you learn that Gul’s purpose is not just to make people laugh (something which he thoroughly enjoys doing) but to make people think, and then eventually speak. He will always be found fighting for the right to express. He reminds me that no body should be oppressed. Even if an uncle is trying to cut in the line in front of you, call him out. The politicians, who lie and make fake promises, call them out. No religious minority deserves silence after being devastated by an attack on their community. Speak up. Fight for your rights. Don’t ever settle for anything that’s less than what you deserve.
Perhaps the one thing that is the most difficult to get used to still, even now, is that sometimes I very consciously see him as Ali Gul Pir. You see, from being an Ali Gul Pir fan to being his wife is a huge transition. I remember the days when I would excitedly wait for any video, any interview, any show that would come up from him (before I knew him of course) and when I met him for the first time, I couldn’t stop talking about how I ‘chilled with waderay ka beta’. So now even though we’re married, I sometimes find myself looking at him while he’s giving an interview or recording vocals for his new song, and think, “oh my God, that’s Ali Gul Pir. And now he is my husband!”