I was still a final year student at University of Engineering and Technology (Lahore, Pakistan) when Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, the owner of the media empire in this NY Times story ( http://j.mp/1r9rVO6 ), invited me to work directly for him. I was 22 then.
I had met him a few times before, mostly as a student leader leading protest marches into his office when Jang, the leading Pakistan newspaper but that would cave in and give greater coverage to the Taliban cousins Jamate-Islami fundamentalists party. So it was an ironic twist to become one of his key people.
He originally invited me to write on a Youth page but in my first day visiting his office I saw how IBM people in Pakistan were about to rip him off by selling electric typewriters with changeable font balls as “desktop publishing systems”. I made a comment about that.
Yes, I always spoke my mind regardless of the “stature” of the people in the room and continue to do so.
Shakil didn’t sign the contract and immediately said, forget the youth page, I want you to sit with me here every day and advise me on anything you want. He had the foresight to see that my vision of technology changing media changing society changing the world was the missing piece in his media/society part of the equation.
I learned a lot of lessons from him, 90% of them good, and just 10% of them disappointments. That is a pretty amazing ratio in a world full of us imperfect people. And I am sure there have been times I must have disappointed him too. But I consider him one of the best teachers in my life besides my parents.
He did his best to dissuade me from going to Columbia Business School on a full scholarship, saying I would learn so much more as his right hand man. I have no doubt that would have been true, but I am glad I left. Yes, it would have been an amazing journey with Shakil, but I would still be an employee of a tycoon. I am blessed and grateful for all that life has brought my way on my own.
Our friendship continued over the last 25 years I spent in America. I literally flew in on a PIA flight carrying several thousands pounds of equipment for the well known News International which I was involved in the launch of. I literally flew in minutes before the newspaper went to press.
Shakil left the press building even as plates for the very first copies of the paper were being mounted onto presses. Even though it was a lifetime dream of his family coming true, he drove from the Jang Karachi building to the airport to personally receive me inside the terminal and then drove me to the press with him to see the very first copies of the newspaper roll off the press. I always honor him for how he has always honored me over the years.
Though we are not related at all, we used to look alike a bit. (Maybe the prominent nose LOL). He always treated me like a younger brother he did not have (unless I happened to ask for a raise LOL). And he would always laugh when I would affectionately mimic his distinctive manner and style of speaking.
One day we were in his magnificent office on the top floor of the Jang Building in Lahore when I did my impression of him. He was laughing out loud when his assistant (Fayyaz) said a well known but obnoxious person (son of a national leader), who had not personally met Shakil before, was there to visit.
Like in a comedy movie, Shakil thought my impression was so great I should meet that obnoxious person acting as Shakil and Shakil would become Imran. We both moved to the “drawing room” part of the office when the guest came in. And I have to say, I was so flawless in doing my Shakil impression the guest (who had spoken to MSR before on the phone) had no clue what happened. Shakil and I had to do everything in our power not to crack up laughing. We did not do that again, but I remember that and many other adventures, mid-day or midnight, that we shared with love, trust and affection.
Though Shakil and I do not get time to speak regularly now, I still consider him one of the smartest, most forward looking businessmen in the world. Yes, Jang, and the GEO channel, are brilliant commercial media organizations. But not once did I ever see action or hear any words come out of the mouth of Shakil (or his late father the great Mir Khalil ur Rehman, brother Javed, or his brilliant sons or daughters) that would ever be remotely considered anti-Pakistan or anti-Islam.
I laugh at former Playboy, by now probably Viagra-needing pro-fundamentalists, like Imran Khan (whom I once admired) and others making accusations against Shakil. It amazes me how many dumb idiots, especially on Twitter and FaceBook (places they exercise right to free speech), foaming at the mouth about wanting to have GEO shut down.
They do not know what it is like not to have these basic freedoms of expression. They do not know how to exercise the freedom of switching the channel if they do not like something. They want things to be exactly how they want them or to be shut down.
These idiots did not serve in newsrooms that were raided by scummy crooked military officers of evil dictator General Zia‘s regime to rip out stories being put in the next day’s paper. They did not know journalists whose fingernails were ripped out by “security services” as we knew. They did not get court-martialed as an engineering student leader for leading marches against the military regime as I did.
They did not fall sleep on the floors of newspaper press buildings at 4AM to make sure nothing kept the presses from running. Shakil did, and I was proud to have been next to him in those times.
Long live democracy, freedom of speech, and a free Press, in Pakistan as well as USA.
And long live my friend Shakil and his family.