BY 1 PM, the producers were finally ready and the show time sirens wailed. Junaid Jamshed made his entrance, standing tall in a deep teal kurta with Greek-style black sandals visible under his white pajamas, which were hiked, as his religious views dictate, above his bare ankles. He was wearing a white skullcap and sported his now-signature long, scraggly beard.
We were at International Studios, a facility in Sorabh Goth in the northern outskirts of Karachi, where Jamshed was pre-recording episodes of Alif Laam Meem, a 2011 Islamicised version of Who Wants to be A Millionaire for Geo TV, one of Pakistan’s biggest television networks.
I sat in the in the top-most row, close to the exit from which Jamshed had just made his entrance, and scanned the eagerly awaiting crowd. The audience was separated across the entrance aisle, by gender. Earlier in the week, when I had persuaded Jamshed to allow me to accompany him to one of his recordings, he had insisted that I cover my head for the occasion. That morning, on our way to Sorabh Goth, he seemed disappointed by my attempt to adopt the hijab, and helped to properly wrap my hair under a dupatta so that even the tiniest strand was hidden away. Sitting in the audience in my ill-fitting head-gear before the show began, I looked in front and to my left and noticed only a few other women who had made the same effort. One of them, Saba Aamir, sat beside me. She was dressed in a black abaya, studded with little floral diamontees. Now 32, Saba admitted to having been a Junaid Jamshed fan from the time she was a teenager. “That was before I became religious myself,” she said, shyly. A smile lit up her face in acknowledgement of the journey she and Jamshed shared. “I’ve met him twice before. The first time was at an IBM Computer Event where he performed—my father worked there and I got a chance to go.”