Of Journalists, Narratives and Zulqarnain Haider

Posted on November 16, 2010 by

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There is a perversity in admiring people and making heroes out of them. When they do something that you don’t agree with, it becomes a question of your principles versus your passions. Is it ok to slate someone whose work and intellect you have found inspirational? On the other hand, if you pull your punches, are you becoming the sort of rabid devotee that gives suicide cults a bad name?

Two sports writers who I have always been in awe of are Dileep Premachandaran and Osman Samiuddin. Nuanced, objective and yet romantic, these two know how to write, and write damn well.

In recent days, both of them have spoken on Zulqarnain Haider’s rather curious condition. They have questioned the various gaping holes in Haider’s story what with him leaving right before a game even when he could have either waited or left earlier, and his decision not to approach players who have been untainted by the match fixing morass.

I had a chance to interact with Dileep over twitter, and I put forth the counter-arguments – why would he trust institutions like the PCB which have been so blatantly dysfunctional? Why would he leave his blossoming career just for a few headlines? Why would he be expected to trust a cricketing fraternity which is defined by its corruption, its nepotism and all round ineptness?

But there was something else that had struck me in both their pieces as being a bit weird.

Sports journalists, like all other journalists, seek to create narratives. They try and craft these from objective observations, and the truly great, which both Osman and Dileep undoubtedly are, manage to bring in certain subjective insights which act as ornaments on their carefully crafted views. So when we compare Messi with Ronaldo for example, many point to Messi’s devotion to his club and his mother and contrast it with CR7’s pouting and preening. Messi’s humility with Cristiano’s diving. I am not decrying such observations – as I mentioned, they are essential to creating insightful writing.

But the trouble with subjective insights is that they end up revealing as much of the observer as they do about what is being observed. Both Osman and Dileep have pointed out, and in fact pontificated upon Zulqarnain’s social media exploits. Without really saying it, they both have focused on his Facebook antics.

Here’s what Dileep wrote about it:

His Facebook friends’ list includes 15 journalists that I know, most of whom he can’t have met even once. In an age when many players treat the media like scum, it seems bizarre that a fringe player with a rudimentary understanding of English would be going out of his way to give access to journalists. A Pakistani journalist I spoke to describes him as a “shameless self-publicist”.

Here’s what Osman had to say:

Why did he leave updates on Facebook for all to see?

But a significant part of me looks at how energetically he hunts for media attention (and how much of it he has already attracted in a short career) and then to this episode, and does so with real worry and suspicion that none of it may be of any real consequence.

What both Osman and Dileep don’t out and out say is what makes them good, reasonable journalist, but it’s easy enough to read between the lines. Both seem to insinuate that Zulqarnain’s media baiting makes him someone who we can’t readily trust.

They don’t like that he Facebook friends people he doesn’t know. Perhaps it’s a symptom of being, how shall I put this delicately, a generation apart?

For starters, considering how Zulqarnain was bereft of ready allies (such as chief selectors and prominent bookies as fathers-in-law, or ethnic based cliques) it makes sense that he would try to court support. The fact that he used an institution – the media – that wields such an unhealthy control over the futures of cricketers only makes further sense.

But as I said, these observations reveals as much about the journalists as they do about Zulqarnain.

Considering that both Osman and Dileep take great pride in not being part of the hysterical ‘journalistic’ mobs that seem to believe that they always know what’s best, being courted as one of those odious journos must be an affront.

Moreover their ethics probably force them to deplore the celebrity treatment that journalists themselves seem to get and relish, and as such Zulqarnain’s antics must come across in rather bad taste.

And perhaps as grown up men, they have yet to come to terms with the mixture of incredible banality and ruthless social climbing that defines the Facebook experience, particularly for the generation Zulqarnain belongs to.

When you are an award winning and respected journalist, it might be difficult to understand how and why this generation seeks so much of its validation through Facebook likes, twitter followers and blog comments.

So, does all this mean that I am absolving Zulqarnain of all his sins? That Osman and Dileep are wrong?

No.

Sitting here, pretending to be working in my office, I am in no position to refute the words of two men who spent time actually digging up leads instead of some quick Google searches. And more importantly, many of the points raised by both men stand to reason, and require us to delve deeper into this whole sorry affair.

But guys, maybe there are some things about poor old Zulqi that don’t deserve the condemnation.

After all, I have spent several hours in the smoking area trying to befriend Osman when he came for an interview at Dawn News, and I keep trying to get Dileep to follow me on twitter, but as far as I know I haven’t been involved in any attention seeking asylum behavior.

Not yet anyway.

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Article by Ahmer Naqvi