April, 2018

By Javed Ansari

Writing a piece on Javed Jabbar is a bewildering task. The word ‘multi-faceted’ in the English language is for this man. It fits him like a glove. He is into everything. He is an advertising professional, a writer, politician, intellectual, scholar, mass communications expert, a volunteer for many causes, an advocate for media freedom and has been many times a minister in different governments. He was minister of state for information and then science and technology under Benazir Bhutto in her first stint as prime minister, minister of petroleum in the interim government of Malik Mairaj Khalid and then a minister of infrormation and national affairs under President Pervez Musharraf.

One has known him initially as an ad man. He used to be a copywriter at JWT (the original American ad agency). After that he joined IAL and wrote many gems of advertising copy for PIA. IAL was the in-house advertising agency of PIA then. But Javed probably felt too constricted there. He was looking for a wider canvas than what he was working on. So he opened MNJ Communications. The M was for Majeed Ahmad, the N for Nafees Ghaznavi and the J for Javed Jabbar. Sadly, none of his other two partners are alive anymore.

Javed’s agency moved on from MNJ Advertising to MNJ Communications because Javed Jabbar always took the wider view that advertising was a form of communications and that an advertising agency was always performing the task of communications whether working above the line or below.

Though Javed was running MNJ quite successfully in those days (the 70s), the film-maker in him suddenly woke up and he launched himself into making a full length feature film called ‘Beyond the Last Mountain,’ which he wrote, directed and produced, all by himself. Perhaps he was prompted into the starting the venture because he had made several creative documentaries by then, appeared on PTV to conduct a current affairs programme and was behind all the great commercials made for various MNJ clients. It is a fact that when Javed turned to making the feature film, his advertising business suffered because his attention was now divided. Perhaps that was the beginning of the end of MNJ though it folded up many years later.

Like the one major event in Imran Khan’s life is the World Cup that Pakistan won in 1992, Javed Jabbar is known for holding the only Pakistan Advertising Congress so far, in 1979, and the AdAsia Congress in Lahore in 1989. The country has not won the World Cup after 1992 and AdAsia has not been held in Pakistan after the first and only such event that Javed pushed and organized in 1989.

Javed Jabbar did not stay put as an ad man alone. So wide have been his interests and such is his veracity in everything that holds his attention that politics was his next stop. Like many young men and women in those days, the Pakistan Peoples Party seemed to fascinate him because it carried a message of progressiveness and he was chosen as a minster in Benazir Bhutto’s government. Perhaps BB liked to be surrounded by more bright people like him to successfully take Pakistan forward but she did not meet with much success in this respect. The only other person perhaps,
who could deliver on Benazir’s dreams was Shahnaz Wazir Ali but Benazir’s government could not last for much long.

Though very much into politics and a PPP person, Javed Jabbar was never a jiyala or a man of jalsas. So he chose to be a senator. He came on the technocrat seat from Sindh and served his allotted six years in the upper house with due diligence.
Much before the PPP’s party was over and MNJ had begun losing its sheen, Javed turned to other areas of communication like writing articles and books with more focus on national issues and going around the world lecturing. Baahn Beli, an NGO that Javed had established to work for women’s education in the far reaches of
Tharparkar, also took up a lot of his time. When he was picked up by General Musharraf as a minister, he served the cabinet for some time though this ceased to inspire him after he had been with the general’s government and saw its inner workings and he sought leave from the general.

Javed Jabbar is a communicator in whatever he does and his towering personality, both in the literal and metaphorical sense, plays a great role in this. In fact, it would be appropriate to say that the manner in which he performs as a communicator in his chosen areas has not been equalled by any other person in Pakistan.

He is highly committed to the endeavours of getting his basic message across to a wider public. The message is that Pakistan is a proper nation and has a distinct identity of its own. In evolving the message and propagating it through his various books and articles, he realized at some stage that by only writing in English and making speeches and presentations in that language, he was not getting across to as many people as he wanted. That is when he thought he must learn the Urdu language properly and speak it because it was the national language and the language of the masses.

Now, when he is spoken to in Urdu, both on air and off it, he speaks chaste Urdu and makes sure that not a single word of English creeps into his comments. Educated Pakistanis generally speak Urdu with a generous smattering of English words thrown in. Wherever they have a problem conveying their thoughts, they use an English word or expression but not Javed Jabbar. He makes sure that he speaks Urdu in the manner that it should be spoken and he makes sure that he does not use heavy words so that he is understood by a wide audience. Having had an education that involved a greater knowledge of English and subsequently pursuing the copywriting profession in advertising where knowing better than good English was a basic requirement, he probably never got to use Urdu, which is his mother tongue since he belongs to a family that hails from Hyderabad in India.

He must have faced a lot of problems in the beginning in speaking fluent Urdu and one noticed then that he groped for appropriate words. But it goes to the credit of the man that he overcame the problem and now when he is addressed to in Urdu, he responds in perfect Urdu. So far, none of his writings have appeared in Urdu but knowing the man, he must be working hard on it and his next book or article may just be in Urdu – not a translated version but an original piece!
An enduring memory that brings out the real Javed Jabbar is one, many years ago, when he was a minister in the Musharraf government and appeared in the BBC programme called ‘HardTalk.’ The substance of the discussion is a bit hard to recall here but having refused to being bullied by the interviewer and not Tim Sebastian but a woman in this case, the programme ended with the woman interviewer holding her head in frustration after she had thanked Javed Jabbar for his candid answers, as the shot faded out!

The film-maker in Javed has also not died down completely and many years back, he wrote and produced the film ‘Ramchand Pakistani,’ which was directed by his daughter Mehreen Jabbar and won critical acclaim around the world. His son Kamal did not take to his father’s pursuits and is a barrister while Javed’s wife Shabnam is a business entrepreneur. Javed Jabbar spends most of his time writing, doing the Karachi social circuit and travelling abroad quite frequently. At present, he is the Chairman and Chief Executive of JJ Media (Pvt.) Ltd., a company dedicated to producing distinctive content for diverse media. That is probably because he wishes to maintain his links with the communication sector..

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