Fasi Zaka is a television host, satirist, political columnist, radio talk show host, music critic, academic and Rhodes Scholar in Pakistan. He is recognized for being one of the few media polymaths in Pakistan with a successful presence in print, television and radio. He is a public intellectual who employs humor from a political and democratic perspective in his media forays. Because of this extensive presence, he was declared one of Pakistan’s newsmakers of the year in 2006.
Laaltain: Through your writings you have been a source of guidance to the students. How was your own student life?
Fasi: It was a mixed bag. I don’t look at all parts of my educational history fondly. I did very poorly in my F.Sc. and found life very awkward at that stage. I guess educationally the really positive times I remember was when I was doing my BA from Edwardes College in Peshawar. I had a lot of free time then to read and I discovered my intellectual passions then, plus the friends I made at that stage were great, like me they have slipped from the grind of F.sc into an uncertain future. I enjoyed my time in my MBA at Peshawar University too, some great teachers who really inspired me to do better for myself.
Laaltain: How did you succeed in winning Rhodes scholarship and how was the whole experience of studying in Oxford?
Fasi: I guess the Rhodes scholarship came down to luck. Many of the people I was in competition with in the interviews were brilliant, and there was little to separate us. But it was a life changing experience for me. There is no substitute for meeting people of different races and places. That internationalized some of my perspectives, and also opened up my interest in different areas of academics through the friends I made. Also, it helped me think of my country in a different way, it removed me from it for the first time so I could reflect on what I wanted as a Pakistani.
Laaltain: When and how did your professional life start?
Fasi: I started teaching at university right after my MBA before I went to Oxford, and when I finished up I went back to the Institute of Management Sciences (IMSciences) in Peshawar to teach undergraduate and postgraduate students. It was one of the best parts of my work life. In the media it started by chance when Zeeshan Parwez and I started On the Fringe for Indus Music (later MTV), and from there on radio and writing.
Laaltain: You graduated in education policy but chose to work more in media. How would you relate the both fields?
Fasi: Well, teaching at its most basic level is about communication. And all communications transmit information or understanding so both are entwined. I chose media and communications eventually when I realized I wanted a larger remit to work on, and the media encapsulates that rather than sector specific work in education.
Laaltain: What do you think about the educational curriculum in Pakistan? Does it fulfill needs of modern time?
Fasi: Yes and no. The essence of what is taught is comparable to the rest of the world, but not how it is taught and evaluated. Information reproduction is thought of as the central aim, not thinking and evaluating that information. Some social science subjects at school level are taught atrociously because they serve to make Pakistanis servile with a false sense of history. One major problem in Pakistan is access to education, it is denied to too many people. But even those who receive one unfortunately do not end up critical thinkers, something we desperately need in these times.
Laaltain: What helped you most to become so creative, productive and build such a reputation in media?
Fasi: Well, thanks for putting it that way, but unfortunately I don’t think that is true. In Pakistan’s media I am but a footnote. But the productivity across different areas is due to my tendency to feel bored and depressed if I have little to do, which is why I work across mediums. I still have a long way to go before I can claim to have legitimate presence.
Laaltain: You are well aware of developments of last decade in Pakistan’s media especially that of electronic. How do you view it in a broader perspective?
Fasi: Good and bad. The media has served the interests of the disenfranchised well in some respects; it brings accountability that does not exist sometimes in constituencies between those who vote and the elected. However, it undo’s its good by allowing hate mongers on TV that have reduced it to reproducing uninformed opinion and damaging efforts at populism.
Laaltain: What do you think what sort of circumstances you could have been facing today if whatever you have written so far were in Urdu instead of English?
Fasi: Well, I have personally tried. I had an agreement with a newspaper that all my English columns be translated into Urdu, but the editor rejects all my columns saying it will create uproar. I don’t think that’s as true today as it once was, but people’s apprehensions haven’t caught up yet with changing circumstances. But yes, if the people read what was being said in English there are chances of reprisals. This linguistic apartheid has helped create two nations in Pakistan, each of whom holds radically different views on the same topics in the news at any moment because the two languages are reporting them differently.
Laaltain: Your efforts to counter rightist jingoist narrative in Pakistan have been impressive. How would you measure the level of your success?
Fasi: Not much. I think it’s helped open the atmosphere in critiquing the media in some very small way because there are others who are doing the same, but the real power base lies in television now with talk shows, which unfortunately are doing the opposite.
Laaltain: What main factors according to you have contributed to the increasing extremist tendencies among Pakistani youth?
Fasi: Primarily it is our unwillingness to address those who hijack religion for political and power purposes. The lack of opportunities and regard for merit creates despondency, and this is all pervasive. When one can’t see a future, they start to mythologize a new society they think will come from the ashes of violence. It’s a short cut with devastating results.
Laaltain: What is the history of social satire in Pakistan? What place it has in the current scenario? And what advantages it has over other styles?
Fasi: Well, the mainstay of great social satire has been PTV in Pakistan’s history. It’s remarkable that other than their propagandist Khabarnama, the work in entertainment has been of incredibly high quality, it’s been art that has stood the test of time with programs like Kaliyaan, 50:50 and others. Since then there have been many, like ‘Hum Sub Umeed Say Hain’ and ‘4Man Show’ who have done a good job amongst many others. The best part about satire is it is entertainment; a great point can be driven home with the rapt attention of the viewer or reader. While the language is non-serious, the theme certainly isn’t. Plus there are a lot of things one cannot say in a mainstream news program that can be easily done via satire.
Laaltain: What message do you have for youth to contribute positively for making a better a Pakistan?
Fasi: I would suggest to them that change will not come from a radical revolution, but incremental steps. Start with cleaning their street, with raising their voice if someone cuts in line, respecting a red traffic light even if there is no traffic. These small things will build the social capital we need to be a more just and effective society. And lastly, accept different points of view.