Salmaan Taseer: Ghetto prince of gutter poets

Published: January 26, 2011

My only regret is that I wish I had spent more time with him.

It was a hot April Fool’s day when I first heard the gruff voice of the Governor of Punjab on the phone. Naturally, I thought it was one of my friend’s playing a prank on me. To think that the Governor himself would pick up the phone and call me- what a heresy in a land dictated by status and protocol!

As the conversation continued, my doubts about whether it was really the governor himself grew. When he asked if I was Scottish, I was stunned into silence. My preconceived notions of all government officials being idiots evaporated, and I realised I must be talking to the real thing.

Years of travelling have diluted my Scottish accent and, I was sick of constantly being asked if I was Irish or even American. Not many people could so easily guess where I am from – I was eager to meet this enigma.

Salmaan Taseer hired me with my mane cut in the latest mullet style from the streets of Harajuku and dyed a brilliant red. Utterly unfazed, he was far more interested in my technological and multimedia skills and, thereafter, referred to me as “my techie” although it was never to my face. In the colonial monstrosity that constitutes the Governor House of the Punjab, the governor always treated me like a princess, with utmost regard and respect for my skills and abilities and the deepest care for my well being in a politically cut-throat environment.

There are things about ST I will never forget: the rock and roll boots he had on under his suit when we went to meet the President of Turkey; the way he would concentrate and chomp into his food as though the whole universe had shrunk down to the size of his plate (he would only ever look up occasionally and grunt at me to eat something, while I would pick despondently at the latest unrecognisable concoction prepared by the Governor House chef). I loved that he would order food from outside because, like me, he didn’t seem too fond of what the chef had to offer. I will never forget how his cigar ash would constantly fall on his kameez (shirt) and he would ever-so-absent-mindedly and unsuccessfully whack it away.

I will never forget an incident that occurred when we were driving hundreds of miles to visit the flood victims in the ‘chaks’ and ‘bastis’ (tiny villages) of South Punjab. It was the dead of the monsoon season, and so humid that all of us on his team with touch phones were very quickly left with dead machines. The Governor’s blackberry and iPhone stopped responding too.

Always having great confidence in me, he handed both phones over and said “Do something!” I just laughed and sat at the side of the stage while he told the people of Kot Addu that he had not abandoned them (this was the second time he had visited them) and that he would come again with more cheques and relief items. After his speech was over he sat on a sofa on the middle of the stage and looked over at me, sweating and struggling to cope with the crush of human bodies. He smiled and held up his hand in a gesture to ask me if I was okay, knowing it was an atmosphere I was not used to. I reassured him by gesture that I was fine. But he wasn’t convinced and sent three of his men to get me out of the rush of people and back to my car safely.

I never knew the “governor”… I only ever knew Salmaan Taseer, a man with a vision so broad that he was in the process of launching a global campaign to project a softer image of Pakistan, and a heart so caring that he would keep a check on the most ostensibly insignificant of his employees. That was the key to his success as a businessman, who could simultaneously see the macro and the micro and gave equal attention to both, and his legacy as a humanist and a revolutionary.

Of all the people that knew Salmaan Taseer and have eulogised him, I knew him for the shortest span of time. And my only regret with his passing is that I wish I could have spent more time with him.

However, I find solace in the fact that I had a highly unique role as his teacher, advisor and chronicler. As a student, Salmaan Taseer was a pure joy to teach. At the age of 66, not only was he able to pick up the thrust and parry of the Twitterverse lightning fast, but he would come back a few days later and tell me 10 things I never knew before. He had hardly even touched a computer before, and within days he was RT-ing and DM-ing people all over the place!

His appetite for learning was voracious to say the least, and since neither of us suffered fools gladly, we had a working relationship that was truly in sync. He had an uncanny ability to sniff a rising trend. Not once did I have to explain to him the importance of having a formidable web presence and how eventually his cyber-existence would come to mean more than the little footprints left in the here-today-gone-tomorrow world of traditional electronic media.

In the time I spent working for him, we built a lasting cyber legacy that surpasses that of every single politician or high profile Pakistani. Every official engagement is documented on his official website in the form of photos, videos and words. Every thought and opinion is displayed unabashedly for the world’s perusal on his Twitter. Not a fake bone in his body, we would often laugh at the “cheesiness” of the Tweets of government officials. Salmaan Taseer had no concept of how to toe the party line and even if he did, he wouldn’t have done it.

In collaboration with the legendary beat poet Allen Ginsberg, the original punk rocker Joe Strummer of The Clash sang about “The Ghetto Prince of Gutter Poets” and how he was “bounced out of the room by the bodyguards of greed”. For me, Salmaan Taseer will always be the revolutionary prince who upheld the true socialist and humanist ideals of the PPP decades after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s judicial assassination. While the other original party workers grew into fat and placid businessmen for whom Bhutto’s dream was relegated to a time when the world was full of idealistic fervour, for Taseer the dream was a living reality. While his prodigious intelligence and acumen assured him a business fiefdom like few others, he tired of the “bourgeois life”. It was politics and the public realm that truly quickened his pulse. Street-wise, quick-witted and a genuine aficionado of the arts, the Salmaan Taseer in my mind is the true ghetto prince of gutter poets.

A more detailed version of this post can be read here.


Sobbia Saleem

A multimedia journalist who served as media consultant to Governor Salmaan Taseer.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Zehra

    Great post.Recommend

  • The Only Normal Person Here.

    Heart felt post. Well done there.Recommend

  • Dr. Ali Ahmed

    lucky u i guess.. to me he was a mentor, the humanity lost humanity, Recommend

  • Anonymous

    a lovely account of someone who was a large personality in Pakistan when so many other feared to be. It’s not about morals or celebrating what is right or wrong, but rather mourning the fact that someone, anyone.. was murdered. It’s a nice vantage point with which to see the old governor. his tweets and nature of business made him a lot closer to the public than other political/ government personalities and this article has managed to do just that- show the real side of Taseer that shows him as a person – not a political target, not a perpetual sunglasses wearing liberal…just a person, a real person. Recommend

  • Fizza Hassan

    Well written. I feel so sorry for Pakistan to have a nation like us; cruel, extremist, opportunist and narrow-minded. Recommend

  • Majid Maqsood

    Beautiful tribute to our great hero Salman Taseer.Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    No offence but can anyone tell me that was he an able governor? Do not write ‘she saved Aasia’ because it does not float.

    Futhermore, to kill your joy, I am equally appalled by his murderer.Recommend

  • Mariam

    Feeling sad after reading this.Recommend

  • tajamul butt

    i dont know why we do need an explaniation in detail for everything
    a lady tries to discuss salman taseer knowing him for a brief time,what about the bodygaurd who was meant for his gaurd,being with him why didnt the personality of taseer affected him
    who is correct then the lady or the gaurd bcoz both cant be correct

    why does it happen in islamic republic of pakistan,people behaving so,why does pakistan top the porn search of google not in other field r we really wrong?do we really need taliban actionRecommend

  • Sidra Janjua

    Well written, though I don’t know much about this guy’s politics. Only thing is the term “Ghetto prince of gutter poets” sounds like you are describing a showy guy who is a role model for cheap people, instead of what you actually described as a caring, interesting person.Recommend

  • Tanzeel

    You again reminded me of him, wish he were alive…wish!!Recommend

  • ikram

    I am a sports journalist i personally met the martyred governor. He was incredible human being. I am particularly satisfied and proud of him because he is the only shaheed from Punjab. I always cursed the fact that our Punjabi politicians are timid and self-centric but now we have a legacy of a real fighter.

  • Haris Masood Zuberi

    Great read Sobbia! Many thanks for sharing your memories of the legend. Recommend

  • Schazad

    Great article. I really miss him but I think its too late because the mindset which took his life, has gone deep down in the veins of our society. I see written on the wall for Pakistan. Too few sane voices in own circle even. I have to constantly arguing over stuff with my own friends even whom I have been for so long now.

    This is just wrong. I am getting hopeless day by day….Recommend

  • Zarmeena

    The most appaling cruelty is that when a murderer brutally kills an innocent in cold blood and our so-called Muslim brothers and sisters watch an innocent dying.Then we get to see our so-called Muslim brothers and sisters celebrating a murder in the name of Islam. And wait because the worse is yet to come when you get to see our same so-called Muslim brothers and sisters crowning a ruthless killer.

    Those who are celebrating this murder,they don’t even come under the category of Human Beings. They know nothing about Islam and then they call themselves Muslims. What is a Muslim? A brutal killer? Or a murderer’s supporter?

    Its my humble request to the people please clear your visions and open up your minds.If someone hasn’t read the whole case of Aasia then please consult websites ,its everywhere in the news.Do not rely completely on media since our media has been quite misleading. Express channel had expressed their apologies on the 2nd day of Salman Taser’s murder,for the wrong manipulation of news regarding him which had made the public rebellious.

    Sobbia! It is a quite well written article.
    “Salman Taser Shaheed will always be remembered”

  • parvez

    For the man on the road like myself Salman Taseer was just another politician another businessman. Your account gives him a very humane, caring almost tender complexion in addition to the quality of believing in himself and his convictions for which he paid the ultimate price.Recommend

  • http://F Shureeya

    hertfet/real/good. Gov Salmaan Taseer u will rule our hearts 4 everRecommend

  • AnjabeenShah

    A very interesting piece indeed which gives us insight into the Great Man’s personal life somewhat. Howevere l agree that the title is rather misleading.
    What really really alarms me is how the greater part of our citizens considers the deceitful and vile act of a murderer ‘heroic’. And how my young son received congratulatory messages from almost all his class fellows in college after this horrendous event. If our 18-20 years old generation is already effected by this school of thought, who is going to save our nation from the disasters of extremism, discrimination, bias …and mass murder when they come into power. Who is EVER going to tell the world what TRUE Islam is?Recommend

  • Sam

    @Dr. Ali Ahmed:
    I second your comment !Recommend

  • ayesha

    visiters click on this link n give opinion on religious tolerance

  • nasir

    A very well written piece indeed Sobbia and no doubt Pakistan has lost a great statesman. However i m disappointed that Salman Taseer”s party has somewhat distanced itself from what he believed in and it would have been a lasting legacy if the party had continued with ensuring the blasphemy law is not abused. Pakistan needs more heroes and down to earth politicians and Salman was indeed a peoples man. May he RIP.Recommend

  • Fawzia

    A wonderful Tribute. He rules our heart. We will miss U always. Wish U were alive, The world would have been a better place to live in.Recommend