By Maliha Rehman
Designer HSY has always known how to wield glamour. This has meant that he throws infamous star-studded parties, that the front row is clustered with famous faces at his fashion shows and that masses approach him on the red carpet for selfies. With a career that now spans 27 years, Shero’s huge network of friends and the immense goodwill that he has is undeniable. When this goodwill is utilized for a greater purpose it can lead to an event that is extremely special – far more, perhaps, than even the most high-flying celebrity soiree.
This is what came to mind following the ‘Tuk Tuk March’ by HSY in collaboration with NOWPDP, a non-profit organization working towards the inclusion of people with disabilities in areas of education and economic empowerment. As the organization’s Ambassador, HSY chose to create mileage for the March by inviting in a selection of his friends from the media. The purpose behind the event was to inaugurate a fleet of rickshaws especially devised to be operable by people who could not walk. By utilizing these rickshaws, the disabled could achieve financial independence and have more purpose in their lives. According to NOWPDP’s CEO Omair Ahmed, the drivers had all received training for two months and would be driving out the first fleet of rickshaws on to the road by next week. “We are also working on an even more specialized fleet that should be ready to be used by the end of Ramzan,” he added.
Even without the stars in attendance, it was a worthy cause that deserved attention. But the stars’ presence could possibly make more people aware of the cause and perhaps make them ponder for some more time over the plight of the disabled.
Shero with some of his celebrity guests before the event started: Mahira Khan, Ayesha Omar, Wasim Akram, Bilal Ashraf and Sanam Saeed
And Shero hadn’t invited just any stars. His guests at the event were some of Pakistan’s most successful A-listers: Mahira Khan, Maya Ali, Humayun Saeed, Wasim Akram, Sanam Saeed, Ayesha Omar, Feroze Khan and Bilal Ashraf. It was all very exciting, not just for people viewing clips from the event on social media but also for the members of NOWPDP, cheering in the audience, many of them on wheelchairs. Later in the ceremony, some of the disabled took the celebrities on a test rickshaw ride. “I feel like I am dreaming,” said Aakash, the driver who drove me and Mahira Khan in our rickshaw ride through a small patch of Saddar, Karachi.
There was more to the ceremony, though, than just the fanfare and dhol dhamaka which accompanied the rickshaw rides. The stars weren’t there just to be photographed or to sit in rickshaws. The glamour quotient was there but so was the significance of the NOWPDP mission of empowering the disabled. In a Q&A session, Shero asked the stars questions related to the topic. In a world where there is growing awareness regarding inclusivity and rights, stars have strong social voices. Many of them want to initiate change and highlight causes that they feel strongly about. Their conversations on stage were inspiring.
“We all have some disability or the other. There is something in all of us which is not entirely perfect,” said Mahira Khan. “The narratives in our films and dramas need to change. Instead of gravitating towards pity, we need to start elevating the disabled as heroes, depicting them as people who lead normal lives, go to work, fall in love…”
Wasim Akram observed, “The disabled don’t want pity, they want jobs just like everyone else. These specially created vehicles are such an amazing initiative. NOWPDP’s drivers will drive them, earn a living and feel a confidence within themselves.”
“It’s considered quite normal to make fun of people because of their weaknesses, it may be because of their skin color or weight or because they are differently abled,” said Sanam Saeed. “This needs to be changed particularly at the grass-root level, in schools, where teachers interact with a diverse range of students. And as actors, we can also make an effort to tell stories that do not discriminate or ridicule anyone on the basis of their weaknesses.”
Maya Ali, in a sincere speech, stated, “I feel that we can learn so much from the disabled. They face their lives with such strength and hope while smiling. Today, when I go home, I’ll be thanking Allah repeatedly for all that He has given me … And there is so much that I can’t do but they can do. I can’t drive a tuk tuk but they can, I sometimes find it so hard to smile easily but they are doing it!”
In a poignant monologue, Humayun Saeed talked about living with his brother Babar who is differently abled. “For the past 25 years, I have been seeing his struggles … there are so many details that are important to the way they (the differently abled) lead their lives. They have to avoid bed sores, need good wheelchairs … when we are going somewhere, we plan out who will be taking him (Babar). There needs to be a car where a wheelchair can be fitted in and if four people are in a car then he can’t go. The government needs to make lives easier for them by placing ramps, allotting special seating for them and also, making jobs available for them. My brother’s main issue has always been that he wants to work. He is far more passionate about finding work than I have ever been!”
Bilal Ashraf reminisced about how he had tested out one of NOWPDP’s special rickshaws some years ago and gone on a ride around Sea View Karachi. “I feel motivated by looking at the differently abled, they are so determined, talented and passionate. I feel that we need to globally make a difference towards the way the disabled are treated by using our individual social media platforms to send out relevant messages.”
“Self-sufficiency is extremely important,” stressed Ayesha Omar. “My mother was a widow who raised my brother and me on her own. I, myself, was in a terrible accident some years ago. Five of my bones got broken. I could have died or gotten paralyzed in that accident. Physical disabilities can impair any one of us, at any time. This is why I particularly align myself with organizations that empower people with skill sets rather than just offer financial help or charity.”
Similarly, Feroze Khan said, “We all have our own disabilities … I believe that if you can ease someone’s burden in anyway, just do it. This initiative will be helping out so many and all of us need to similarly do our bit.”
The heartfelt Q&A session – which made me wonder whether HSY should try his hand at Ramzan show hosting! – was followed by the beat of dhols, bhangra and rickshaws taking off onto Saddar with their celebrity passengers. The euphoria was amazing – and like nothing I had ever seen before. The celebrities, media and NOWPDP entourage blew on whistles and shook pompoms into the air. Bilal Ashraf and HSY danced on the road to the beats of the drum. Maya Ali peered out from her rickshaw, blowing her whistle, her hair splayed out behind her, Rapunzel-like.
Sitting in a rickshaw with Mahira Khan, I got an exclusive peek into the massive star power the actress wields. The rickshaw was constantly thronged by fans asking for selfies. Young boys traveling down the road would inadvertently glance inside our rickshaw and would be completely taken by shock when they saw Mahira there! People waved, screamed that they loved her. “I want you to film him, instead of me,” Mahira kept insisting at the video cameras following her adamantly, pointing towards our rickshaw driver who was smiling from ear to ear.
Following the rickshaw rides, many of the stars stayed on, continuously taking selfies with fans. What was significant, though, was the way the conversation kept diverting towards NOWPDP’s purpose. They were there not to promote a personal project or to win an award but to support a cause that they felt strongly about, that every one of us should feel strongly about.
“We celebrated in such a way that I felt today we were all winners. Aaj hum sub kee jeet hai. I have achieved a lot for myself in my life. Now, I feel that what truly makes me happy is when I am of use to someone. I hope that I get many more opportunities to help people,” said a teary-eyed Shero, talking to me as the event wrapped up.
What came to my mind at that point was that only Shero could have staged an event like this, replete with celebrity clout, excitement and a sincere love for giving back. Charity events tend to be serious affairs, with speeches and statistical data forming the main theme. They may mean well but in their seriousness, they are unable to attract in enough attention from the masses. What Shero and NOWPDP masterminded was an event that mixed in cerebral discussions with frivolity. Many of us may not have understood NOWPDP’s mission before this – or thought at length about how the disabled struggle to find purpose to their lives – but now, so many people do.
And like I said before, Shero knows how to wield glamour, stage events, create razzmatazz. But this time, this event, meant so much more than any glitzy celebrity soiree.