So what happens when two hugely popular anchor persons get married to one another? Are they as argumentative at home with one another as they are when discussing issues with their guests? Do they manage to get any free time at all? Were they different people at home from how they are perceived on screen? To get answers to all our queries the Kaptaan Times met with Kashif Abbasi of ARY News and Meher Bokhari of Dawn News at their house, over a lovely pizza and salad and did a Q&A to see what real life was like for them.
Q. Both your shows are very popular. How do you choose the issues you want to discuss in your programmes? Are you free to choose your own content?
K. Absolutely. I have complete independence in deciding the content. I think the level of trust builds up over time too.
M. Yes. I’ve never met the owners in 2 years that I have worked at Dawn News. They are fantastic employers. It may be difficult for Kashif, perhaps, to stay neutral but not for me.
K – No, not at all. Luqman and I always differ. That’s the beauty of it all. I can maintain my individual opinion within the team and that’s why I’ve lasted so long at ARY.
Q. One would imagine that both of you probably discuss current events a lot at home too. Does that happen?
M. You would be surprised, not at all. Unless something really exceptional happens current events are the last thing we talk about at home!
K. Yes it can never happen that we come home and hear a live speech going on so we start discussing it. No way.
M. It can only be something very, very unusual for us to do that. It happened once or twice during the dharna if something really out of the blue, or a game-changer, then yes it can happen.
Q. How do you manage your time together? Do you have any time left over for your marriage at all?
K. You would be surprised. We have ample time. That’s what most people don’t know. My slots are 8 to 10 and the programs are live. Of course one has to be informed about developments as they happen but one does not have to be in the office itself for very long.
M. I’ve changed my office timings after Khadija was born. And now with Khadija my hours have changed even further. I drop her at school in the morning then go to work for 2 hours. I pick her up when she’s done and I’m with her for most of the day. I go to work again from 5:00 to 6:00 pm. We also have a long weekend because our shows are from Monday to Thursdays.
One wouldn’t think so from the outside but it’s a great career for women. Nobody has a problem with flexible hours, as long as your work is good.
K. People don’t realize that even when we are socializing we are on the job. We are gauging opinions getting perspectives whoever we are with, which in turn helps us in our analysis of a situation.
M. Yes, that’s why I would say we are on the job 24/7, because we cannot afford not to be abreast of developments as they happen.
Q. How do you compare our news programs with India’s current event shows? Do you think we are at par with say, Barkha Dutt?
K. We are better, in my opinion.
M. We have a lot more freedom to express ourselves.
K. “Pakistan mein India par koi baat nahi hoti” (In Pakistan, India is hardly ever discussed) but they are quite Pakistan-centric. Even when none exist they readily concoct stories about Pakistan.
Q. Why are we are so far away from civilized shows as seen on the western media?
K. The west does not get as many issues in a year I think as we get in a week! I’ll give you an example – I’m standing outside Lal Masjid informing people about the blasts that are going on with mess all around and suddenly we hear that Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf have met in Dubai. Every instant, there emerges a game-changer in Pakistani politics. Therefore, the excitability of our events never quite subsides.
Q. Who’s your inspiration professionally?
K. Talat Hussain – he’s the one I started working with. I have learnt a lot from him.
M. I don’t have a role model but I have learnt a lot form Kashif. I have gone through a lot and experienced all kinds of highs and lows during a short span. He’s taught me how to get back up whenever I’m down.
Q. Can this be one of the reasons why you…
M. Married him? (laughing). Absolutely not.
Q. Were you enamored by him?
M. To be honest with you, I actually never followed him on TV. I didn’t know anything about him on his show. The first time he was pointed out to me was by a friend, and later on by an aunt as well, who said he’s a nice guy and that we would look good together.
Q. What makes an anchor stand out?
M. Knowledge – But unfortunately, mediocrity is accepted in Pakistan. Misery sells and lies are sexy.
Q. Kashif, is yours a political background?
K. Oh yes, very much so. We were the original, staunch Jiyalas that were the hallmarks of the People’s Party. My father’s house in Rawalpindi was burnt by workers of Muslim League. My father, unfortunately, died at a very early age. Being a political prisoner had an adverse effect on his health.
Q. Did it take its toll financially when your father died so young, with so many political enemies as well?
K. I was 3 years old when he died. Initially, it became tough. My mother was married at 16-17, and she became a widow at 22. Coming from a very traditional and conservative family, suddenly she was confronted with ugly property disputes within the family.
M. She is amazing. She is probably the first woman from her area who took off her veil to take on the world, in order to fight for her children’s rights. Her stories are awe-inspiring, how she worked and saved to put her two sons into Aitchison.
K. When my father died, it took a few years for my mother to learn all alien things and become street smart, but she did it. She even built a plaza, and was probably the first person to do that in Rawalpindi.
Q. Who else lives with you?
M. Hahaha (laughing). Mashallah, everybody. Kashif’s brother, his wife and their 3 kids are upstairs. Aunty and we are downstairs. It’s a joint-family system.
K. Even when we were getting engaged, this was the first thing I made clear to Meher –living independently was not an option for me.
M. I don’t mind living in a joint set-up at all. In fact love the many conveniences it affords and I think like the concept of a full house.
K. Till today, nobody has the keys to the main door.
M. We all come through ‘Amma’s’ room. Everybody has to go and come from Amma’s room no matter what time of the night. (Meher enjoys the looks of surprise on our faces and comments that that’s the reaction she gets from her friends also). My own mother is very progressive, but very religious as well. So since childhood, we were taught about Namaz, Quran, Surah-e-Yaseen and it was engraved in our minds that where people stay together there is ‘barkat’.
Q. Kashif, you played cricket as well?
K. I played cricket for the Pindi Under-19 team. My dream was to go professional. But my mother said ‘no’. She said, ‘who has put this in your mind? There are 15 crore (150 million) people in Pakistan out of which only 11 are going to play for the team. So that was that for my cricket.
Q. Meher have you been interested in sports?
M. I was in the Pakistan National Swimming Team, and got tremendous support from home. My mother really encouraged me. She made sure that I never missed a practice session.
Q. So in your household, it was also your mother who was the driving force?
M. Oh yes, and she still is. I’m very close to my dad as well, and my chacha who raised me and who also lives with us.
M. But the driving force remains my mother, who happens to be my biggest critic as well.
Q. Tell us about Khadija. How has she changed your life?
M. Amazing. I have always loved children. But I’m going to be very honest with you – for the first few months after Khadija was born it was very upsetting. It wasn’t that I was not happy. Both of us were thrilled. We always wanted a big family but the changes it brought were overwhelming for me, and I don’t think I was ready at that time. I went through post-natal depression. Most people don’t talk about it but they should. Kashif was very gentle with me throughout this time (giving him a smile) but now it’s just amazing, I just can’t get over it. It’s so, so amazing to be a parent. I can’t imagine a life without Khadija.
K. (One word) – ‘Game Changer’.
Q. Kashif, your favorite sports personality?
K. Inzi (Inzamam-ul-Haq). I also follow football so Maradona too, 1986 final is the best match I’ve ever seen. Just went to Brazil to see the Final as well!
Q. Who did your families vote for?
M. My mother-in-law voted for PTI. My brother-in-law as well. We had a huge PTI flag outside our house.
Q. What would you say to our expatriate community who follow you so diligently?
K. Come back to Pakistan. You have to build Pakistan. You have to help Pakistan. Little or big, you have to do it no matter what anybody says.
M. I came back. When I graduated, I was supposed to stay on in Canada. My parents supported the idea but I voluntarily came back and it was the best decision I made in my life.
Q. Do you see Pakistan coming out stronger out of this current political scenario?
M. We certainly hope so. Given the way these people are going, a lot of political parties are still not convinced that this system needs to be corrected. They lack conviction. In the absence of that, we can only hope.
Q. In the recent past, we’ve seen that popular support is on one side and the Parliament is on the other side.
K. I think that’s an oversimplification but I do agree that something’s got to give. When people stand up for their rights, you cannot stop them. You can stall them but you cannot stop them. This disparity between rich and poor will have to go!