The Governor Of Us All

He was the ‘Governator’ – even more than Arnold – and it was because of his never-ending collection of wrap-around sunglasses.

I asked him what he felt about such infamy the last time I met him, and like everything in his life – serious or stupid – Salman Taseer incredulously laughed it off.

What about ‘Teflon Taseer’ and ‘Billionaire Jiyala’, I pushed.

All I got was a ‘you’re cute, kid’ look and a ‘lets get on with it’ response.

It was my second interaction with Taseer, and one of the toughest shows I’ve ever conducted.

I’ve interviewed Salman Taseer twice – once, for Indus News in 2004, the next time for Dawn News in 2009.

It was during the second interview that I was reminded – directly and not very politely – that the only reason I was granted an exclusive at the governor’s mansion in Lahore – a rare feat after Governor’s Rule was implemented in early 2009 – was because of our first interview.

“You asked me this question which still bothers me, so I chose you from all the other requests I had for interviews,” he declared before the recording started, looking down his desk, cutting a Cohiba with a complicated blade.

What question, I asked.

He pretended to struggle with his thoughts, and then mumbled that it was something critical about his newspaper, the Daily Times.

How had I managed to still stay in his thoughts, I asked again. The Times is one of the most screamed-about papers in the country.

‘You called it my ‘pet-project’ and my ‘personal P.R. publication’”, he coolly lit his cigar.

“I wanted to get even. So today, we’re going to do exactly that.”

What resulted was a combative browbeating from one of Pakistan’s true bad-boy politicians.

My show, ‘TalkBack’ – conceived and reputed as a no-nonsense, tough talking yet civilized debate – turned into an Alpha vs Alpha barroom brawl.

And – unusually – I lost.

Salman Taseer could do that.

He could talk down at you. He could defeat you. He could outperform you. He could outstare you. He could outmatch you.

In nation that has struggled for identity, Taseer was a true champion of confidence.

He didn’t care. And he loved the fact that it bothered his enemies.

I don’t want to recall his politics. Others more observant than me will do that for months.

But I do want to remember the man I briefly knew.

I saw him in his element at a concert in Lahore in 2007. Meher Bokhari, then just starting at Samaa TV, and some other friends were with me.

Like a superstar, Taseer – then Caretaker Minister of Commerce and Industry – rolled in with an entourage of Lahore’s finest and fairest.

He relaxed in a lounge in the back, lit up his Cuban, and didn’t move all evening.

Everybody else came and went, including his crew. Taseer stayed on and stayed put, centering his own galaxy, a sun to his starlets.

He was sober, solid and stylish.

But in a sea of people half his age, Taseer still looked as tough as Gibraltar.

It’s not uncommon to note that we Pakistanis haven’t had a lot of role models; most of them have been killed or tainted.

Salman Taseer was never one of them. But he was still something.

What exactly, I’m not sure.

Pakistan’s Donald Trump? Maybe our Islamic Republic’s Richard Branson?

Old-money billionaires, like one of my former TV bosses, called him “slimy”, but that was probably out of spite for his entrepreneurial wizardry.

So did ‘kitty-party’ housewives of DHA Lahore, who would hear it through the grapevine that Taseer was frequenting one of the ‘guest-houses’ down the street from their picture-perfect homes.

Eventually, Taseer’s lifestyle and panache – even while in office – would lead to his enemies marking him as the Nero of contemporary Pakistani politics.

But even to his detractors, Taseer was enviable.

A self-made man. A self-styled tycoon. An arrogant politician. A serious risk-taker.

Salman Taseer was a lot of things.

But he was still the governor – if not our hearts, then definitely our collective and divided polities.

Rest in peace, Governor. And may God bless you, your family, and Pakistan.