Dreams sometimes really do come true…The photo that turned a Pakistani tea seller a star
Sometimes, one moment could change everything. This the story about how the hype around one Pakistani tea seller continues to grow - just because a picture of him went viral. Read More
Late in the summer of 2016, all was as it had always been. Arshad Kahn – or Nasir Kahn as he was still known at the time – was manning his stall at the Itwar bazar in Islamabad doing what he did every day: selling tea.
Stall is perhaps a bit optimistic. On the photograph that would later go round the world, his workplace is more like a hut ready for the bulldozer. The tea seller plies his wares in a poverty-stricken area. His exact age is not clear, as information varies, but he is 16, 18 or perhaps 19 years old. He is reported to have been born in a mud hut without electricity somewhere on the edge of Islamabad. In a family with 18 children, everyone had to pitch in to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. School was an unattainable luxury. This is not an unusual story in Pakistan, which has come of the lowest school enrolment and literacy rates in the world. An estimated 50% of the population cannot read and write.
Photographer Jiah Ali numbers among the 37% of women who can. She not only completed her A levels, she also works as an independent photographer, both unusual in Pakistan, whose culture is still strongly patriarchal. Jiah Ali did not grow up in a mud hut without electricity. If Nasir and Jiah were planets, their orbits would be in completely different galaxies. And yet their paths crossed one late summer day this year. Jiah had taken her camera to the bazar looking for compelling images outside her own familiar orbit.
“These places often showcase hardworking people who are busy with their tasks and don’t have to put up a front or pose for the world. They have simplicity in them. It shows mostly in the candid pictures I take and that’s what people like I suppose,” she said in an interview. She regularly posts shots on her social media channels, beautiful images of everyday situations. On this late summer’s day, she passed by Nasir’s tea shop.
“I had no idea it would go viral."
She liked the way he went about his work and began snapping pictures. “I had no idea it would go viral. My picture was like one of many where I capture a shot where I see simplicity and raw emotion and decided to share it with the world. I was walking along and saw this gentleman focused on his task and I could see simplicity and I just captured that moment. He was very shy once he found out I was taking his picture, I might add.” Then she did what she always does when she has a shot she likes: she posted the picture on Instagram with the hashtag #ChaiWala, the tea seller.
Here is where the Cinderella tale, the dishwasher-to-millionaire story begins for Nasir Kahn who changed his name just a few days later to Arshad. The internet went crazy, sharing and Tweeting his picture, women in particular, turning #ChaiWala into a trending hashtag in Pakistan. Suddenly everyone had to know who he was, this pin-up boy from the street with the gorgeous green eyes.
So Jiah made her way back to the bazar, back to the tea stall where Nasir was doing what he always does – selling tea. This time she had her picture taken with him, and posted it with the tagline “ladies, I found him!” This second post really ramped up the hype, which was no longer limited to Pakistan and had spread to India too. More and more people visited his tea stall to take selfies with him or ask for an interview. He is invited to go on the radio and then even on TV.
This kind of hype is generally short-lived. In this case though, every appearance by Nasir seemed to breathe new life into #Chaiwala. Soon the foreign media had picked up his story too, apparently the moment he began calling himself Arshad. In less than two weeks, he had become a teen heartthrob, a one-boy boy group for hundreds of thousands of girls.
Arshad must have recognised that his viral story could be his ticket out of the Golra slum at the very latest when the fitin.pk clothing label approached him. The fashion start-up is run by students who were looking for a parvenu like Arshad. They signed him on as a model and before the ink on his contract was even dry, announced on their Facebook page: “Chai wala is chai wala no more; now he is fashion wala!” Other labels followed suit and requests for the fashion wala’s presence began piling up.
“Chai wala is chai wala no more; now he is fashion wala!”
Arshad went pro, set up his own social media channels has been a force to reckon with on Facebook and Twitter since mid-October, just around 3 weeks after Jiah’s initial post.
At the moment it seems that this new type of internet phenomenon only creates winners – the tea seller who became a model, the fashion label that upped its coolness factor with teens, and not least Jiah, the photographer, who also profited from her time in the limelight. Though she sees the hype quite rationally: “You never know how a simple share on Instagram can turn out viral, one moment you’re sitting watching TV and next minute you have people asking you for interviews. Nobody knows the secret behind it. I have been doing what I do for a very long time and it took a picture of one simple chai wala and someone shared it to their Twitter to go global. This shows how crazy the world of the internet is.”
***Interested how Arshad looks like as a dressman? Move on to the next page.***
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