Don’t Cry For Me, We’re the Shirtless Ones

IRSHAD SALIM (Updated) — My 17-year-old assistant Shahbaz’s father Nawaz brought me some freshly grinded gur (molasses) today –they were made in Sahiwal. I asked him how things were in his gaon (village) in Chiniot. “All roads were closed including the motorway”, he said, as he made himself comfortable on the sofa in front of me and took a bite of the gur himself. Have u ever cried, I asked him. “Yes, when I remember my parents and some other things.”, he responded.

Six-footer Nawaz helps me feed birds on the balcony, a daily ritual we have under way since over three months now — after his and his boss’ initial NO. “Because birds s**t”, I was told. And then there was a day or two of no feeding — relent then made things happen: Feeding birds became a daily ritual.

These birds have been on the planet Earth since we captured their lands. Nawaz hesitantly nodded at first, on my telling him so, and then agreed. Now he helps me feed them and placing water for them in a mini tumbler is his daily ritual. Sometime he does it on his own.

Nawaz and me have a couple of things in common I realized. Crying is one of them, even though I’m almost half his size and posture. Nawaz’s net worth is quite a bit more than mine though, including disposable income. He didn’t study he said.

Nawaz nods at me, and puffs his cigarette as I puff mine and we discuss the “Gharib Awam” narrative, politics, Sharifs, Khan, Zardari, et al. Smoking cigarette is a common denominator between us; it helps keep our disagreements at the minimum. Plus the bird feeding episode helped us understand each other.

He’s a big boy –never went to school, has a home in his village, and loves politics as much as I love Gur, Daal and Kalonji.

Big boys don’t cry I was always told, but me and Nawaz do –perhaps they all should, experts say. Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. – Charles Dickens, 1861.

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Things are bad these days, Nawaz agrees, but doesn’t complain. His disposable income hasn’t been dented as to make him a cry baby. Some of the wealthy ones I know, complain, when some of them call to find out how I was doing in Islamabad. They don’t cry, as far as I can recall. We have forgotten how the seeds of emotional suppression were sown. Not crying is a pervading idea, specially in Western culture and its percolation in our desi society. I remember watching actor Nadeem, Rangeela, Tariq Aziz, and some others crying on the big and small silver screen. Those were the days. Not any more though.

That ‘big boys don’t cry’ is a social attitude, I read, “which has been instilled into boys to hold back emotion in hope of ‘upholding’ the masculine image”, says one of the Google searches. But social media is our silver screen now, and I have not seen pics or videos or WhatsApp share of any big boys crying. Except one or two.

According to a study published in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity, footballers who cried reported higher levels of self-esteem. They were less concerned about peer pressure and didn’t mind crying in front of their teammates.[2]

We have lost these heroes, role models, sportsmen, did we?

Multiple studies across cultures show that crying helps us bond with our families, loved ones and allies. The larger the contour of those whom we love and care for, the chances are our crying will ease our inner self, and allow for healing to take place. The planet itself is in a healing process. Those who cry belong to this planet also, no?

Whenever the word “cry” comes in my mind, I recall the “Don’t cry for me Argentina” song. Eva Peron was revered by the lower economic classes, young and old.

Don’t cry for me Argentina please as I am one of the Gharib Awam. Don’t let Dapper Dans around you obstruct our connect”, says one of the many of Khan’s young supporters. We’re the shirtless ones (los descamisados in Spanish).

So is Shahbaz. Studying. He’s helping me translate this piece in Urdu. He doesn’t have the angst and the anger his dad is carrying even though he is doing far better than some of the Gharib Awam. I have met and talked to many; they are the young, restless, educated ones with just enough disposable income to maintain self-esteem. They are the ones who don’t own a 5 or 10 marla but studied fantasizing a greener pasture, and live with parents in rented abodes. They still do. Majority of the 5 or 10 Marla one’s I met though, when asked why they didn’t study, responded with a “Bus Sir/ ji”. I cry for the both community of have nots.

They both are the Gharib Awam, –the shirtless ones, and for different reasons though. One appears to be of the Gharib Awam voluntarily, unwittingly or due to neglect. The other also is of the neglected ones. So Gharib Awam means both: Nawaz (did not study), and his son Shahbaz (studying for greener pasture). And then we have those who studied, don’t have a home in a village, and don’t have enough disposable income. they live in a rented place. Their Net Worth if any, doesn’t count; they all are the shirtless ones (Gharib Awam) I’m told. How does our electronic media identify them. This is a million dollar question.

We all are made of sterling material though, as Jinnah said:

If neglected, Sterling tarnishes; once polished, it shines. May be this differentiates Gharib Awam and the rest. Not disposable income nor Net Worth or both. This is a teardrop.

The writer is Editor/Publisher of and based in Islamabad. Email: [email protected] Tweet him at and at