The Girl With The Soaring Spirit

The Girl with the Soaring Spirit–published in Sunday Times Magazine

Click on an image to view the slideshow.

Concept & photography: Ali Hussain @alihussain
Interview, wardrobe & styling: Annie A. Khan @pakistannie

Anisa Shaikh, the name has currency among a certain generation of youth who know Indus Music from when it had that laissez faire cool to its channel content. Café Current hosted by Anisa and Sanam Saeed, fit right in with its MTVish style, and the girls stood out for their refreshingly honest, forthright and uninhibitedly expressed views. They were burghers, but with extra hot sauce. They were also part of a generation of educated, confident young women from middle class or upper middle class backgrounds who were able to become financially independent via a creative outlet that allowed them the freedom to live life on their own terms.

While neither girl could be compared to Anoushey–the ubiquitous face of the channel at the time–the duo had their own identity that was unlike and perhaps even the very anti-thesis of the giggling part coy, part cutesy hosting style that was de riguer for female VJs at the time. These girls were tough, even when they were just teenagers-—Anisa was 19 at the time– and the copious hate mail the show received just went to prove that there were viewers, lots of them.

Later when Anisa moved to Play TV where she produced as well as hosted, a number of those very fans may have followed her.

Fast-forward 10 years later—Anisa is in Berlin, at the European College of Liberal Arts, pursuing her Bachelors in political theory and ethics. But she was presently sitting across from me in a trendy pizzeria in the West Village in Manhattan- known for it’s historic gay bars, cozy coffee shops and tiny, carefully edited and prohibitively expensive boutiques of big designer names. She was wearing a cotton dress with a plaid shirt over it, her hair loose. Her two friends, visitors from Berlin, were seated at the adjacent table ordering food while we chatted.

Anisa was, at the moment, taking a break—as she put it- from reading and writing essays at her school in Berlin and was spending a semester studying 35-millimeter photography at Bard College in New York.
“I went upstate at a rather rich Hipster sort of school,” she laughed. “But I’m blown away at how intelligent and how talented those kids are. I am so lucky to be surrounded by energetic, intelligent people at this point in my life. It was great and then and obviously since I was there, New York City is an hour away so here I am for spring break,” she said.

Her vacation was already half way over and she was going to head back to Bard College soon to finish her semester before heading back to Berlin in the summer for her final year and thesis.
After returning “I am going to start looking for my apartment and looking for jobs like a real person,” she said running her hand through her long dark hair. I noticed her 5 foot 3 inch petite frame outlined against the sunlit glass of the window behind her looked more or less the same as I had seen her on television in Pakistan. The rigors of academic pursuits had also not, it seemed, affected her effervescence of spirit. She had an easy laugh that always kept the tone light, amiable. It was not difficult to see why Anisa enjoyed hosting on television. She had left Pakistan to see the world and get and education. It may have been an over whelming experience for her initially, but she said, she did not regret making it.

“I had landed up in university at age 25 with people that were much younger. It was like I wasn’t the cool kid anymore. I was the older person. But it was great. I was very very happy,” she said.
Life in Berlin had nothing in common with her lifestyle in Pakistan where her maid laundered her clothes, cleaned her home and cooked breakfast for her and where it was alright if she was late for work—which according to her, was invariably the case. By contrast in Berlin, she would wake up in a panic every morning around 8:30 a.m. and rush to class after a quick shower and have a coffee during lecture to wake herself up. Ending the day by cooking dinner and reading in bed before falling asleep. She had, she said, not seen TV for the past 3 years. Did she miss Pakistan?

“I, on one hand can tell you that I haven’t considered it, but on the other hand that would be a lie,” she said. “I have been thinking about that a lot. Whether I want to go back now or ever or not. I will go back. All of this was about doing something worthwhile so I could give back, but not now,” she said.
Anisa had also fallen in love with someone she had met in Berlin, “There’s a lot of cooking and a lot of laughing and a lot of exploring the world and a lot of traveling. I couldn’t think of a better time. A better place. A better person. Totally happy,” she added.

Her future was on her mind. She had traveled to Spain and wanted to learn Spanish and be able to take her exam in German, among other things. But right now she was enjoying her time in New York. I asked her what the highlight of her trip so far had been.

“The highlight of my trip has been Annie and Sofian,” she laughed referring to my husband Sofian and myself.

“It made me realize how many people I flew through when I worked in Pakistan,” she went on. “People I met, that I knew, that I sort of liked to say hi to and then leave. People that I didn’t really bother to know anything about. Then you come somewhere else in the world and you meet people who not only open their hearts and their homes to you, but then also, you learn who they are as people. It’s always really interesting for me when I am able to get the story behind the person and how better to see someone’s story than to see how they live,” she said. She continued her thought, but with her friends in mind this time.
“I have had a lovely time with my friends. They’re both avid explorers and travellers. I’m always trailing behind with my camera and they’re always like come on hurry up, move it,” she said. Our pizzas arrived just then.

There is a radio interview we did with the piece: You can listen to it here.