A bunch of good looking guys, with some simple and cool fashion statement, singing beautifully… ah what a treat! These guys introduced the idea of eye fetish to little girls like me who barely had all their teeth. To this day, no bunch of good-looking men has looked as exciting as these four together. At that age, I just knew he was it!

The love for Vital Signs is a big part of my childhood, just like for many others from my generation. These guys defined “cool” for us… and decades later singing his old songs in university was still considered cooler than anything contemporary or international. That was JJ for us!

My sister and I were so excited to spot JJ a few seats away in a domestic PIA flight in the year 1995. He was in a grey and white striped polo shirt and was talking to a woman next to her, when our grandmother pushed us with a piece of paper and a pen to go meet the man we were giggling and dancing about. We kept that autograph with us for a long time, and bragged about it too. We also got a similar supposedly trendy shirt for our brother later as a present too.

I remember associating his songs to different people in my life. It was either a way to communicate to myself on how I felt about a particular person or a situation, or to communicate to them. His songs just never failed me. I remember finding relief in his conflicting emotions about the same person in a single song; that was his way of making me feel I am normal too. Mostly as troubled as my feelings would be, I remember most of his songs resonated so deeply with me that I used to believe he actually wrote them for me. And I think I’ll still stick to that belief even if someone tells me otherwise. Well, not so normal I guess.

I remember mourning for him a decade ago... losing him to some ideology my friends and I couldn’t understand. I missed the idea of him in music… But did I actually miss him? I don’t think so. We all move on, like we will tomorrow too. But more than just a sense of loss, I felt annoyed by what this Junaid Jamshed person did to our very own JJ who spoke my heart better than me while looking more than just heavenly.

Truth be told, I never even tried to understand what his transformation meant, and I didn’t care enough to understand. Not that I didn’t care for him, because I did care for the man I lost to the beard. But I did not want to care for the ideology enough to want to understand what happened there. Not that I still do. But by not caring, I am not being very inclusive, am I? Every time a bearded man turns to look at me, I not only feel scared but I condescendingly judge his look. Because I have decided in my head, that a bearded person ‘judges’ a girl without a scarf, and I have also decided that of all the men, a bearded one is not supposed to “check me out” while I would not even care if any other guy passing by would look twice. That’s the kind of stereotyping I had been doing every day. I victimized them through a fierce judgment in my head. Having said that, I judged JJ’s transformation so much that I did not care to realize that nobody ate anyone alive, both the guys were actually the same person. Meaning, what you see now has always been there and has always been equally loved and cherished by me, and what I saw back as a child is still quite right here, if I looked closely enough.

They say we see our reflection in others. So when I am annoyed by someone, chances are somewhere deep down I have the same annoying traits, for example, judging someone for judging me (raise your hands) or understanding something now as opposed to earlier because of becoming relatively more empathetic or compassionate now. And so on we identify with others’ qualities too.

So now when I listen to my favorite Vital Signs songs, I feel I misunderstood this guy. He was this very man then that I saw now. He was always there; I just focused on one particular side that I was more aware of as a particular aged person… In any case, it’s difficult for anyone to supersede their five basic senses; usually what you see is what you make of a situation. But now when I looked and listened closely, almost all his really popular songs spoke of a vacuum and a search for something more than what just seemed to be. Almost all his songs spoke of the journey of his soul; I just never understood that side of his songs before. And that is probably why his simplest songs would connect with us on the deepest levels, like Aitebar, specifically Hum Tum, or Tum Dur Thay, Musafir and many others. His songs are the transformation that he personified. The only thing he did eventually was he decided to altogether go “Uss rah per” and bring his outer appearance to become one or at least close with his inner journey… which is what we saw again using our basic senses. After having been upset with him for over a decade, I have to say suddenly I am not so angry at him for taking my JJ away, because really I didn’t see that guy very carefully. He was not his initials, he was not his skin, he was a complete name, a complete soul and not just one particular façade that I wanted to see in a particular time.

How I feel about it? I don’t know, but I think he said something important to us through his transformation, whether we wanted to hear it or not… just like his song “tu sunay na sunay, mein kahoonga”. And I have a very strong feeling his legacy will be talked about for years to come.