A Pakistani tea vendor snapped by a passing photographer has become an internet sensation

Quartz india
Quartz india

Until a few days ago, 18-year-old Arshad Khan was just another face in the crowded Itwar Bazaar, or Sunday market, in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, where he manned a tea stall. Since then, he has turned into a social media sensation. And that was just the start of his odyssey.

Casually snapped a few months ago by a photographer known as Javeria or Jiah Ali, the images of Khan, with his blue eyes, stubble, and thick locks, quickly spread all over Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook once she posted the snaps online on Oct.15.

By the end of the day on Oct. 17, #ChaiWala (tea seller) was the top trending item on Twitter Pakistan. It wasn’t long before Twitterati across the border in India began swooning. For a region grappling with a deteriorating security situation between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of a deadly terrorist strike and a retaliatory “surgical strike,” this was some relief, even if a temporary one.

Next stop, London.

Khan, reportedly one of 18 Pashtun siblings and a native of Mardan in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is soaking it all in. “Some 40 to 50 girls have visited me since morning,” Khan told Samaa TV on Oct.18. Asked if he is open to acting in movies, Khan, without as much as batting an eyelid, said, “Sure I will.”

The answer seems to be yes. On Oct.18, Khan reportedly was signed up by online retailer Fitin to model for the Islamabad-based company. Shortly, he was spotted clean-shaven, wearing a dapper two-piece suit, with hair gelled, a far cry from the rugged face, blue kameez, and unkempt mane that so enamored him to his online oglers.

If ever there were doubts about social media’s potential as a life-changing experience, it is time to cross them out.

But some have questioned whether Khan was being unfairly objectified.

Others perceived a class divide in people’s attitudes toward the photogenic Khan. “What I would and do have a problem with is the accompanying surprise that he is a chaiwala. That this is a man from an obviously lower-income background and is yet so good looking,” columnist Farahnaz Zahidi wrote in The Express Tribune newspaper. “Like all things good in life, somewhere the upper tier bourgeois of Pakistan have come to believe that even looks and god-gifted attributes are co-dependent on money and affluence?”

That may be so. But Khan doesn’t seem to be complaining either way—at least not yet.

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