Islamabad - France’s lone newspaper vendor of Pakistani origin, Akbar Ali, has been selling newspapers on the streets of Paris for the past 47 years. He only sells Le Monde. Ali is perhaps the last newspaper hawker in Paris who has been doing this job for such a long time. His funny headlines and humorous outbursts make people laugh. He has become a darling of Parisians. They enjoy listening to him whenever he ‘breaks’ news. They know it is fake, yet they enjoy his sense of humour and readily buy the paper from him.
Speaking to Gulf News, Ali said he works seven days a week and sells newspapers even on Sunday.
Parisians know exactly where to find him, at any hour.
“Usually, I sell papers in and around the Latin Quarter, and they spot me from a distance, pedaling my old bicycle to my fixed point and yelling news to them. I have almost become part of people’s daily life in those quarters.
Asked why he never thought of switching professions, Ali said “I have made friends, a large number of politicians, writers and eminent personalities. They know me by name and invite me for a drink or coffee. I can’t think of quiting this profession. I am the last newspaper street hawker of Paris,” said the 65-year-old French Pakistani.
Ali has come up with his own way of attracting Parisians to buy newspapers. “It is the fact I always announce fake headlines. By doing that, customers come to me, appreciate my style of selling, and it works!”
One famous scoop was the days when media had gone crazy with former US President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, Ali startled those taking coffee at the historic Lipp, Flore or Deux Magots cafes by yelling “Monica’s pregnant by Bill Clinton! She got twins!”
Another hilarious scoop was about Dominic Strauss-Kahn’s molestation of an African woman in a New York hotel. Ali treated that scandal in following lines: “Strauss-Kahn was arrested ... he was with a goat!” On that day, I sold more than 500 copies of Le Monde, said Ali.
However, he said the business of print is on the decline and most people read newspapers online. “I can sell only 50 newspapers a day. There was a time when I used to sell more than 250.”
Senior Media Researcher and an admirer of Ali, Jacques Rosselin told Gulf News that in France, like the rest of the world, people’s preference for online edition has contributed to a fall in print. Ali was born in Rawalpindi and spent his childhood there. He is married person with five sons. In 1972 Ali entered France on a tourist visa and then he met some people who helped him settle down there. To a question, he said being a Pakistani Muslim he faces problems sometimes but there are good people as well. He visits Pakistan off and on to see his mother. She is 92. “I go to Pakistan for two reasons: To see my mother and to release birds.”
Ali has written books, too, like “Je fais rire le monde mais le monde me fait pleurer (I Make the World Laugh, but the World Makes me Cry). The book is an autobiography and recounts his struggle against the odds and his poor background. Another is “La Fabuleuse Histoire du Vendeur de Journaux qui a Conquis le Monde” (The Fabulous Story of a Vendor of Newspapers who Conquered the World).