Given the stress that he places on the aesthetic appeal of his content, we were taken aback when Umar Khan aka Ukhano didn’t arrive for his first ever interview on a skateboard, wielding a GoPro and recording his journey from his home to our meeting point. He did admit pondering over “making an entry”, but had second thoughts about going through with it. He appeared very discreet, as if he were an internet browser in incognito mode. Dressed like a ninja in the deserts of Egypt. His locks of hair held in place by a cap, and his eyes shaded by some brown Ray Bans. “Bhai ye to starter pack hai” exclaimed the social media star.
He was gleaming with confidence and as we presided over the plastic seats of a nearby cricket ground, we let the warm air soar through our souls and envelope us in the conversation that was to ensue.
Umar hails from the mystical tribal land of Fata, up North. His “primary education was from all across Pakistan because (his) father was a textile engineer” and subsequently, there was a lot of travelling in his life which may have been a source of inspiration for what he does now.
His education began with “Horizon Public school”, after which he went to St. Francis in Peshawar, which was a branch of St. Marys and also wound up repeating the 5th grade. From there, he shifted to Lahore in 2002 and studied in Beaconhouse CSC. He tried his hand in many ways, from playing basketball and football, and was even captain of the team for 3 years which prompted a desire to pursue a career in sports.
When it came to his academics, he described himself as being “bohot nalaik”. During his O Levels, he went all the way to grade 11 before switching to the matriculation system where “2 saal zaya howay mere”.
After that, he went into pre-med because “Maths buri thi”, but then he took up other hobbies such as basketball and debates as a means of finding himself, but also “because I was in a segregated school. So, I was like poondi shoondi karne chaltay hain”.
He attempted to use his knack for sports for trying to “get into GC through a sports basis, laikin it couldn’t be done because mai overage tha”.
However, he secured an admission of the basis of his debates, but did a last-minute switch to NCA prompted a change in his goals, and he’s “never looked back”.
“I got into music for the wrong reasons “
In answering our question of where his first inclination towards music sprouted from, he replied: “When my first girlfriend gave me her guitar to sell. I was in 8th grade. We used to watch the Godfather so I tried to pick up on the Godfather tune, and from there, I tried out Metallica and that’s how I got into music: for all the wrong reasons. And when I went to NCA, I switched to the Rubab”.
Umar told us of how his parents didn’t initially trust him with his choice of career paths. He reiterated a story of how his parents would “never let (him) go out (for debates). (He’d) take 20 rupees and go all the way to NGS Gulberg for debate sessions. Tab se struggles thay aur abbu ke tannay sunta tha. But I understand because they wanted to protect my future, kyoun ke unn cheezoun ka scope nahi tha”.
Yet, things began to change when he couldn’t complete O Levels. After deciding to “sacrifice two years of (his) life”, his parents were finally convinced that he knew what his path was.
“I was the black sheep of the family. Mere siblings: toppers, aur mai jo houn na, fail hota rehta tha”.
How did you capitalize on your shortcomings?
“I had ego issues that I finished. If you consciously acknowledge that you have a problem, then half the work is done. The next step is to find a solution to that problem. I had the problem that I’d daydream a lot; but the solution to that was that I went into storytelling.
Umar had some difficulties coping with “minor ADHD” and his “patli tangain”, but he managed to use these to his advantage. “I take where I come from as a medal of honor. My biggest insecurity was that I had skinny legs, and then I began wearing skinny jeans so as to say: haan hain dekh lo. Wear your insecurities as a medal of honor, because that’s your unique factor. I had stage fright, my legs would shake. Identify and embrace. Jo aapka sabi se barhi chink hai, vo aapki sab se barhi strength hai”.
“Mere Instagram aur VLogs se aise lagta hai ke mai bohot hi ameer houn”
He says that his family; especially his mom and dad were always there for him. “Mere Instagram aur Vlogs se aise lagta hai ke mai bohot hi ameer houn, laikain mai bohot hi mazaydar royal middle class family se houn”. He explained this by saying that in a middle-class family, “you stay sheltered, you take pride in what you have and you strive for what you want to achieve. Sab cheezain aap ke approach mai hoti hain. When you’re in an elite family, however, you already have everything and then you don’t know what to do with your life”.
The Instagram icon offered a very in-depth perspective into the concept of loyalty:
“I have a huge army of friends. Bohot ziyada dost hain. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve anything without them kyoun ke wo itna supportive hain. I’m always surrounded by loyal friends. Positive energy radiates automatically. Negative energy ke liye aap ko zor lagana parhta hai because it doesn’t come naturally and it can’t sustain itself for very wrong. So, when the negative people aka snakes are coming, I don’t even see them coming. They go and talk to my team, they don’t even have the guts to come to me directly. Mai un ke sath bhi acha hota houn jin ka pata hai ke snakes hain. I treat everyone naturally”.
“This goes for snakes, backbiters, and everyone who has negative energy: if you don’t acknowledge them, then the problem is over. Treat everyone positively: that’s what I do through my social media, that’s what I do when I sit with someone. I try to boost their confidence level. You get lonely at the top, and so you have to bring everyone else with you. That’s why I have a team all the time, it’s not like I’m cool or I have an entourage. Har kisi ka aik talent hai, aur collectively ye unit ban jate hain. Jo log judge karte hain unn ka sab se ziyada dil chahta hai ke ye cheez karne ko”.
Speaking about the culture in youth of having relationships, he said “achi baat hai ke abhi (relationship ka scene) karlo. Baad mai aisa nahi ho ga”
He continued: “If there’s a teenager who has a crush, then he should do something then and there. If you didn’t do it then, and you’re 25 or 26 and you still obsessing over a girl, you won’t be able to progress into professional life. Agra ap time ke saath sari cheezain karte ho, to bilkul theek hai. Some feelings come naturally, aur agr aap us ko rokte ho to then that’s going to create a problem for you healthwise bhi psychologically bhi.”
“Other than that, don’t stop any natural feelings. People will only learn over time, and the exposure that he has will dictate how he treats his companions. It’s a totally subjective thing”.
“I learned that when you’re off balance, it’s a good thing”
“Leaving your comfort zone is like a setback. When it’s out of the comfort zone, it becomes an experience. Routine is the death of life. Jaab aap ghus gai ho 9-5, phir you’re on autopilot. People who work 9-5 think that freelance would be better; but those who freelance are afraid that they won’t be able to pay their bills. For me, freelance is ke parachute hai laikin pata nahi kab khulna hai”.
He explained the importance of learning from your experiences and then following up each negative event with a positive course of action. For instance, after his first break up, he took up debates. After his second break up, he began drawing. He recently watched Rohail Hayat’s documentary on YouTube regarding about the birth of Coke Studio. “(Rohail) created something larger than life. “I learned that when you’re off balance, it’s a good thing. Aap soul searching pe nikal jate ho aur apnay aap ko balance karna sikha dete ho. When you’re happy, aapki drive khatam ho jati hai”
“Now I’m completely single for the first time in 11 years” (take a hint ladies!) and he’s completely focused on his career, but he’s off balance. “Being off balance helps you survive outside the comfort zone. Mai road pe jaa ra houn, logoun k sath interact kar ra houn, ghar mai phir ra houn, paise nahi hotay, hitchhiking karta houn and when I come home, I feel so fulfilled because I’ve achieved something”.
“Not being able to fulfill my full creative potential. Although there’s no yardstick to measure this, when you’re unaware of something; it’s a goal. As soon as you’ve explored it, you shift your vision to another goal. My goal right now is to represent Pakistan on a national and international level. I tried to do it through sports, but that couldn’t happen, and now I’m trying to do it through another medium. I always try to shed a positive light on even the most negative of things. Creative potential may vary, but I’m fixated on my ultimate goal that is constant”.
“People think that I go roaming around New York, but my trip to Thailand was my first international trip, where I shot a video with a ‘famous Kapoor’ that is due to release in September”.
Weirdest encounter with a fan
When Umar was in Peshawar, he had tagged his location in a specific place and a man came from Multan and waited 3 days in a market just to see him. Umar was so scared to meet him that he even told his Mammoo and uncles to tell the man that he’s gone.
The “school-going or college going person” he went all the way there just to meet him, and even waited outside NCA for 3 or 4 hours in what Umar described as the “scariest and weirdest moment”.
However, he enunciated the fact that “I never call my fans actual ‘fans’ because it sounds as if I’m a celebrity or something. The name ‘Ukhano army’ gives a sort of direct association and bond”.
Message to the youth
Although he’s an incredibly fun character to be around, Ukhano acknowledges that there’s a certain responsibility that comes with his profession: “I know that I have a main demographic of around 14 year olds and so I don’t do anything that may influence them in the wrong way. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I’ve never tried sheesha, I don’t even drink energy drinks, coffee or tea”
Addressing the youth directly, he said: “Parents will always be possessive about you, because they care and are concerned, but not because they’re against you”. He quoted an incident where he met a child who expressed an interest in pursuing photography but his parents wouldn’t let him. The child admitted that his grades were being affected, but his parents’ concern was because they are “always looking out for you. You’re living under their roof, and they’re providing for you. You don’t know the moment from when your parents first began their struggle. You only know what happened from when you were born. Some parents would tell us that they used to cycle from here to there, but that doesn’t mean jack to us”. The main reason behind this is that parents attempt to tell their kin about the struggles that they’ve faced in life, yet the child may not always be willing to listen to them. We may not be able to understand it right then and there, but what Umar suggests is that “we have to listen to them” and then attempt to extend their words into current situation, while also taking into consideration our own experiences.
“Sirf batain naa karo, do what you really want to because the proof is in the pudding”.
“You should treat people with respect because if you start off in a condescending tone,” then “maar par jai gi. Zaleel ho jao gai”.
“Don’t focus on history; it’ll end up repeating itself. Just look to what will follow. Learn and move on. If one girlfriend cheated on you, then you shouldn’t cheat on your next girlfriend. If you’re sitting and getting international exposure through Instagram, it doesn’t mean than you replicate that. You should research, keep a forecast of where you would imagine yourself to be in 3 years or 4 years. When I started Instagram, it didn’t have much of a scope, and people would come to me and ask what I’m doing with my life, but now those same exact people come to me asking to pictures with them”.
Lastly, how was the interview?
“Behtreen tha yaar! Agr sirf 1 bhi banda hota aur record bhi naa hoti, to mai yehi baatain karta. I would’ve given him the same energy, but what he does with that energy is his choice. I want to spread that knowledge. What you see on Instagram is 5% of who I am. I’ve never given an interview (before). This would be my first interview. Mujhe TV valay bhi bulatay hain but I don’t go, because I don’t think I’ve achieved something jis ke liye mai interview doun. I do workshops, but not interviews”, and he described his very first interview with us as a “good experience”.