Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2017

The Baj(w)a behind Patari

Khalid Bajwa, Founder, Patari, in profile.

I will start with a confession.

I am no music connoisseur... although I was once, during my teenage years. Today, if I recognise a song (Indian, American or desi), it is because it is either very well-known and I hear friends or family humming it, or I accidentally hear it playing in my car or on TV while flicking through channels and find it catchy.

So, not digitally-inclined and generally ignorant of ‘all things trending’, yet asked to profile Khalid Bajwa, Founder, Patari.pk, I rush to my computer to look up the founder and his product. After an intensive 30-minute browse, I am fairly acquainted with both. Bajwa, a computer programmer, filmmaker and entrepreneur, founded Patari.pk (Pakistan’s biggest music streaming platform) in September 2015. Today, Patari (the Urdu word for a snake charmer’s basket) is the rage among Pakistani music lovers around the world... and almost everyone knows about it!

I ring him up right away.

A resident of Lahore, Bajwa agrees to meet me during the second half of his one-day work visit to Karachi at the PepsiCo office. Of medium height, muscular and bearded (or maybe an overgrown stubble), clad in baggy jeans and a printed shirt, he saunters towards me. The weary face tells me the first half of the day has been hectic. Despite this, he gives me a strong handshake and complements it with the most charming, million-watt-smile.

The recently turned 30-year-old Bajwa is a graduate from the Ghulam Ishaq Institute of Science and Technology (GIK) in Software Engineering. He completed his schooling in Lahore and spent two years in Karachi at St. Patrick’s College to complete his A-level.


With stunts ranging from dangling iron hangers from his eye sockets, riding cows in his dadi’s village without supervision, to almost burning down his house, young Bajwa kept his parents on tenterhooks 24/7


Most of Bajwa’s childhood was spent between Islamabad, Lahore and Okara (his paternal grandmother’s hometown). Going by his account, were you to ask his mother about her memories of those years, she would, in all probability, say they were nothing short of a nightmare. Although calm, collected and quite toned down (“age does that to you”), Bajwa was a far cry from an exemplary kid. Disruptive and hyperactive, with bouncing-off-the-wall energy, he was notorious for his mischief and obstinacy.

With stunts ranging from dangling iron hangers from his eye sockets, riding cows in his dadi’s village without supervision, to almost burning down his house, young Bajwa kept his parents on tenterhooks 24/7. “My mother says she spent all her youth running after me. My two siblings were neglected because I sucked up all her energies.” His face lights up as he describes his monstrosities and he recounts them as though they were accomplishments.

He remembers how he hated being ordered around to do things by his elders, unless they explained why it was necessary. His ‘whys’ may have irked his parents, but he says it developed in him the habit of not blindly following what people said, but rather, using his own reasoning and logic.

When not making mischief, Bajwa either busied himself with sports (all kinds), for which he was given a great deal of encouragement by his grandfather (a former police officer) or reading (extra-curricular) – the earliest source of which was a huge cache of books his aunt had left behind before migrating abroad.

Brought up in a joint family system, with many cousins around the same age, working with a team and leading it came naturally to this “pagal sa bacha” (as outsiders called him). Using his enterprising and creative abilities, he would rally the kids and tell them which game to play and how to play it. He would stage his own Olympics and World Cups; use Plaster of Paris to make his medals and then placate his parents by asking them to be chief guests and present the awards.


Thankfully, when he turned 12, his father bought him a computer and everything changed after that (for the better, and much to his mother’s relief). She often tells him: “aaj computer na hota, to tou koi serial killer ya daaku hota.”


He would use ropes to make swings and charge his cousins to ride on them and on Eid days, buy packs of sweets and sell them at 10 times the price to his cousins. “When my mother found out about it, she was furious. She immediately confiscated the money and returned it to my cousins.”

Thankfully, when he turned 12, his father bought him a computer and everything changed after that (for the better, and much to his mother’s relief). She often tells him: “aaj computer na hota, to tou koi serial killer ya daaku hota.” (Had it not been for the computer, you would have either been a serial killer or a bandit).

Bajwa channelled all his energy into his computer. He quickly developed an interest in programming and was soon decrypting Flash games and experimenting with them. By the time he was 15, he had taught himself programming, designing and animation from the programming books he bought from Urdu Bazaar and following the instructions in them.

He took up software engineering at GIK, where he made good friends and fondly remembers his teachers. He was an active member of the university’s debating society and President of the web team; he also built his university’s admission and semester result system. During his last year at GIK, he began to freelance and started earning about a $1,000 a month. This was the time when this badtameez kid finally started to realise his responsibilities. “My parents by that time had exhausted all their earnings on me. I was 23, and I took over the mantle onwards.”

Within a few months, he was earning up to $10,000 dollars a month. He did his parents proud by marrying off his sister and sending his brother to study abroad. Today, his sister is an anthropologist and his brother is on his way to becoming an astro-physicist in Sidney (“shareef bacha”, he calls him).

Yet, despite all the money coming in, his mother insisted he find ‘proper’ employment. He did, but couldn’t stick it out for more than four months. “I was so bad that when I took French leave, no one bothered to call and ask what happened.”

He was back to freelancing.

Then came a darker phase. The computer language he had primary expertise in (Flash) was killed by Apple; “it wasn’t relevant anymore.” Also by that time, thanks to too many projects (freelancing, film, ‘Dabba’ and ‘hush-hush’) allied by constant all-nighters, he was burnt out.


Today, Patari’s database boasts over 750,000 songs, 600 artists and a hundred thousand registered users. The platform won the mBillionth Award 2016 in India and the second place in the World Startup Cup 2016 held in Washington DC.


He took a year off and began learning JavaScript, Node and CSS. This was when he took on Patari as a project, thinking it may allow him to re-launch a second phase of his career. Once the basic website was uploaded, with the help of Co-Founders Ahmer Naqvi, Humayun Haroon, Iman Shahid, Iqbal Talaat and friend Rabia Mahmood, he started compiling music and creating apps for iOS and Android. When it came to selecting the name of the website, they brainstormed words for music instruments. Since his friends sometimes called him ‘baja’ (from Bajwa), they thought of dabba (box) and a few other music-related names, till they finally agreed on Patari.

“We had very few expectations. I thought if we were lucky, we would get a couple of hundred people using our beta version.”

A screenshot of the site was uploaded on Instagram and people were encouraged to ask for an invite to join. The condition for receiving one was to upload the screenshot on the recipient’s Twitter or Facebook page. Within a single day, they had a 1,000 sign ups. Bajwa describes his reaction: “A rabbit caught in the headlights! We had to hire more people to keep up.”

As Patari gained in popularity, there were issues with labels and artists, but Bajwa says it taught the team a lot.

Today, Patari’s database boasts over 750,000 songs, 600 artists and a hundred thousand registered users. The platform won the mBillionth Award 2016 in India and the second place in the World Startup Cup 2016 held in Washington DC.

Bajwa’s next plan is to develop a sustainable infrastructure for the music industry. In his opinion, music has become almost exclusive to the corporate domain, where musicians are told what to play by MBAs who know nothing about it. “We must give creative freedom to musicians, even if we sometimes disagree with what they come up with. We have to trust their judgement because they know the craft. Sometimes they will create something that is not commercial, but that is the only way we can make magic happen.”

These days, what is keeping Bajwa busy (apart from Patari) is his one-year-old daughter. Any spare time is spent with his wife and daughter, whom he refers to as “meri choti si dunya” (my little world).