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Last Updated: Friday, 1 April, 2005, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Star newspaper seller gets book deal
Ali Akbar
Ali Akbar arrived in France as an illegal immigrant
A Pakistani newspaper vendor in Paris with a unique selling style has won a book deal to have his life story published.

Ali Akbar, who sells copies of Le Monde on the streets of the French capital's fashionable St Germain des Pres district, arrived in the country as an illegal immigrant more than 30 years ago - leaving behind a tough childhood in Pakistan.

He then made a name for himself by the way he sold the newspapers, shouting amusing slogans, or making up headlines, such as "Monica [Lewinsky] is pregnant by Bush" or "Le Pen assassinated."

His fame became such that a publisher picked up on his life story - now to be published as Je Fais Rire Le Monde, Mais Le Monde Me Fait Pleurer - I Make The World Laugh, But The World Makes Me Cry.

"It's just to make them laugh," Mr Akbar told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"I was not working to make money, to become a rich man, but I was just selling this paper to make people happy and to bring them Le Monde."

Long journey

Mr Akbar said that as child he worked as a shoe-shine on a footpath in Pakistan to bring money in for the family - in particular his father, who was abusive to him.

I meet so many interesting people when I sell to the people
Ali Akbar

At the age of six, Mr Akbar was approached by a man who asked him why he was working at such a young age.

When he explained, the man told him "even if you don't go to school, at least you must learn Urdu and English".

"Write every day, and read - write your diary, what happened in your daily life - maybe one day you can become a writer," the man said.

Mr Akbar took the man's advice, noting events from his own life and what was happening elsewhere.


Leaving Pakistan at 18, at first he headed to Greece to work as a waiter on a ship.

Paris street
Ali Akbar says he feels "so free" when he is on the streets

He told Outlook that his dream was to settle in an English-speaking country, either the UK, the US or Canada.

However, he had no contacts in any of them and instead he left a ship when it docked in France in 1972 - having seen a number of ethnic minorities as the boat passed Rouen.

At first he slept under a bridge in Paris' Latin Quarter. A chance meeting with an Argentine student, who gave him 50 newspapers, set him up - within a few hours he had sold them all, establishing his unique, humorous style.

It was this style that attracted the publishers, Edition Gawsewitch, who were then intrigued by his life story, and proposed helping Akbar write his book.

Although his memoirs are set to be very popular, Mr Akbar insisted he was still happy selling newspapers.

"I enjoy the public," he said.

"I feel so free when I'm on the street. As I'm not a professional, I had no degree or diploma and I couldn't get another job.

"I meet so many interesting people when I sell to the people."

Station vendor walks free
14 Mar 03 |  England

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