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PESHAWAR: About a week ago, a photo on social media of a frail and pale man lying unconscious on a stretcher needing immediate medical care at the province’s biggest public sector hospital shocked many.

It looked like shadow of the man once known as Iftikhar Qaiser-- the Presidential Pride of Performance Award winner, talented actor of stage, TV and radio, a writer and poet. Finally he rests in peace.

Iftikhar Qaiser was suffering from diabetes and related health complications. His friends say that his sickness got further exacerbated due to financial stress. He finally breathed his last and was buried in Peshawar City on Sunday.

He died at the age of 61 leaving five of his children and a widow to mourn and wonder who is going to support them now.

Iftikhar Qaiser had resigned from his job long time ago as a building inspector at town municipal administration to make his passion his profession. And he did get a lot of recognition as he was known for his dialogue, “Ab Mai Boloon Keh Na Boloon” from Mukhtar Ali Nayyar’s comedy Hindhko show on state-run television in late 80s and 90s.

However, soon the pressures of constantly looking for projects caught up with him in a city where artists find very little opportunities to cash in on their talent.

Iftikhar Qaiser, who was initially a Hindkho drama artist, also worked in Pashto and Urdu dramas. He was as good at comedy as he was at tragedy.

“He was a good actor and adapted well without any language barrier,” said Shaukat Ali, former PTV producer, who worked with Iftikhar Qaiser as an actor in Zaulanay, a Pashto drama, and Talaash, which was an Urdu mini-serial.

“As compared to those in Karachi and Lahore, Peshawar’s artists are poor. They don’t find opportunities to work and are paid peanuts for their work,” he said. There is no future here for such artists in cities like Peshawar. “They need to go out to bigger cities to be successful in their profession and also stay financially stable,” said Mr Ali while giving examples of artists like Firdous Jamal and Qavi, who made it big in Lahore.

“If they had stayed here, they would have lived and died in poverty,” he added. Najeebullah Anjum, a senior artist, however, differed with the opinion that it was only financial troubles that killed Iftikahr Qaiser. He said that it was his workaholic nature and his smoking.

“He remained too much busy in work. He smoked too much and that took toll on his health,” said Mr Anjum.

Iftikhar Qaiser was a full-package of fine arts as he was not only actor, but also worked on script-writing and direction. It was not only his passion but also his bread and butter, his contemporary artists say.

“As far as I know the provincial and federal both governments helped him financially,” said Mr Anjum.

However, Ishrat Abbas, another Hindhko drama artist, who worked with Iftikahr Qaiser in many dramas, was in tears as he explained the hardships the late artist went through.

“A Presidential Pride of Performance Award winner and he was lying unattended at a government hospital for 24 hours. How pathetic it is,” Mr Abbas lamented.

He said that he knew him well. “I know when he bought medicines he had nothing to buy food and when he bought food he could not get himself medicines. He was the sole bread-earner of his family,” he said.

He said that artists there were hit hard by terrorism during the last decade or so.

“If an artist tries to find work other than acting, you know how people react. People don’t get it how hard it is for artists to pay for their utilities and medical bills if they don’t do any other job than acting,” said Mr Abbas.

He said that provincial government launched a good scheme of paying monthly honoraria of Rs30,000 to each artist but it was only for few months.

In Iftikhar Qaiser’s demise, senior artists in Peshawar -- of whom very few are left -- shuddered to see what lied ahead for them.

This realisation is enough to kill creativity in artists and the entire society might suffer from its consequences.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2017