One day everyone will depart from this world, but some will die twice. These are the people who fail to make any worthwhile contribution to humanity during their lives; when they breathe their last not only will they physically perish, but their names will also be completely forgotten by the world, forever. A double death. Then there are those who will leave the physical realm, but their deeds will keep their names and their memories alive long after they have gone. These are the people who die a single death. Nisar Muhammad Khan, a renowned Pashto writer and producer who passed away on September 7 after a half-decade long battle with cancer, is one of them.
Born in the village of Shahmansoor in January 1942, Khan received his early education in the district and graduated from Government Post Graduate College, Mardan. He joined Radio Pakistan, Karachi, as a Pashto newscaster in 1960 — back then, news was broadcast only from Karachi. This was the beginning of a long career marked with success and remarkable achievements. While he was with Radio Pakistan, he continued with his studies and obtained a postgraduate degree in Pashto from the University of Peshawar.
A versatile researcher, producer, writer and actor, Khan did much to serve Pashto-language radio. He concentrated on local Pakhtun culture and, at a time when radio was considered the primary medium for entertainment and information, he wrote scripts for and produced numerous dramas, including Chagha [Cry], Zh Suk Yam [Who Am I] and Pagha [Turbine]. In 1973 he was made head of the drama department at Radio Pakistan, Peshawar and, in 1975, the government sent him to the Netherlands to study modern drama.
Nisar Muhammad Khan, who passed away on September 7, will be remembered for his singular contributions to Pakhtun culture
Khan worked extensively to promote Pashto music. One of the musical programmes he produced for radio, called Yao Zal Bia Pa De Laar Rasha [Visit This Place Once Again], achieved great popularity and he also discovered a number of singers and musicians, such as Mashooq Sultan, Fazal Rabi, Gul Nar Begum, Hedayatullah, Gulmeena, Ahmad Khan, Kashwar Sultan, Naveed Khan and Nigar Sultan among others. He went to great lengths to make the talents of these people public, taking them to the central production unit in Lahore for recording sessions as there were no such facilities in Peshawar. During his career at the station, he produced over 1000 songs and, according to Aslam Khan — author of Tair Hair Awazoona [The Forgotten Voices], a book chronicling the lives of old Pashto singers — he was also adept at playing the sitar and knew the rhythms of several musical instruments. One outstanding contribution to Pashto music is Khan’s efforts in unearthing old, forgotten singers and introducing their music to new listeners — a visit to Radio Pakistan’s library in Peshawar, where recordings of these singers and musicians are kept, presents a picture of Khan’s tremendous work in this regard.
Khan authored three books, in three different languages. Exploring Melody, written in English, is a look at folk singers of the past and the musical instruments popular in the subcontinent over the past century. Spin Tambal in Pashto is, again, a look at music and singers while Aghosh-i-Kausar in Urdu is a paean to the Prophet's companion Bilal, the first muezzin in Islam. Khan’s writing credits do not end at scripts, books and songs, though; he penned 52 films in the Pashto language, including Khanabadosh [Nomad] and Topak Zama Qanoon [My Law is the Gun] and acted in a few, too: in Makhroor [Proclaimed Offender] he was a side hero alongside the famed Pashto actor Asif Khan, and in Orbal [Henna] he played a police inspector.
By the end of the 1990s, Khan had risen to the post of station director at Radio Pakistan, and in 2001 he retired from professional service. Thereafter he joined the Censor Board of Pakistan, where he remained until 2003. He was twice awarded by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government for his role in the Thalassaemia Project, a public awareness campaign conducted in KP and the tribal regions. In November 2008, the provincial Directorate of Culture — Khan’s brainchild — was established for the promotion of Pakhtun culture.
Khan’s professional legacy is commendable, and his personal legacy is no less impressive. Raising children to be successful and productive members of society is by no means the easiest of jobs, but Khan and his wife did well: both their sons and five of their nine daughters are doctors.
The life of Nisar Muhammad Khan serves as a great example of dedication and hard work. His efforts in promoting, documenting and preserving Pakhtun culture, in particular, will keep his memory alive. He may no longer be among us, but — unlike those who die twice — he will continue to remain in our minds and hearts.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Swabi
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, October 14th, 2018