Obituary: Athar Shah Khan ‘Jaidi’ is no more

Updated 11 May 2020

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He became a household name and his recognition as Jaidi upstaged his tremendous writing abilities. — PTV screengrab
He became a household name and his recognition as Jaidi upstaged his tremendous writing abilities. — PTV screengrab

KARACHI: Athar Shah Khan, the renowned writer, playwright and the actor who created an iconic character Jaidi which he himself played with endearing zaniness, passed away here on Sunday. He was 77. He leaves behind his wife and four sons.

Mr Khan was born in the Indian state of Rampur on Jan 1, 1943. After independence his family opted to migrate to Pakistan and came to Lahore where he acquired his early education. He graduated from the Urdu Science College, Karachi, and then obtained a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Punjab.

Mr Khan wrote and performed in several shows and plays for radio (such as Rang hi rung Jaidi ke sang) and television (Hello hello, Intizar farmayey, *Burger family, Jaidi in trouble, Ba adab ba mulahiza hoshiyar*, etc). He contributed to quite a few films as a story and dialogue writer, including Bazi and Manjhi kithey dhawan (Punjabi).

However it was in the mid-1970s, after coming to Karachi to write a TV play, that his popularity increased manifold. For one of his plays he penned the character of Jaidi, a bespectacled goofy man who has limited proficiency in the English language but likes to think he has total command over it; and has the same idea about his knowledge of life and its intricacies which invariably ensnares him in funny situations. The producer asked Mr Khan to play the character himself because no one could do justice to it; and the rest, as they say, was history.

He became a household name and his recognition as Jaidi upstaged his tremendous writing abilities. A memorable line from the play where he tries to display his love of the English language is: “There are many boys in the world, highly educated, matric second division.”

Mr Khan was an incredibly creative person. Although he was known as a showbiz celeb, his reputation in the literary world was no less formidable. He wrote short stories in the earlier part of his career and was a poet of high merit. His ghazals were published in literary journals but, again, it was his penchant for creating rib-tickling qata’at and ghazals that overshadowed his serious poetry, and because of which he would be regularly invited to mazahiya mushairas.

Hamare ilm ne bakhshi hai hum ko aagaahi; Yeh kainaat hai kiya is zameen pe sab kiya hai; Magar bus apne hi baarey mein kutchh nahin maloom; Maror kal se jo maidey mein hai sabab kiya hai. [My knowledge-seeking nature has made me wise; I know about the universe and all that exists on Earth; And yet I don’t know much about myself; What caused this rumbling in my tummy?]

In the last decade or so, his health deteriorated. He suffered a heart attack and was also diabetic. Consequently, he cut down on his participation in programmes that had to do either with poetry recitals or TV shows. In 2001, he became the recipient of the President’s Pride of Performance award.

This writer remembers working alongside Mr Khan at an advertising agency in Karachi in the latter half of the 1990s. He was heading the creative department of the company. During the conversations that we had, he’d often talk about the financial aspects of show business, which was why he had joined the world of advertising. What had kept him going, intellectually, was his love of literature. In those days, he used to quote the following two lines by poet Liaquat Ali Asim: Warna Suqrat mar gaya hota; Us piyale mein zahr tha hi nahin. [Socrates would have died; There was no poison in the cup.]

Mr Khan’s funeral prayer was offered at Masjid-i-Aqsa in Gulshan-i-Iqbal and he was laid to rest in the Sakhi Hasan Graveyard, Karachi.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2020