Living Souls: Memories is a glimpse into the lives of some 30 public and private personalities who walked with the author, S.M. Shahid, through his life and career.

Shahid has had a long career in advertising and has authored several books on classical and film music and personalities. Most of the individuals portrayed in Living Souls are his contemporaries, who made their mark with distinction in their respective fields, irrespective of their level of fame. All these lives often overlapped with the life, career and interests of the author, thus making the book an autobiographical account as well. Also, indirectly, the narrative illustrates the social and cultural transformations that have taken place in Pakistan over the last 60 years or so.

A major topic — though not the only one — expounded in the book, besides relationships, is Subcontinental classical music and its distinguished performers, as well as the minutiae of the ragas, gharanas and the inherent conventions and notes that differentiate one raga from the other.

Shahid begins his book with an essay bearing the self-explanatory title ‘Saleem Asmi: The Marxist Sufi’. Asmi is a man of great learning and distinguished ancestry of respected scholars. He was the editor of prominent newspapers including The Khaleej Times and Dawn. The author shares Asmi’s keen interest in journalism and classical music, which they both attempted to learn formally.

In ‘Latif Kapadia: Perpetually After Happiness’, Shahid draws a compassionate pen sketch of the late actor and their common interests, as well as close family terms, with great fondness. He writes, “I have a feeling that in chasing happiness, Latif burned himself out. He was an intensely emotional person and his agonies stemmed from his strong aspiration for peaceful coexistence.”

S.M. Shahid’s pen sketches provide insight into individuals who have enriched the non-political, non-religious, softer dimensions of Pakistani society, as well as into himself

Profiles on Irfan Haleem, a long-time close friend and business partner of the author and Abdul Hameed Aliani, former ambassador of Pakistan to Thailand, who also translated the Holy Quran into English, are featured next. These are followed by the essay ‘Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi: He Forgave Me’. In this, Shahid narrates how once he alluded to a friend about the great humorist having “tharak” [lewdness], which Yousufi overheard! The matter was eventually resolved amicably through a compelling letter of apology, which enabled their relationship to resume.

Another inspiring account is that of Professor Adibul Hasan Rizvi, titled ‘Forever with Those Who are Suffering’. Shahid narrates the backbreaking schedule which the great philanthropist follows every day, from early morning to past midnight and, also, his humility. In response to being confronted with the assertion “But SIUT is you” from the author, Rizvi says, “I am not SIUT. Tomorrow I will be gone, but SIUT will live and continue to serve the people.” He adds, “You are wrong. I have a large team working with me. They run the show.”

Writing about the late Dr Shahid K. Hak, who had been a managing director of the Pak-Arab Refinery Limited (Parco), in ‘The Man Who Mentored Many’, the author quotes the following incident which Hak believed as having moulded his character and life: “‘Shrouds do not have pockets!’ Hak overheard Maulvi sahib telling someone, as he and the other children were reading the Quran under a tree in Mochi Darwaza, Lahore. Maulvi sahib’s words were beyond his comprehension, but they remained etched in his subconscious.”

‘Hasnat Bhai: Unknown Crusader’ and ‘Najma: She Had Angelic Qualities’ are profiles of two admirable family acquaintances. These are followed by a brief but intense write-up about the agonising life of writer and prolific columnist A.B.S. Jafri in ‘The Battle He Fought’. Then, the author’s association with, and the failed joint venture of establishing a music school adjacent to Imam’s residence/studio in PECHS, is narrated in ‘Ali Imam: Painters Looked Up to Him.’

‘Sharjil Baloch: My Young Friend’ recounts another inspiring struggle and the eventual success of a young artist and filmmaker. “He plays the flute,” writes Shahid, “is an accomplished actor and equally good film director and editor. What is surprising is he is a thinker and a shrewd analyst, too.”

‘Naseer Haider: My Closest Advertising Buddy’, ‘Salma: A Life Lived Bravely’ about his adoptive sister, ‘Mumtaz Rashdi: Caring Friend’, ‘Rahat Saeed Chhatari: The One and Only’, ‘Riaz Chacha: Multi-faceted and Most Charming’ about a family aquaintance and ‘Dr Salamat Kamal: A Friend Indeed’ are some of the close personal friends Shahid remembers. In ‘Sardar Hanif: What a Transformation’, Shahid writes of a neighbour from his childhood, whose family of six brothers later became prominent because of their well-reputed restaurant chain, Bar.B.Q Tonight. It is interesting to read about their distinguished lineage that goes back to Ahmed Shah Abdali, the first emperor of Afghanistan’s Durrani empire.

‘Kamal Ahmad Rizvi: The Man Who had Studied Kameengi [Meanness]!’ offers a very warm and touching account of the late actor and playwright’s life, his association with the author and his last days, as well as the brand of comedy based on crooked protagonists that Rizvi popularised in the television series Alif Noon.

The last nine personalities highlighted in the book are outstanding names in music. Shahid writes about Ustads Wilayat Ali Khan, Salamat Ali Khan, Asad Ali Khan and Raees Khan, noting that Raees had married the famous singer Bilqees Khanum and moved to Pakistan from India at the peak of his career. There are essays on sitar maestro Ustad Imdad Husain and the ultimate singer of ghazals, Mehdi Hasan. In ‘Talat Mehmood: Honey Dipped Voice’, Shahid recounts the journey of a man who began his career as a film actor, but gained enormous fame for his evergreen film songs. The author also includes elaborate descriptions of various musical gharanas and the technical aspects of thaat, raga and taal, which would appeal to connoisseurs of the Subcontinent’s classical music heritage.

Living Souls is a worthwhile addition to the scant collection of literature on our arts, culture and the dedicated individuals who have enriched the non-political, non-religious, softer dimensions of Pakistani society. Shahid’s writing style is modern, lucid, frank and literary with flashes of humour sprinkled throughout. In writing about the lives of his eminent friends, he ends up drawing a profound sketch of his own personality in this book, which is well produced and, commendably, almost error-free.

The reviewer is a freelance writer and translator of Freedom of the Press: The War on Words 1977-1978 and Mr and Mrs Jinnah: The Marriage that Shook India, in English and Urdu respectively

Living Souls: Memories
By S.M. Shahid
BBCL-BDD, Karachi
ISBN: 978-9699760051
223pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, June 14th, 2020

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