“In the short history of the growth of America, if you look closely, there has perhaps been one good and clever man, Lincoln, as president and the rest have been ineffectual nonentities, or even out and out cads and bounders [such as] Nixon and Reagan and yours truly. And Britain has had her share of Maggie Thatchers, and they may lionise Winston, but he really got by on bravado and a clever tongue. If his commanders had really followed all the hare-brained schemes he thought up, they would have lost the war and their pants!”

The above is an excerpt from a 2007 column by Shoaib Hashmi, published in The News on Sunday. I remember following his columns titled ‘Taal Matol’ regularly because of their brevity, spontaneity, sharp wit and political wisdom. With the same facility, he could write about flora and fauna on the one hand and the confusions within the lawyers’ movement of 2007 on the other. His expanse in his columns was as broad as his own pursuits in life. Hashmi was almost 85 when he passed away in Lahore recently, after battling with health conditions for 14 years.

Hashmi was a professor of economics at Government College — now Government College University — Lahore, besides being a progressive thinker, literature aficionado, actor, director, writer and translator of great merit. He had studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in the United Kingdom.

On Pakistan’s only television channel at that time, he was among the trailblazers of humour writing with deep political content and cutting-edge satire. Those of us who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s can never forget his plays and serials such as Akkar Bakkar, Sach Gupp, Taal Matol and Balila. As far as I can recall, Balila was banned as soon as it was aired because of its satirical content, which made the regime of the day nervous.

Pakistan had a functioning film industry until the 1980s, but slowly and gradually the glamour shifted away from the silver screen to the television screen for the newly emerging tiers of middle classes across the country. From Peshawar to Karachi, Radio Pakistan was home to actors, singers, writers, poets and scholars since the foundation years of Pakistan.

One major reason was that generation’s ability to see the umbilical link between literature, language, theatre and the performing arts.

From the 1970s, Pakistan Television (PTV) joined Radio in furthering space for the creative and performing arts. From then until the late 1990s, the last three decades of the 20th century can be seen as the most enlightened era of Pakistani media across radio, television and print.

With people such as Aslam Azhar and Agha Nasir at the helm, the quality of content on both radio and television was decidedly superior to what we have seen after the arrival of the 21st century. Farhad Zaidi was perhaps the last from that generation who served as the head of PTV. It was not just the content, but the producers and writers of plays and comedy shows who were women and men of letters in their own right.

The list is long and impressive. To remember the works of a few, look at the names of Nusrat Thakur, Mohammed Nisar Hussain, Arif Waqar, Iqbal Ansari, Abdul Qadir Junejo, Akhtar Viqar Azeem, Bano Qudsia, Haseena Moin, Sarmad Sehbai, Noorul Huda Shah, Kamal Ahmad Rizvi and Anwar Maqsood.

Those creating music included the likes of Khawaja Najmul Hasan and Arshad Mahmood. Even some of the major actors of that age, such as Talat Hussain, Naveed Shahzad and Rahat Kazmi, are literature buffs. Zia Mohyeddin used to host shows on PTV. Radio Pakistan had similar people, from Mumtaz Mirza to Zamir Ali Badayuni. The list is, again, long and impressive.

In the last three decades of the previous century, we had newspaper editors of the stature of Mazhar Ali Khan, I.A. Rehman, Razia Bhatti and Ahmed Ali Khan. Writers of the highest pecking order, Safdar Mir and Intizar Husain wrote newspaper columns for us. I still remember the gripping ‘Karachi Diary’ of Ghazi Salahuddin and a column titled ‘Feuilleton’ by Professor Khawaja Masud. None other than poets and scholars Raees Amrohvi and Jamiluddin Aali wrote regularly for Urdu newspapers. All of these people were, and are, embedded in literature despite coming from different academic backgrounds.

One of the major reasons, perhaps, for that glorious age — even after braving a long period of martial law and witnessing the arrival of another — was the ability of that generation to see the umbilical link between literature, language, theatre and the performing arts.

That link is now severed. In mainstream media, music has turned into organised orchestrated noise and entertainment has suffered at the hands of the grossly limited intellect of most producers and writers. To top it all, the media industry today is marred by crass commercial interests. However, a few writers and directors today, such as Bee Gul and Faseeh Bari Khan, are there as exceptions to prove the rule.

The names I have mentioned above, along with so many others who couldn’t be mentioned because of paucity of space, defined that media age of yesteryears. These people were holistic in their approach towards life and art. They were not lopsided and this was amply reflected in their work. American novelist Gertrude Stein had once said that art is the pulse of a nation. In our case, that pulse can be easily palpated by looking at the bulk of what we are producing.

Hashmi was a shining star of that glorious age and his passing reminds us again that we need to recreate that link between literature and performing arts in mainstream media which he so ably used to nurture his work.

The columnist is a poet and essayist.

He has recently edited Pakistan Here and Now: Insights into Society, Culture, Identity and Diaspora. His latest collection of verse is Hairaan Sar-i-Bazaar

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, May 28th, 2023

Opinion

Editorial

Banning PTI
Updated 16 Jul, 2024

Banning PTI

It appears that the govt and its backers within the establishment have still not realised that they are in uncharted territory.
Nato at 75
16 Jul, 2024

Nato at 75

EMERGING from the ashes of World War II, and locked in confrontation with the Soviet-led Communist bloc for over ...
Non-stop massacres
16 Jul, 2024

Non-stop massacres

Netanyahu is cunningly pretending to talk peace while mercilessly pounding Gaza. What is clear is that a return to pre-Oct 7 status quo is impossible.
Afghan challenge
Updated 15 Jul, 2024

Afghan challenge

Foreign states must emphasise to the Afghan Taliban diplomatic recognition and trade relations all depend on greater counterterrorism efforts.
‘Complete’ justice
15 Jul, 2024

‘Complete’ justice

NOW that the matter of PTI’s reserved seats stands resolved, there are several equally pressing issues pertaining...
Drug fog
15 Jul, 2024

Drug fog

THE country has an old drug problem. While the menace has raged across divides of class and gender, successive ...