Like any other country, Pakistan too has been producing geniuses in various fields.

But this piece is not about them.

It is about those highly talented Pakistani men and women who experienced the flip side of genius – an awkward and often torturous state of being that some describe as being a kind of madness.

In the second part of this series, we continue our study of those promising Pakistanis whose lives had been touched by that strain of overt brilliance whose cost has sometimes been mental anguish, social isolation and unfulfilled (or only partially realised) talent.

Crazy Diamonds-I


Mustafa Zaidi

Just like enigmatic Pakistani poet, N M. Rashid, Mustafa Zaidi too lived a double life.

But unlike Rashid, Zaidi was not so secretive about his life outside that of a civil servant.

As Rashid quietly expressed his esoteric and erotic escapades in his poetry, while overtly exhibiting his other life as a straight-laced civil servant; Zaidi on the other hand, kept crossing the line, turning into a high-strung poet with a vivacious sexual appetite in full view of the public.

Zaidi was initially educated in an Islamic madrassa in India before his family moved to Pakistan.

After earning a Masters degree in English Literature from Government College Lahore, Mustafa’s family persuaded him to join the Civil Service, which he did in 1954.

All the while he kept doing what he loved doing the most: Writing Urdu poetry.

Though hailed as a talented poet by critics, and befriending many leading Pakistani poets, such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Zaidi somehow could not gain the kind of commercial and critical recognition that he believed his work deserved.

By the 1960s Zaidi the civil servant was doing well but Zaidi the poet was becoming increasingly bitter.

A time finally came when he began to struggle to keep a balance between his life as a bureaucrat and that of a poet.

His drinking became a problem and almost all of his affairs with an assortment of women ended disastrously, further embittering his already shaky mental and emotional disposition.

In the late 1960s his poetry also became highly sarcastic, in which he taunted his contemporary poets for failing to recognise his talent. He also taunted poetry fans for being like sheep that failed to appreciate individuality.

By now Mustafa was married with kids, but he continued to have affairs, until he thought he had finally found a soul mate and the perfect muse in the shape of Shahnaz Saleem, a famous socialite of the time.

It was a torrid affair in which Mustafa asked Shahnaz to marry him but she refused, instead marrying a rich businessman (and whom Zaidi accused of being a smuggler).

This was also the period Zaidi wrote his most intimate and insightful poetry that was published in his 1969 collection, ‘Koh-e-Nida.’

Many of his fans believe that in a number of ways, Zaidi talked about committing suicide in this collection.

The most continuous theme in his poetry (that of being a misfit), is the strongest in ‘Koh-e-Nida.’

But his failed affair with Shahnaz was the one he just could not come to terms with.

Dismissed from his job, alienated from his family and contemporaries, and in a state bordering psychosis, Zaidi decided to perform one final act that (in his mind) would not only embarrass the creative community and society, but also gain his work the recognition that he always felt it deserved.

In 1970 he booked a room in a Karachi hotel and asked Shahnaz to meet him there. Shahnaz reluctantly agreed.

He called room service and asked for two coffees. He quietly slipped sleeping pills in Shahnaz’s cup.

Once she had fallen asleep, he took a heavy dose of poison, collapsed and died.

He was right. It was only after his tragic and dramatically enacted death that Zaidi became the widely hailed poet he always desired to be.

His collections suddenly started to sell big. But, unfortunately, the man behind the now famous poems was not there to experience his own rise.

How could he be? It was a rise he knew could only be achieved by killing himself in a way both the press and poetry fans would ‘appreciate.’

He was just 40.


Hassan Nasir

To the leftists of Pakistan he was their first ‘martyr.’ To his family this ‘martyrdom’ was something that it could never entirely recover from.

Hassan Nasir was an exceptionally bright and charismatic young man born in an aristocratic Muslim family in Hyderabad Deccan in India.

He got admitted to UK’s prestigious Cambridge University where he came into contact with various young British and Indian Marxists.

He was soon converted. On his return to India (and against his family’s wishes), he took an active part in an intense armed peasants’ uprising in the Telangana region.

In 1950 he migrated to Pakistan and joined the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) in Karachi.

Though just 22 years old, he greatly impressed the party leadership with his in-depth knowledge of Marxism and his activism.

His militant outlook and popularity among students, peasants and industrial workers got him arrested by the Pakistani government in 1954.

He was severely tortured and then forcibly flown into exile for a year.

In 1955 he was back. Since the CPP had been banned in 1951, Punjabi and Urdu-speaking leftists joined up with progressive Sindhi, Baloch, Bengali and Pushtun nationalists to form the National Awami Party (NAP). Nasir was made the party’s Secretary General in Karachi.

He soon turned his office into a busy working and planning area for leftist students and trade unionists.

Though his aristocratic background could have easily guaranteed him a rich and comfortable living, he chose to live among poor labourers in make-shift shanty towns of Karachi.

In 1959 when the pro-US Field Marshal Ayub Khan launched a military coup, he ordered a heavy crackdown against leftists. Nasir went underground to organise an urban workers’ uprising against the military dictator.

In 1960, Ayub, while being briefed about the action against opposition parties, lost his cool when Nasir’s name came up. He is reportedly to have lashed out and shouted, “Oh, that bloody communist! I think he should be executed!”

Nasir was finally located and picked up by the police and taken in chains to a special cell set-up by the police in Lahore’s historical Lahore Fort.

Here he was continuously tortured, beaten up and refused food and water for days. Then finally, he was murdered there. He was 32.

A 1993 article about Hassan Nasir in a leftist Urdu weekly.

The news of his death is said to have had made his father suffer a mental breakdown, while his mother refused to agree with the police that the mutilated body that they had shown her was of her son’s. She returned empty-handed to Hyderabad Deccan. Till this day nobody is quite sure what happened to the young communist’s body or where is it buried.

It should also be noted that Hassan was the only member of his family who had decided to migrate to Pakistan from India.


Sarfraz Nawaz

Unlike Wasim Raja – the cricketer we discussed in the first part of this feature last week – Sarfraz Nawaz did a lot more justice to his talent.

But there are still those who believe that as a fast bowler he was 300-plus- wickets material.

In a Test career spanning 14 years, Nawaz bagged just 177 wickets, a tally that is certainly not compatible with the prodigious bowling talents and skill he possessed.

In the attitude department however, he was quite like Raja. He too was continuously at loggerheads with his captains and the cricket board.

But whereas the prodigious Raja’s disposition was that of a loner and an introvert who let off steam through his flamboyant batting and (at times) by plunging into drunken rages, Nawaz was more boisterous, outspoken and an enthusiastic brawler.

It was this attitude that restricted Nawaz from playing as many Tests and ODIs as he should have.

His genius lay in the canny way he actually invented the art and science of what later became to be known as ‘reverse swing bowling.’

Later exponents of reverse swing like Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Yunus have all cited Nawaz as the originator of a technique in which the fast bowler is able to get swing with the old ball by keeping one side of the ball rough while obsessively shining the other side.

Some experts also have a date on which reverse swing was fully introduced to the game. It was during the first Test between Pakistan and Australia in Melbourne in March 1979.

Just as the Aussies seemed to be cruising towards victory, Sarfraz suddenly send them crashing in a late spell of stunning reverse swing bowling, bagging nine wickets for just 86 runs!

For almost a decade Nawaz formed a penetrating opening bowling partnership with Imran Khan.

Khan not only became his most astute student but his best friend as well.

Sydney, Australia, 1976. Sarfraz is congratulated for taking another Australian wicket in a Test that was won by Pakistan mainly due to the fast bowling exploits of Nawaz and Imran Khan. Seen in the picture (from left): Sadiq Muhhamad, Mushtaq Muhammad, Sarfraz, Zaheer Abbas (hidden), Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and Gary Cozier (batsman).

In their respective autobiographies, former Pakistani cricket captains, Mushtaq Muhammad and Imran Khan have both described Nawaz to being an almost bipolar personality who would give his all on the cricket field but was prone to break every rule laid out by the board and the team management.

For example, Mushtaq was always astonished to discover how Nawaz regularly broke team curfews by slipping out of hotels and ‘drinking, womanising and partying’ at clubs till the wee hours of the morning but would then be the first one to arrive on the ground!

Another former captain, Intikhab Alam, suggests that it was Nawaz who (during Pakistan’s 1974 tour to England) introduced Khan to the wonders of nightlife and club-hopping, something Khan’s elder cousin Majid Khan became very concerned about.

On the field Nawaz is also credited for being the first Pakistani cricketer (along with Javed Miandad) to have adopted the Australian tactic of ‘sledging’ – in which a bowler/fielder hurls distracting abuses and taunts at batsmen to unnerve him.

Mushtaq and Khan describe how Nawaz and Miandad became ‘terrors’ on the field, especially between 1976 and 1979.

Nawaz would spit abuses (in Punjabi!) at the Australians but his main target remained to be India’s classy opener, Sunil Gavaskar, who (during India’s 1978 tour of Pakistan), had to approach Pakistani skipper Mushtaq on numerous occasions, asking him to ‘control Sarfarz.’

During the 1979 Cricket World Cup in England, Sarfraz developed differences with Pakistan’s new captain Asif Iqbal.

Later, Nawaz refused to play under Asif and opted out of Pakistan’s 6-Test tour of India. He later claimed that he found Asif to be ‘corrupt.’

Nawaz returned to the side under Miandad’s captaincy but joined a rebellion against him by 10 players led by Majid Khan.

He was coaxed back into the side by new skipper, Imran Khan.

Nawaz was also a passionate supporter of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and its chairman, Z A. Bhutto.

During a side game against the visiting England side in 1977 (when Ziaul Haq had toppled the Z A. Bhutto regime and thrown him in jail), a PTV camera and microphone accidently picked up Nawaz hurling abuses at Zia while talking to a reserve fielder at the boundary line.

The game was being telecasted live and the camera immediately jerked, quickly moved away and began focusing at an empty spot in the stands.

Four years after his retirement (in 1984), Nawaz joined the PPP (now under Benazir Bhutto).

After contesting the 1988 Punjab provincial election, he was made a sports advisor in Benazir’s first government.

Known for being a compulsive ‘womaniser’, Nawaz understandably married more than once in his life. His last wife was famous Pakistani actress, Rani.

He actually met and married her when the actress was told that she had cancer. Though the couple divorced, Nawaz was seen constantly at her bedside and in tears when the cancer finally took her life in 1993.

Still thick friends with Imran Khan, Nawaz finally had a falling out with him in the early 1990s when Khan first became a ‘born-again Muslim’ and then an extreme critic of the PPP.

Nawaz accused Khan of being a hypocrite and Khan retaliated by calling Nawaz ‘mad.’

Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz at a nightclub in Melbourne, Australia, 1981.

In the late 1990s, when Pakistani players like Rashid Latif, Aamir Sohail and Basit Ali came out and accused a number of their teammates of being involved in match-fixing, Nawaz became their biggest supporter.

He championed himself as a crusader against match-fixing, but when he also began to take names of former cricketers like Gavaskar, Asif Iqbal and Miandad, they too retaliated by calling him ‘crazy.’

In 2011, he quit the PPP and joined the MQM saying it was Pakistan’s most progressive and secular party.

Today Nawaz lives alone and refuses to take back any of his accusations against his former teammates and board officials, even if this means that he would most probably never be able to find any worthwhile position in Pakistani cricket anymore.


Junaid Jamshed

Once in early 1993 while sharing a beer with Vital Signs’ vocalist, Junaid Jamshed and founder, Rohail Hayyat, I thought I saw something snap in Junaid when he began sarcastically poking fun at the music of The Beatles and Pink Floyd, accusing it of being ‘deviant.’

Maybe it was just the potency of Pakistan’s classic Murree Beer talking, but even then I did believe that JJ would evolve into something none of us could even imagine.

Throughout my stint as a cultural reporter and ‘music critic’ in the 1990s, I had always maintained that JJ was perhaps the finest, most melodic and sensitive pop vocalists Pakistan has ever produced.

But he was a troubled soul, a fact that was well known by Rohail and the mighty Signs’ mentor, the brilliant Shoaib Mansoor.

But it was also a fact that was unfortunately ignored or just kept under wraps by them.

JJ joined the Vital Signs in 1987 when he was still an engineering student at a college in Lahore. His voice and sense of melody were two of the leading reasons behind the Signs’ meteoritic rise between 1988 till the group’s demise in 1997.

He was also an incurable romantic. Though most of his band mates had a series of flings with a host of women, in 1989 Junaid got embroiled in a torrid affair that pushed him on the brink of suffering a nervous breakdown.

Though not noticed much at the time, even during the height of the Signs’ fame in 1994-95, JJ had already started his gradual slip (flip?) towards a state of mind that would eventually land him as becoming the puritanical Tableeghi Jamaat’s poster boy.

Cover of Vital Signs’ Greatest Hits album (1993). From left: Rizwanul Haq (guitarist), Rohail Hayyat (Synth-player/producer); Shahzad Hassan (bassist); Junaid Jamshed (vocalist).

Soon after the release of the Signs’ fourth album, Hum Tum, in 1995, Junaid started to mail letters to various newspapers complaining that their music pages were promoting and glorifying “druggie music” and bands whose members were “Satan worshippers.”

Though by then his two closest allies in the music business, Rohail and Shoaib, had become aware of the growing conservatism in the religious and social ideas held by Junaid, they still couldn’t see through the obvious fact that in front of them was a man spiralling downwards towards a situation in which he would ultimately start questioning their faith!

The mid and late 1990s was also a time when a number of Islamic evangelical outfits had begun to mushroom in all the major cities of Pakistan. They almost squarely targeted young middle-class urbanites as recruits and for this they began to ‘covert’ and conscript famous personalities from the Pakistan cricket team and the show-biz scene.

Though the Tableeghi Jamaat was far more established, it was in the 1990s that they began to approach young urbanites that were associated with cricket, show business and the military.

Junaid’s conversion into becoming a Tableeghi Jamaat man was not sudden. It was a gradual, slow and rather painful process, unfolding piece by piece.

He was the hungriest for success and stardom in the band, not only in pop music but also in film and television.

This made him one of the hardest working members of the group and he actually wanted to continue recording with the band beyond Hum Tum (the Signs’ last album).

He is on record as saying that music was his life as he went on to release two impressive post-Signs solo albums.

But more and more he was falling prey (rather willingly) to his frustrations, as his desire to work again with the Signs got no serious response from Rohail and his dream to star in a Shoaib Manoor film only got him lazy chuckles from the director.

In spite of the fact that Rohail’s liberal mindset, tastes and lifestyle always clashed with Junaid’s idea of being an artiste (even though he himself was leading a rather posh and lavish life), this undercurrent eventually turned into open resentment by the time Rohail did come around and agreed to reform the band in 2002 for a special Nazia Hassan tribute concert.

It was interesting to note how Junaid responded to Rohail’s call. Only a few days prior to the concert, Junaid had already announced to the press that he was joining the Jamaat full time and would quit making music.

In fact he had been spending his time preaching and being preached at a congregation in Raiwind when he suddenly reappeared on the day of the concert flanked by two members of the Jamaat but with his long, flowing beard (that he had begun to sport from 2001 onwards) now trimmed into a neat, stylish goatee.

When asked by the press about his earlier statement regarding his retirement from music (and that ‘music was unIslamic’), Junaid said that after consulting with some elders in the Jamaat, he has been assured that there was nothing wrong with playing music.

Wearing a T-shirt, denims and with a stylised goatee, Junaid played an excellent set with Rohail, Shahzad and the original VS guitarist, Salman Ahmed.

However, at the end of the concert he looked anguished as he started making his way towards his two Tableeghi comrades waiting in the wings to gather him back.

Junaid Jamshed after quitting music and becoming a full member of the puritanical Islamic evangelical group, Tableeghi Jamat.

Then he refused the lead role in Shoaib Mansoor’s 2007 film, ‘Khuda Kay Leeay.’

He publicly criticised the way Mansoor portrayed jihadis and Islamic evangelists in the film, saying that it is Shoaib who is confusing the youth about Islam and not him.

But, of course, Junaid’s own confusion regarding the subject is now well documented and his lectures and statements never fail to sound contradictory as he goes about denouncing the material and the ungodly nature of music and showbiz, but continues his long-standing stint as an expensive clothes’ designer and a naat-reciter.

He released his naat albums through exactly the same immoral promotional and distribution channels used by his pop music counterparts.

After finally deciding to let go of his need for fame and attention through music, he has ironically found almost an equal amount of fame and fortune as a naatkhuaan, televangelist and designer.


Salamullah Tipu

History records Salamullah Tipu as the man who planned and undertook one of the longest airplane hijackings in history (13 days).

To many of his contemporaries Tipu was a cold-blooded murderer and a hooligan. But to others he was a hero of sorts albeit easily exploitable.

This self-styled Marxist revolutionary was actually born into a conservative Urdu-speaking (Mohajir) family in Karachi.

His father’s favourite son and a brilliant student at school, he wanted to join the Army and fight India.

However, by the time he was in the 8th grade, he began to get into fights and indulge in petty theft.

He did enjoy a small stint as a soldier but was dismissed once the military realised that he had a criminal record.

Disheartened, Tipu joined college. Here he was courted and then recruited by the IJT, the student-wing of the fundamentalist, Jamat-i-Islami (JI).

While reading essays written by JI’s founder and Islamic scholar, Abul Ala Maududi, Tipu began to compare these writings with articles on Marxism and socialism he found in the progressive Urdu weekly, ‘Nusrat.’

During his second year in college, he began to befriend members of the left-wing National Students Federation (NSF).

This did not go down well with his IJT comrades who also admonished him for his growing liking of whiskey and of visiting Karachi’s red light areas.

During one student union election at his college, he suddenly turned against the IJT by supporting one of their opponents belonging to a progressive student’s alliance.

Dismissed from the IJT and then by the college administration for getting into regular fights, Tipu got back into committing petty thefts.

His favourite hobby became stealing brand new cars, driving them (at top speed) to the city’s red light district, picking up women from there and spending all the money that he had made by selling the car’s expensive parts on booze and at nightclubs.

On his concerned father’s insistence, he rejoined college in 1975. In this college he joined the NSF. He wanted to run for student union elections but was asked by the NSF leadership to become its ‘security in-charge.’

Tipu thus became a feared muscle-man of the progressive student groups and formed a unit of hooligans and ‘street fighters’ whose job it became to tackle the militant wing of the IJT (the Thunder Squad).

In 1976 when he again asked his NSF comrades for a party ticket they told him he was still not versed well enough in Marxism.

After challenging them to a debate on the subject, he quit NSF and plotted to get his political career going by joining another progressive student group, the Peoples Students Federation (PSF) – the student-wing of the ruling PPP.

His college mates of the time say that Tipu wanted to become a politician and would have made an excellent leader because of his sharp knowledge of the electoral dynamics of both student union and parliamentary elections in Pakistan.

In 1977 he finally got the opportunity to fight a student union election when the PSF chose him to be one of its candidates. By now he had also started to admire Prime Minister Z A. Bhutto and was desperate to meet him.

However, just before the election, he accused his IJT opponents of trying to harass his supporters and then got into a violent brawl that left two IJT members with broken bones.

He was eventually dismissed by the college administration. It is believed that the PSF would have done the same had Bhutto’s regime not been toppled in a military coup in July 1977.

In 1978, with the spectre of the growing violence of IJT and the crackdown against progressive student groups by the reactionary military dictatorship, PSF ended up promoting him to become the student outfit’s president in Karachi.

But most of Tipu’s time was spent escaping police raids. In 1979 after the IJT introduced the AK-47 in student politics at the Karachi University, Tipu decided to arm the PSF as well.

In early 1980 he, along with some progressive and leftist student activists led a raid on a van carrying arms for IJT members. They beat up the driver, stole the arms and Tipu then distributed them among his closest PSF confidants.

The same year progressive student outfits while protesting against the Zia regime at the Karachi University, set fire to an Army Major’s jeep.

The IJT, that, like its mother party was supporting Zia, intervened and caught hold of some students and handed them over to the police.

One of them was a close friend of Tipu’s. The next day an enraged Tipu entered the university with an armed posse of PSF militants and got into a fire fight with a group of IJT boys, one of whom was killed.

Pursued by the police, Tipu escaped to Kabul in Afghanistan, where Bhutto’s sons, Murtaza and Shahnawaz had set up a left-wing guerrilla outfit, the Al-Zulfiqar [AZO] with the help of the then Soviet-backed communist regime in Kabul, Qaddafi and PLO.

In 1981, he re-entered Pakistan and with three other PSF men hijacked a Peshawar-bound PIA plane.

He forced it to land in Kabul where Tipu shot dead a Pakistani diplomat onboard who (Murtaza mistakenly thought was a pro-Zia operative). He wasn’t.

March, 1981. Salamullah Tipu waves from the cockpit of the plane he hijacked (with three other men).

Though Tipu was able to get Zia to release over 50 political prisoners rotting in Pakistani jails, the meaningless murder turned the tide against AZO.

The PPP’s co-chairperson, Benazir Bhutto, who was in jail at the time, too denounced her brother’s organisation.

The hijacking saga lasted 13 days. This was because Zia refused to release the prisoners even after the Pakistani diplomat was shot dead.

Then Tipu came up with another plan. He told the Pakistani authorities that he would begin to kill the American passengers on the plane if Zia did not meet his demands. Within a matter of hours, Zia capitulated and released the prisoners.

Though initially hailed as a triumph by Murtaza, the hijacking actually triggered a power struggle within the AZO.

Raja Anwar (who had joined AZO in 1980 but was jailed by Afghan authorities on the insistence of an increasingly paranoid Murtaza), suggested that Murtaza planned Tipu’s downfall by making him murder a man close to the Afghan intelligence agency.

Murtaza was getting concerned about Tipu’s growing influence in AZO, and also because Tipu seemed to have convinced the Afghan authorities that he (Tipu) was the real Marxist revolutionary and brain behind the AZO and that Murtaza was just a feudal lord pretending to be a revolutionary.

According to Anwar, Murtaza did pretend to mend his ties with Tipu though, and then ordered him to kill a man in Kabul.

When the Afghan authorities got to know that Tipu was the murderer, Murtaza (who had by then moved out of Kabul), refused to own up that it was he who had ordered the murder.

Tipu was arrested, tried and condemned to die by an Afghan court. In 1984, he was executed. He was just 29 years old.

His father tried to locate his body but failed, and nobody knows exactly where in Kabul he is buried.


Julius Salik

Calling Julius Salik eccentric would actually be an understatement. Some may even call him mad, but none can doubt his sincere and deep compassion, not only for his fellow Pakistani Christian community but for the human condition as a whole.

Born into a middle-class Punjabi Christian family (his father was in the Army), Salik spend most of his youth being a passionate supporter of Z A. Bhutto and his PPP.

As a young man he took an active part in a number of movements and rallies against the dictatorship of Ziaul Haq and was arrested and tortured on a number of occasions.

His style of protest was always unique and the authorities were sometimes baffled about what to make of them. He would stick an injection in his veins, draw out blood and then sprinkle it on the ground saying he is giving blood back to the mud that moulded him.

He would lead processions sometimes carrying a huge cross on his back or ‘his own coffin.’

By the late 1980s he became an unsurpassed leader of Pakistan’s Christian community. And when the PPP under Benazir Bhutto returned to power in 1988, Salik was made a Minister.

But this didn’t tone him down. As a Minister he reached war-torn Bosnia along with his family members.

When his only son pointed the life hazard, J.Salik silenced him saying that ‘the dead bodies of father, mother and son reaching Pakistan on Christmas would not only help arouse world conscience but also enhance Pakistan’s prestige.’

Then riding on an army tank he left the airport to express solidarity with the oppressed Muslims of Bosnia.

In 1995 when residential plots were being allotted to members of the Parliament under a parliamentary housing scheme, Salik announced at a press conference that he would not accept an official plot until each and every poor man in Pakistan owned a house. He held the press conference while sitting inside an old bathtub (see picture).

When Benazir Bhutto’s second government was dismissed by President Farooq Laghari, Salik left his residence allotted to him by the government by first letting a couple of camels live with him in his living room (see picture) and then using the same camels to load his belongings.

Disillusioned with politics, he quit the PPP and decided to work full time as a human rights activists. This got him a nomination for the Noble Peace Prize.

Salik continues with his ways. But age seems to be catching up with him. He even sounds lonely because when religious intolerance in Pakistan began to grow; his family (wife, parents and sons) all decided to migrate to the US. Salik, however, refused.

Salik pours ash over his head.

Today he says he could have become a Minister many times, but that would not do justice to what he always set out to do. Make Pakistan a strong, proud and progressive country where the poor are treated with respect.

During a recent interview on a Punjabi TV channel in which he sounded bitter and even exhausted, Salik said: “Class, dress and glass. Yes, glass. The rich refuse to drink from the same glass as the poor. It is a symbolism of the emotional and societal divide. Some call me mad, some laugh at me, tease me, but all I ask them is to look inside themselves. What do they see there apart from misery and strife? For them, life itself is madness …”


Rafi Khawar (aka Nanah)

Pakistan has produced some of the finest TV and film comedians in the region. Some had a natural gift of gab (such as Munawar Zarif, Lehri, Ali Ejaz, Majid Jahangir, and Omar Sharif), and some were masters of the slapstick (Rangeela, Nirala, Ismail Tara, etc.).

But then there was also Rafi Khawar (aka Nanah). A comedian with a sharp wit and a natural talent to pull off hilarious slapstick bits.

The truth is he was always hard to pin down, mainly due to the fact that (quite like Ali Ejaz and even Rangeela) he seemed equally good even in the few serious roles that he played.

Growing up in Lahore in the 1960s, Nanah was a passionate theatre fan and wanted to be a stage actor. But when roles did not come his way, he began attending functions as a stand-up comedian.

His jokes were funny but when audiences saw them being performed by a chubby fellow they laughed even more. A film producer took note.

But when the producer introduced him to a director, the latter told Nanah that he was better off trying his hand at wrestling than acting.

Disheartened, Nanah began doing radio plays. Here he ran into the intense stage actor and writer, Kamal Ahmed Rizvi. Rizvi wanted to write a TV play in which he would be able to attack societal ills through comedy.

One look at Nanah and Rizvi’s mind lit up with an idea. He would set a play on the concept of Laural & Hardy but in which the thin Pakistani Laural (Rizvi) would be a scheming and amoral fraud and Hardy (Nanah) would be his innocent, impressionable and extremely naïve sidekick.

The concept became the series ‘Alif Noon’ that became a massive hit.

Nanah and Kamal Ahmed Rizvi.

After the success of ‘Alif Noon,’ film offers came pouring in and by the mid-1970s, Nanah was one of the leading film comedians in the country.

His most famous and successful films were with Ali Ejaz and with female comedian Tamana.

Even at the height of his film career, Nanah remained painfully shy with women.

A number of times he fell in love with actresses but just couldn’t articulate his interest in them fearing that they would not take him seriously, or reject him because of his weight.

Then, when the Pakistan film industry began its slide downwards, facing competition from the VCR and suffering badly at the hands of the censor board enacted by a post-’77 military regime, Nanah attempted to make a comeback on TV.

He reunited with Rizvi for another round of ‘Alif Noon.’ The series again was a hit but was cut short when Rizvi was stopped from mocking the military dictatorship.

During this period, Nanah again fell in love. This time with famous dancer and actress, Naazli.

He confided his feelings in Rizvi who advised him to talk to Naazli. But Nanah, by now 41 and still chubby continued to fumble and change the topic every time he tried to talk to her.

This inability of his was slowly turning into a painful emotional malaise in him and he soon fell into a deep depression and heavy drinking.

Then one day in 1986, he finally decided to go and tell Naazli what and how he felt. But while he was on his way, he was again gripped with the terror of being rejected and maybe even made fun of. In panic, he returned and locked himself in his room.

The next day, he woke up, quietly pulled out a gun from a drawer, put the barrel in his mouth and shot himself.

Naazli didn’t even know that this shy, good humoured and sensitive man had been in love with her for almost three years.

He was 42.


Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and



The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.



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16 Jun, 2024

Fugue state

WITH its founder in jail these days, it seems nearly impossible to figure out what the PTI actually wants. On one...
Sindh budget
16 Jun, 2024

Sindh budget

SINDH’S Rs3.06tr budget for the upcoming financial year is a combination of populist interventions, attempts to...