Lahore Lahore Aye: The old Radio days
By A Hamid
The old Lahore radio station no longer exists except for those of us
who spent our early youth in its studios and corridors. It lay in an
old house next to Shimla Pahari at the back of Governor’s House. I had
visited it two or three times before Pakistan. There are only two
people whom I can recall from that time. One was music composer
Jivanlal Matoo and the other Akhtari Bai Faizabadi (later Begum Akhtar).
Also Matoo’s wife, the sweet-voiced Madhuri, who was a classical
singer. But their faces are now wrapped in the mist of time.
After moving from Amritsar to Lahore in 1947, the radio station became
one of my hangouts. I had by now begun to write fiction. Off and on, I
would be asked to draft a speech, feature or even write a play. I had
several friends at the station, among them, Shad Amritsari, Akram
Butt, Razi Tirmizi, Saleem Shahid and Aklaq Ahmed Delhavi.
What a place it was! Those who wrote for it or appeared in its
programmes included literary greats as Imtiaz Ali Taj, Abid Ali Abid,
Rafi Peer, Hafeez Jullandhari and Tajwar Najibabadi. And what an array
of artists the Lahore station had: Mohni Hamid, known to all children
of the day as Apa Shamim, Sultan Khoosat, Mirza Sultan Baig and Salim
Tahir. And then there were the legendary announcers Mustafa Ali
Hamdani, Azizur Rehman and Akhlaq Ahmed Delhavi.
The station had two entrances, but one was always kept locked, which
was where Bashir the betel leaf man was headquartered. He knew
everyone who worked at the station by name. The other gate was for
visitors and staff, guarded by a man named Sher Muhammad. Artists and
actors used tongas to get to work, while the station director owned
the only car which would be parked in the front porch. The road that
ran in front of the station remained practically deserted all day
long. Lahore was a very quiet city in those days.
All programmes went live. Qadeer Malik and Altafur Rehman specialised
in providing sound effects. Great musicians like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan,
Umeed Ali Khan, Barkat Ali Khan, Roshan Ara Begum, Bhai Lal regularly
performed from the Lahore station. The canteen was housed in what was
the garage, which was where we would sit on benches drinking tea. The
annual two-day spring concert was the high point of the year, with the
first evening devoted to light and the second to classical music.
During the rainy season, the jaman trees that stood on the lawns would
bear fruit profusely. I recall Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum picking up
the fallen fruit from the ground, wiping it up with a handkerchief and
exclaiming, “Yaar, they are really sweet”. He would sit in a small
room which was where a chair was also laid out for me when I was
engaged as a staff artist. That was a great privilege. Sufi Sahib
would sometimes recite a Persian couplet and then explain what it
meant. What I learnt from him I have never forgotten. It was here that
I met for the first and last time Rafiq Ghaznavi. He was a
distinguished looking man and a charming conversationalist. By then he
was past his prime and his temples had greyed.
Saleem Shahid, whom both Anwar Jalal Shamza and I knew, was posted to
the station as assistant director and we began to spend much of our
time in his room. He was born a Hindu but had converted. In winter, he
would have a log fire going in his room and we would sit in its
warmth, sipping tea and smoking. I recall our group going to Regal to
watch Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire starring Marlon
Brando and Vivian Leigh. Shad Amritsari’s room was on the first floor,
which was where I saw Umrao Zia Begum, Master Ghulam Haider’s wife,
for the first time. When I was a child, her naa’t, Mera Salam lai ja,
Yasrab ko jaanay walay was very popular. Her dholak duets with
Shamshad Begum were also very popular, all broadcast from the Lahore
And how can I forget Ayub Romani, the tall, handsome Kashmiri from
Lahore who was the life of the station. He had learnt classical music
from the great Bhai Lal Amritsari and though he did not sing himself,
so respected was he by musicians that they would often come and ask
for his advice. The fact is that only those people used to join radio
in those days who had a longing for the arts and who had fire in their
belly. It wasn’t just a job for them but something much more. What
they earned wasn’t much, but they would not have traded their job at
radio for anything. Ayub Romani once told me a story about Ustad
Barkat Ali Khan. Khan Sahib on return from Calcutta brought a woollen
shawl for his wife. “I made the fatal mistake of asking what I owed
him,” Ayub recalled. “That brought tears to the great Khan Sahib’s
eyes and he said, “Ayub Sahib, I took you for my son, but you turned
out to be an afsar”. So moved was he by the memory of that encounter
that tears welled up in his eyes, which he quickly dried with a
handkerchief that he pulled out of a pocket and said to the peon,
“Son, go and get us a full set of tea”.
And how can I ever forget Abdul Shakoor Bedil, our Tea House companion
and poet? He was at Government College when I met him. By the way, he
was the elder brother of the famous film music director, Khayyam.
Shakoor had a fine voice and being mystically inclined, he liked
singing kafis. He also lent his voice as playback in a couple of
movies made after independence.
He started out as a sharp dresser, known for his well-tailored suits,
but then a change came over him and we would only see him in homespun
cotton. He had also taken to praying regularly in the small mosque
next to the station.
He left Lahore because his children had moved to Karachi. On a visit
to Karachi, I went to the radio station to look up my old friend Inam
Siddiqi, who phoned Shakoor, “Khawaja Sahib is here from Lahore,” he
said. In minutes he was there. I noticed that he had greyed. We
embraced and talked about the old radio days in Lahore. When I was
leaving, he sighed and said, “Khawaja Sahib, this world is so
transitory. One can only pray that God will be kind to us and forgive
us our trespasses.” I asked him to read me some of his poetry, which
he did. I returned to Lahore and when someone told me some time later
hat Abdul Shakoor Bedil had died, his words began to ring in my ears.
Was that his way of saying goodbye, I wondered?
A Hamid, distinguished Urdu novelist and short story writer, writes
a column every week based on his memories of old Lahore. Translated
from Urdu by Khalid Hasan.