Daily Times: Sunday, July 17, 2006

Lahore Lahore Aye: Ah! Those old radio days

By A Hamid

When the Pakistan film industry entered a period of decline after having done so well for years on end, many of the musicians and composers associated with it began to move to Radio Pakistan. The first television station in Lahore had just begun life and could not offer work or employment to so many people. Radio Pakistan opened its doors to these men and women of talent, although it already had a large number of accomplished artists on its rolls. Musicians who had been associated with radio from the beginning included tabla player Shaukat Hussain, whom the renowned singers of the day, both our own and others, considered a master accompanist. Sain Ditta Qadiri, the flute player, had a nationwide following because of his mellifluous sound. He it was whose flute imparted a magic touch to the hauntingly beautiful music of Khwaja Khurshid Anwar. The master pianist of the subcontinent, Master Sadiq, who was blind, would make his fingers dance like the breeze on his baby grand’s keys. Sitar player Ustad Muhammad Sharif Khan Poonchwalay stood in a class apart. Ustad Talib Hussain Pukhawji could play the pukhawaj and the tabla with equal dexterity.

The great musicians in the employ of Radio Pakistan from the beginning included master clarinetist Sadiq Ali Mando, whose son Ghulam Haider Khan is a worthy heir to his father and his art. He is also the author of a number of books on music. Niaz Hussain Shami of Sham Chowrasi gharana’s composition, the popular song Charkha gul karda, people remember to this day. Shami was highly knowledgeable about classical music and a veritable dictionary when it came to answering a question about its intricacies. Then there was Abdul Haq Qureshi who could play any instrument, but mostly played jal-tarang. Also on radio’s permanent staff were Kaley Khan, who played the sitar, Patrick Anthony, who was a wonderful table player, Nazim Ali, who was a great sarangi player, as was Ustad Nabi Bux. The musicians who moved over from the world of movies to Radio Pakistan included sarangi player Ghulam Muhammad and my friends Asghar Hussain and Anwar Hussain, the violinists. There were many others whose names I am sorry to say, I do not now recall.

These were the talented people who made Radio Pakistan what it was. Then there were those who lent their voices to Radio Pakistan. Our announcers and presenters included such men as Mustafa Ali Hamdani, Akhlaq Ahmed Delhavi, Aziz ur Rehman, Nasreen Mahmood, Khalida Arjumand, Yasmin Imtiaz Ali (later Yasmin Tahir after she married Naeem Tahir), Mohini Hameed, Abdul Latif Musafir, and Mirza Sultan Beg, universally known as Nizam Din.

Akhlaq Ahmed Delhavi was known for his wit. Apart from making announcements, he would answer listeners’ letters and compere poetry readings. I can still hear Azizur Rehman’s clean and resonant voice informing listeners, “Hum Radio Pakistan Lahore se bol rahay hain’ - we are speaking from Radio Pakistan, Lahore.

Mustafa Ali Hamadani was the most senior announcer at Lahore radio with a voice and a style all his own. To him belongs the credit of making the first announcement from Radio Pakistan, Lahore, on the night Pakistan came into being (an honour Zahur Azar has claimed as his). He was also a poet and equally at home in Urdu and Persian. And forever unforgettable will remain the witty exchanges in the Lahore station’s farming programme between Mirza Sultan Beg “Nizam Din” and Abdul Latif Musafir. From amongst women announcers, Nasreen Mahmood was the senior most. Even today her voice has the same ring it had all those years ago. Khalida Arjumand began with the children’s programme, but soon moved to drama and features. She was later assigned the responsibility of making most of the station’s announcements. From 1990 on she became the regular presenter of the programme Punjabi Darbar, which had wide listening in Indian East Punjab because of the purity and richness of the language spoken.

When I think of producers at the old radio station – before it shifted to its new location on Empress Road – I recall with nostalgia men such as Abdul Shakoor Bedil, Tasadduq Ali, Rashid Habibi, Riaz Mahmood, Raja Farooq Ali Khan and Shad Amritsari. The movie music director Khayyam was Bedil’s younger brother. Bedil had an excellent ear for music. His recordings of mystic poetry are one of Radio Pakistan’s assets.

Time moves on. It does not look back. It obliterates the past and like a river it only flows forward. It is only man whom God had gifted with the ability to look back and look forward, learning from past mistakes - at least sometimes. There are some who remain lost in the mists of the past. I am not one of them. I have retrieved my past from the womb of time and I move into the future, holding on to my past. On a visit to the Lahore radio station some years ago, as I entered the corridor where the commercial service is housed, I remembered Ayub Rumani, who remained associated with the music section. He was an authority on music and treated with great respect even by professional classical musicians.

Near the end of his life, the poet Nasir Kazmi had come to Radio Pakistan as a staff artist. He wrote a number of memorable programmes under the title Aiwaan-e-Ghazal. I am not sure if any of those recordings have survived. Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabussum would interpret on the air every day a single chosen verse of Iqbal. During the summer, on some evenings, Farida Khanum would bring with her a tray-full of fragrant motia and distribute it among the artists. When Sain Akhtar Hussain sang Mirza Sahiban, you could hear his voice even outside the studio where he was performing.

I recall an old woman artist of Radio Pakistan who smoked heavily and was once a celebrated singer whom people came from far and near to listen to. She would sit in a corner of the station canteen, with a cup of tea in front of her, all by herself. Off and on, I would go and sit with her. In a low voice, she would talk about her childhood, when she was five or six years old. She would talk about the swings she used to play at with her friends and how she loved her dolls and how she played with them. On such occasions, she would get sad and her eyes would become moist. That melancholy artist is no longer in this world but I have not forgotten her, as I have not forgotten all those people I once worked with and the days of my early youth that I spent in the corridors and studios of this magnificent institution whose service to the arts no other institution can equal.

Most of those that I have written about are gone, but they have never gone from my heart.

A Hamid, the distinguished Urdu novelist and short story writer, writes a column every week based on his memories of old Lahore. Translated from the Urdu by Khalid Hasan


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