Radio: the real pioneer — II
Music was perhaps the greatest of radio’s attractions. Listeners could get everything they wanted. Classical, popular, or devotional music, all were available. Roshan Ara Begum, Nazakat Ali, Salamat Ali Khan, Amanat Ali, Fateh Ali Khan, Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanam, Umrao Zia Begum, instrumentalists Sharif Khan ‘Poonchwaley’, Hyder Buksh, Shaukat Hussain, Sain Marna, Babu Khan, Siraj Ahmed Qureshi and Kaley Khan and actors like Sheikh Iqbal, Mohammad Husain, Haseeb Malik, Mrs Haseeb Malik, Sabira Sultana, Khurshid Begum and S M Saleem are only a few names amongst a galaxy. Of course, not forgetting singer Reshman, who was entirely the discovery of Mr Salim Gilani in Lahore from amongst the gypsy singers.
I recall an incident about Sain Marna. He was a saeen (lord) completely lost in his own world but no one could match his recitals of ik tara, the single stringed instrument. On one occasion, he was booked as the ‘artist of the day’ for a particular day of the month. He was to appear in several chunks throughout that day. Saeen Marna came to the gate of Radio Pakistan on that day, and took a paan (betel leaf) from the vendor at the gate as usual. The vendor congratulated him for being the artist of the day, as if it were an honour. Saeen was pleased and happy at the honour but he disappeared and the producers could not find him anywhere near about! The radio producers had to make emergency alternate arrangements; director Mehmood Nizami was also very upset. Three days later, Saeen Marna made his appearance wearing a very decorative, fancy kurta (shirt) and was ready to perform! Nizami gave him a piece of his mind for having disappeared. Saeen Marna did not understand the administrative hassle he had caused and the subsequent attitude of the director. He said to the director, “I do not like this, I went to have a special kurta made for your programme and still you are angry? Now I am not going to play for you. I will sit outside the studio and play in the lawns for grass hoppers and not for you!” Mr Nizami realized that Saeen Marna lived in his own world and it did not relate to the realities of administration. Saeen Marna was the one and only of his calibre and so Mr Nizami rushed to the engineers, laid special cables and sent a microphone to the location in the lawns where Marna was playing for “grass hoppers” completely absorbed in his creativity! He may not have even realised he was being broadcast but Nizami had grown beyond personal vanity and provided an experience to the listeners. Such was the relationship between the team of administrators and creators.
Later, in the 1960s, Yasmin Tahir introduced western music in association with Mr Kroders. Yasmin also compeered the Fauji Bhaiyon Ka Programme (a programme for soldiers) and the first ‘call in’ audience participation programme, 52292. It was introduced by Mr Salim Gillani and assigned to Yasmin. Yasmin introduced the new FM 101 programming for radio, compered it, and, finally, the daily Sat Rang, during her 30-years dedicated services to radio. Sat Rang was a unique programme, lasting for about one hour daily, and Yasmin was the only compere who would talk to the listener as a friend. There were many other programmes of top popularity like Dehati Bhaiyon Ke Liye (for our rural brothers) with Mirza Sultan Beg, as ‘Nizam Din’, in his inimitable coarse voice representing the rustic tiller of the lands. Also, not to be forgotten, is writer/humorist/actor’s ‘Qazi ji’ of Shaukat Thanvi.
Lahore Radio even maintained its contact with listeners in India through a regular programme produced by Riaz Mehmood. The memories of the radio experience are unending. Great artists were introduced and developed by it for its audience. There is hardly any great name in literature or performing arts that does not owe a gratitude to radio for its support.
The traditions of the old radio station from the Fazle Hussain building changed with a move to the new Broadcasting House. I made some recordings for the archives with the cooperation of its dedicated Director Mr Shamsuddin Butt. The great Sufi Tabassum, A Hameed, Intizar Hussain, Nasir Kazimi and other colleagues like Akram Butt, Islam Shah, Raza Kazmi and Yasmin Tahir continued to uphold the great traditions for some time but there were new challenges, the greatest being television in 1964.The role of Lahore Radio during the war of 1965 and Nur Jehan’s voluntary contribution are part of its proud history.
The old guard has mostly faded out now. However, still, radio has such lovingly dedicated individuals as its director general Ms. Samina Pervez, director programmes Ms Nayyar Jamal and director Lahore station Mr Raza Kazmi that the outlook is optimistic. It is an expression of pride and dedication that they have decided to celebrate the anniversary of radio in Lahore. I congratulate them and they need to be heartily congratulated by all old and new associates. The radio has a huge reservoir of creative artists; the big names from the past and present are radio’s assets and a strong bond still exists between all of them. These are the kind of assets that cannot be claimed by any other institution. It is radio that provided the stream of creative individuals to Pakistan Television and sustained it for a long time. At that time, in the late 1960s, when I became the first Pakistani principal of Pakistan Television Institute, I found that most of the inductees had a background of radio broadcasting. This was true at all stations including Dacca where I conducted courses on sports coverage for television. I often wonder why the Pakistan Broadcasting Service did not start a television network of its own as the BBC did. It is still not too late. Radio can support a television network better than many an upstart in the field. It also needs to discover new avenues like cyber space and electronic social media.
There is no doubt that Lahore Radio is the ‘mother’ of the electronic media in Pakistan and it deserves the respect and support that is its due.