Zero hour and Radio Pakistan
Radio was the only source of information, entertainment and education. If your voice was broadcast over the radio, you became known
It was the zero hour between the night of August 14 and August 15, 1947, which is the most significant moment in the history of this subcontinent. Those who have lived in those times would remember that the suspense of the partition of the Indian subcontinent and the consequences of it were already occupying everyone’s mind months earlier. An announcement by the British was expected any time.
It ultimately came on June 3, 1947. The promised independence to Pakistan and India was to be effective at the zero hour between August 14 and 15, 1947. All India Radio being the only means of communication, millions of people were glued to their radio sets. Then midnight…12 o’clock…the zero hour arrived, and we heard the announcement. “Yeh Radio Pakistan hae…..” It was the voice of Syed Mustafa Ali Hamadani, the duty announcer at the Radio Station in Lahore. Mustafa Ali Hamadani’s announcement immortalised him and sent an electric wave through all the people who officially heard the name ‘Pakistan’ for the first time.
Radio Pakistan was located in a bungalow owned by Sir Fazle Hussain near Simla Hill on the road turning towards the Governor’s House in Lahore. The radio station at Lahore and the radio station at Peshawar were the oldest stations and existed before independence. A word broadcast from these was the standard of diction and pronunciation. A great deal of research and training preceded any broadcaster before he reached the microphone. Almost all great broadcasters from India, particularly from All India Radio, Delhi, arrived in Lahore and worked for some time here. These included Akhlaq Ahmed Dehlvi, S M Salim, Amir Khan and others.
The most distinguished broadcaster of those times, Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj, was indeed in Lahore and that all time resonant voice of Mohini Das (later Mohini Hamid) kept audiences glued to radio. At the time of partition, there was a huge influx of refugees coming to Walton Camp. When their needs went beyond the resources of the district administration, Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj was requested by the deputy commissioner to make a public appeal for contribution of materials. Mr Taj at that time was writing and broadcasting a daily programme called ‘Pakistan Hamara Hae’ (Pakistan is ours).
He made an impassioned appeal to the people of Lahore for contributions for the refugees. Within 24 hours, he had to appeal again to thank them and to stop further contributions. The contributions were much beyond the expectations of the administration and they were finding it hard to deal with piles of household items, jewelry, cash and a host of other things. Such was the power in the appeal that across the border, Mr Gandhi wished he had a person like Mr Taj on his side.
On the other hand, the creative side of broadcasting kept the audience attached to their radio sets on daily basis. Drama, music, and the news were the most important. Radio was the only source of information, entertainment and education. If your voice was broadcast over the radio, you became known. The range of the radio listeners was not limited to only Pakistan; our radio was regularly listened to in India and many other countries where Urdu or other vernacular languages were understood.
Unforgettable ‘drama’ voices appeared on radio. I became a broadcaster in 1956 through a humorous short story that I had written titled, Akhbar Main Tasveer Chapne Key Baad for the university magazine. I read it and almost immediately afterwards, I was taken as a writer, actor and general broadcaster. I tasted the fruits of overnight stardom! I had the good fortune of working with M Rafi Peer, Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj, Mohini Hamid, Mohammad Hussain, Sheikh Iqbal, Sultan Khoosat, Shaukat Thanvi, Amir Khan, and later on with Iffat Mukhtar, Mahnaz Rafi, Yasmin Tahir and other distinguished voices who made their mark. I was lucky to have been invited to all major radio stations in Pakistan.
Then there were great producers around. Syed Razi Tirmazi, Salim Gilani, Izhar Kazimi, Raja Farooq Ali Khan, Shaad Amritsari, Amin ur Rehman, Kalimullah, Chaudhry Bashir, Soofi Tabassum and Ashfaq Ahmed. I had the good fortune of working with all of them. The persons working for radio were conscious of their noble role as trainers and educators.
A very important tradition in the radio was that all authors had to submit their handwritten manuscripts before they could be accepted for broadcast and payments. Therefore, radio stations became the biggest repository of handwritten manuscripts. All great names in literature or any other field, particularly drama and the short story, contributed. I did the same, and felt that ‘I am safe’ and could ask for a copy of my accepted scripts anytime in the future. But alas, this was not to be. In 1962, a new broadcasting house was built where it now exists. All records were shifted in gunny bags to this new centre and put in the basement. Hardly anybody knew after that what went where.
In 1965, the war started and radio assumed a new and key role of keeping the national morale high. Some amazing written work was produced in dramas and taranas (anthems), and of course who can forget Noor Jehan’s scintillating voice.
Life moved on and the archives were forgotten. I needed some scripts for publication, but nobody could trace them in the innumerous piles of bags. Imagine the manuscripts of over 100 years gone. As the director general of the National Council of the Arts, I discussed the problem with the DG Radio. He expressed his inability to do anything as he had no funds. I immediately funded all requirements of computers, etc, to prepare a catalogue of the works with Lahore Radio Station. The work started, but I do not think it continued for long. I only hope it did. However, the most important part of preserving these scripts has certainly not happened. I hope that someone now at the helm of affairs will realise the importance of manuscripts as national assets, find and retrieve them.
The writer is a culture and media management specialist, a researcher, director and author