As I write this week’s piece, my glance strays again and again to a much faded black and white photograph that shows my late father and some of his friends from Radio Pakistan Lahore. Standing in this group is a young lad of ten years, who appears to be overawed in such august company. This little boy is none other than I and awe is not the only emotion that is besetting me for I am plagued by nervousness and fear. I am scared because I have just been ‘conscripted’ into the world of radio broadcasting.
My association with the airwaves began as result of a misplaced perception that I was a very bright student. I would finish my homework and preparation for tests with unbelievable speed, which left me with ample time to indulge in shenanigans, such as making a rocket out of an empty cigar tube filled with homemade propellant, which almost set the family car on fire. It was after many such close shaves that my father decided that a productive and ‘nonexplosive’ extracurricular activity was the best remedy for keeping me out of trouble. It was Z D Bukhari (the brother of celebrated Patras Bukhari), who advised my old man that there was no better medicine for wild young trouble makers like me than ‘doing radio time’. Little did I know that over a span of seven years (before I left to join another successful career), I would become part of an unforgettable magical world and its nostalgic happy memories.
This was a time when television had not yet come to Pakistan and “radio was king”. As a ‘child artiste’ I was immediately handed over to a ‘giant’ of his times – the great Rafi Peerzada. Many members of my generation will remember the first horror series on radio produced by this doyen amongst writers, actors and producers. The series was titled ‘Darr e Aamaa’ (a clever mutation of fear and drama) and was broadcast on weekly basis at midnight. Rafi Peer was an amazing character who was nothing less than a genius. Under his strict tutelage, I managed to imbibe the basics of voice control. According to him a great radio drama was one, where the producer managed to produce a visual picture with the audio at his disposal. My greatest achievement during the seven years part time affiliation with the yellow bungalow near ‘Simla Pahari’ was becoming a member of Rafi Sahib’s team.
Mohini Hameed was known endearingly to young listeners as Apa Shamim. This remarkable individual had one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. I had the honor and privilege to have been a voice on her children’s program every Sunday. This wonderful woman (who was also the mother of Kanwal Naseer – a senior school mate of mine) was always ready to help a novice such as myself. Radio productions of that time were mostly live and dramas were aired with the characters standing around a boom mike, holding script sheets.
There were however times, when bloopers were committed by new comers – it was then that stars like Mohini Hameed intervened ‘off the script’ to do immediate and successful damage control.
Khurshid Shahid was another unforgettable voice of the times, who migrated to television successfully and made it there too. This great star had a very strict and imposing exterior, which belied her motherly and wonderful inner self. We were intimidated by her to begin with, but soon realized that in her we had found the perfect teacher. I am happy that her legacy continues in her son Salman, who deserves his celebrity status in showbiz at home and abroad.
If one met Aqeel Ahmed, one could never imagine that this simple looking individual was one of the super stars that made radio what it was. Always willing to help others, this wonderful individual was popular with all and sundry at the station.
No mention of the golden voices of the past would be complete without an honorable mention of Aziz ur Rehman, the radio announcer with magic in his vocal chords. Aziz uncle as we called him, was a frequent visitor to our home and one of his daughters was my class mate. His resonant voice and Urdu pronunciation held millions of listeners spellbound.
These are but a few of the great names without whose contribution, radio would not be where it is. It is not possible for me to include all these great men and women in this week’s piece, but they were no less in their greatness than the ones featured here. As far as I am concerned, I am happy to say that on retiring from my career after four decades, I came home – the wonderful world of radio (and television).