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May 16, 2021

Goodbye, Uncle Sargam

 
May 16, 2021

Those who grew up in the 1970s and even the 80s can’t possibly forget the puppet show Kaliyan and its main characters such as Uncle Sargam and Maasi Museebatey. They kept in thrall children and adults alike and provided much needed comic relief in the dark years of General Ziaul Haq. Kaliyan’s creator Farooq Qaiser passed away on May 14, 2021, in Islamabad, leaving his admirers and family friends devastated. Qaiser was 75 years old and had been suffering from some heart ailments. Art was his first love which took him to the National College of Arts in Lahore and then to Romania and the US to study graphic design and mass communication. Qaiser had diverse talents and was at ease in various forms of expression from column writing and directing plays to puppetry and scriptwriting. But perhaps he was best known for his voiceover that endeared his characters to millions of listeners and viewers across the country and beyond borders.

While working for Unesco, Qaiser provided education services in India for two years, and he also had several books of humour to his credit. His portrayal of Uncle Sargam still resonates with the laughter that the character triggered at the drop of a hat. His voice was so avuncular that Sargam appeared to have taken over the identity of Qaiser himself. Seldom has Pakistan seen TV programmes so hugely popular as Kaliyan was. Its characters became household names and people started giving real persons monikers based on those characters. PTV had launched that show in 1976 when the founding father of PTV the great Aslam Azhar was still at the helm of the corporation and used to encourage and invite new talents to produce marvelous works of merit. For Qaiser, Kaliyan became his pet project and then he continued with other shows such as Daak Time, Putli Tamasha and Sargam Times.

The iconic status that Qaiser enjoyed was unsurpassed in many ways. One, he was one of the pioneers of puppetry in the country and nobody before or after him could match the zest with which he associated with his puppets. This status he had acquired much earlier in life and for at least forty years people admired and loved him and his characters. The contribution of Farooq Qaiser to the creative arts in the country will be remembered for long.