In memoriam

May 21, 2023

In the early 1970s, Shoaib Hashmi was on television setting up new standards for skits and episodic pieces

In memoriam


he first time I saw Shoaib Hashmi was on stage at the old Alhamra Hall in the early 1960s. The play was Soey Kahan, probably an adaptation of A Little Bit of Fluff. And with him there was Meena Dawood. The play was, of course, hilarious and appealed to a boy entering his teens, totally missing out on loaded asides. There was something very quaint and decent about the performance and the small audience’s reaction became for me the standard for all performances to emulate. The plays were mostly adaptations of drawing room comedies and all acting and directing set about adapting the plays mostly in Urdu. Over the years, the taboo of women not appearing on stage was challenged and to some extent successfully led by the casting of a young Salima Faiz in a play by the secretary of the Council, Faiz Ahmed Faiz himself.

Alhamra was a dilapidated sprawling old style kothi with huge trees and a garden that was largely unkempt and under the trees and along the hedges like in groves sat this theatre, music enthusiasts and painters mostly weaving dreams and spinning yarn. However, there was something special about the ambience of the place –it as exclusive and haloed.

My parents took me to see the plays and I began to recognise artists like Naeem Tahir, Yasmin Taj, Kamal Ahmed Rizvi, Salman Peerzada, Safia Deen, Nudrat Altaf, Abdur Rehman Chugtai, Shakir Ali, Moeen Najmi and Firoz Nizami. With the advent of television, these personalities soon became known to a wider world. The PTV transmission was three hours long every day except Monday and the plays and other programmes kept the people glued to this new wonder, savouring the novelty of it all. Shoaib Hashmi appeared those days in shows and in other programmes playing the host in live transmission.

When I joined the Government College, there was no Shoaib Hashmi and there was hardly any theatre. My friend-to-be Usman Peerzada informed us of the greatness of Government College Dramatics Club and was piqued and vexed at it being dormant. I was to learn later that he had gone abroad for higher education. However, two years later, Shoaib Hashmi became my teacher. His understanding of economics was much wider than we, the text book types, could comprehend. When he held forth, the facts and figures and diagrams and statistics just faded, being humanised, all becoming living entities rather than being dry academic squibs. Sadly, those occasions were rare.

It was the first class in the morning and we, a bunch of students, waited on the crest of the hill for a Morris Mini Minor to climb up the slope through the winter fog. Sometimes a young woman would be in the car, and we came to know later that it was Salima Hashmi.

But there was no theatre still and it had to wait for the arrival of Dr Mohammed Ajmal as principal and Rafiq Mehmood as Head of the English Department to get the club revved up again. Sarmad Sehbai’s play, Taun Kaun, was a success. His next play, Dark Room, was directed by Shoaib Hashmi for the Najmuddin Drama Festival where it was adjudged the best play of the festival. Shoaib Hashmi’s engagement with the production opened our eyes. The absence of sets, stylised costumes and the use of lighting were for us totally unconventional and uprooted our understanding of a production.

Shoaib Hashmi was a very gregarious person; he loved banter, company and drew satisfaction in playing the host. His house, on most of evenings, had a raucous set of friends and students, the latter finding a meaningful outlet in the company of their ustad and his many friends.

Shoaib Hashmi was a very gregarious person; he loved banter, company, and drew satisfaction in being the host. His house, on most evenings, had a raucous set of friends and students, the latter finding some meaningful outlet in the company of their ustad and his many friends.

Our visits to the house became more frequent. In the process, we met Faiz Ahmed Faiz. We were in awe and kept a distance but he was affable and very accommodating in his own quiet way. As we emboldened over time, we tried to challenge his laid back apparent nonchalance as being antagonistic to the desire for a tumultuous revolution. Now that I recollect in retrospection between vaulting unfounded youthful passion and its due engagement by a sage who had seen much it was a very energising interaction. He was always much sought after and was hijacked by his friends, admirers, socialites, intellectuals away from our clutches. We often felt betrayed and inadequate wishing often we had spent the time with him more gainfully than just brandishing one-upmanship.

In the early 1970s, Shoaib Hashmi was on television setting up new standards for skits and episodic pieces that were relevant and struck a chord with the audiences while maintaining a certain restraint. He wrote the script and directed it. Over the years this restraint eroded to quite an extent and become more pointed, even perhaps overstepping the boundary. Akkar Bakkar, Tal Matol and Such Gup were very popular. There was also the musical rendition of Faiz’s lines that were for years a taboo on the state media. Many of my friends, contemporaries and college fellows joined the team and formed the nucleus that served theatre, film and television for decades to come.

Farooq Qaiser, Durre Semeen, Shahid Toosi, Irfan Khoosat, Naveed Shahzad, Abbas Shafi, Hasnat Ahmed, Salman Shahid, Samina Ahmed, Mansoora Hasan, Arshad Mehmood, Nayyara Noor and Shahnaz Sheikh, were all one way or another involved with either the media or the thespian arts for years to follow.

Little did one know that the team would be banned from the state media for the next decade and that Shoaib Hashmi’s most productive years would be wasted in the exile imposed on him. He was also hounded and transferred out to the outback from his teaching post but survived to be back at the Government College till his retirement. He took up teaching assignments at private institutions of higher learning established later.

Our respect for him increased as he refused to step into the positions vacated on the forced removal, mostly unjustified, of his senior friends/ contemporaries. As some freedom was granted by the loosening of the strictures after the Press and Publication Ordinance was done away with and launching of newspapers in the private sector, he started writing columns that continued till he fell ill.

The launch of the Faiz Festival added new vigour to the endeavours of both Salima and Shoaib and they went about creating a platform for a more liberal discourse in a society that was being constructed around very narrow lines.

His house was always an open one where people from all ages came unannounced, uninvited and partook of the couple’s hospitality. He was also laid back and did not impose upon himself the role of an ideologue or a pontificator.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore.

In memoriam