Yaar, Lahore khaali hota ja raha hai,” was the first comment from my old classmate when I shared the news of the demise of our legendary teacher, actor and media personality, Prof Shoaib Hashmi. He had suffered a brain haemorrhage and passed away on Monday at the age of 84 after a prolonged illness.
During the early days of Pakistan Television (PTV), Prof Hashmi made significant contributions through shows like Akkar Bakkar, Such Gupp and Taal Matol. These shows served as a stepping stone for later iconic programmes like Fifty-Fifty. It is fair to say that the comedy genre on national television never reached such remarkable heights again. Through his work, Prof Hashmi introduced a host of exceptional performers, including Samina Ahmed, Irfan Khoosat, Salman Shahid, Farooq Qaiser and Arshad Mehmood, who have left an indelible mark on our cultural landscape.
Balila started airing in the late 1970s. For shining light on human rights implications of dictatorship, it was abruptly taken off air. Undeterred by this setback, Prof Hashmi remained steadfast in his role as a voice for sanity and a passionate advocate for progressive movements and laws. He fearlessly championed causes such as women’s rights, minority rights, and labour rights. In 1981, he was arrested for this and imprisoned at Kot Lakhpat along with 400 others who shared similar ideals.
Prof Hashmi had an impressive academic background. He had obtained a master of arts degree in economics from Government College, Lahore, and an MSc from the esteemed London School of Economics. During his three-year sojourn in London, he had further honed his skills by studying theatre at the renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Building upon his academic prowess, he embarked on an illustrious career as an educator. He served as a professor and head of the Department of Economics at Government College, Lahore. Later, he assumed the role of director at the Centre for Media Studies, Art, and Design at the prestigious Lahore School of Economics.
In mid-1965, he had married Salima Hashmi, the daughter of poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The couple have two children, Yasser and Mira Hashmi. They had previously met on several occasions in Lahore and London through their shared interest in the performing arts. Reflecting on their marriage, Salima Hashmi shares, “Our marriage took place with my grandmother’s approval. She had no idea that Shoaib and I already knew each other. She looked at him once and said that he was a nice boy, and I should definitely marry him.”
Shortly after their marriage, the 1965 war broke out, and Lahore was under curfew. They were living in Model Town at the time and were among those who had curfew passes. Prof Hashmi was hosting a programme called Parakh. Ms Saleema was hosting a puppet show called Babloo aur Naazi for PTV. They continued their work even during the war.
The news of his passing evoked memories of our time at the Lahore School of Economics, where Prof Hashmi had imparted knowledge through courses on economics, mathematics and humanities. We were fortunate enough to enroll in his captivating Language, Culture and Society course, where he delved into the rich history, food, music and culture of our region – Lahore being one of his foremost passions. The assessments for this course departed from traditional written exams, instead embracing drama-based performances for the mid-term and final evaluations. I vividly recall our final performance, a rendition of Hajra Masroor’s timeless piece, Aik Kahani, Bari Purani.
One of the highlights of our academic journey with Prof Hashmi was a memorable excursion to the Walled City of Lahore. During this trip, he masterfully unravelled the significance and historical background of the various landmarks in his characteristic style. I still recall him recounting an amusing incident from the early days of his marriage when Ms Saleema expressed her desire to paint film posters. Prof Hashmi, eager to make a favourable impression on his new bride (his words), embarked on a determined quest to find the posters. Eventually guided to a local cinema, he discovered a hidden treasure trove of old film posters discarded behind the main screen for years. As fate would have it, while he was venturing behind the screen during a movie’s song sequence, an audience member humorously shouted, “Bhai sahib, yeh madam sirf screen per hi hain, peechay nayeen“ (Brother, this heroine only exists on the screen, not behind it!). The unexpected encounter led him to the realisation that the area he had stumbled upon was one of the city’s old performance theatres. He narrated how the untouched set, covered in layers of sand, retained its pristine condition, such that picking up a cup or moving a chair revealed a clean surface beneath. Together with his peers, Prof Hashmi initiated a movement to restore the venue to its original purpose as a performing arts centre, which we now know as the Alhama Arts Centre, Lahore.
Prof Hashmi embodied not only versatility as an artist but also remarkable liveliness, kindness, humility and love as a human being. His sharp blue eyes would fixate upon you, rendering a bewildering expression before erupting into contagious laughter. He always made himself accessible to students on campus, and it was a common sight to find him strolling around with a cigarette in hand, accompanied by a group of devoted students.
Though fate separated us almost 14 years ago when he suffered a brain haemorrhage, depriving us of his laughter and wit, his legacy endures through his remarkable body of work and the impact he had on his students.
The writer is a digital communication expert and consultant currently working in the public sector. He is the mastermind behind the digital platforms, Sukhan, Mani’s Cricket Myths and Over The Line