The voice of an era

Kanwal Naseer will be remembered as the most eloquent TV presenter of all time

Kanwal Naseer, the legendary presenter of Pakistan Television (PTV), breathed her last on March 25. Naseer had diabetes and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) due to disease-related complications.

Naseer will be remembered forever as the voice of PTV. She and the late Tariq Aziz were the first presenters to ever address PTV viewers in its initial transmission on November 26, 1964. A simple greeting made Naseer a household name. Her eloquence, enunciation and perfect demeanour remain a cherished memory from the early days of television hosting.

Naseer is survived by her son Ali Naseer and three daughters - Saman Jawad, Shazaeh Naseer and Maniha Naseer. Her son-in-law Ahmed Jawad is the central information secretary of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

Naseer’s mother, Mohini Das, was the undisputed queen of broadcasting, and Kanwal, her rightful successor.

Naseer’s mother had joined All India Radio in 1938 at the age of 16 as a drama artist and later served as compere (host) of its children’s programme from Lahore under the pseudonym, Apa Shameem. She played the role for thirty-nine years.

Das married A Hameed and took her husband’s last name. After independence in 1947, she became the first female radio broadcaster of Pakistan. And was dubbed the nightingale of broadcasting. They were blessed with Kanwal in 1948.

Ahmad Shah Patras Bukhari, the head of Radio Pakistan, was highly impressed by Hameed’s speech and appreciated her talent. Bukhari ensured that her abilities were utilised most effectively. From drama and special announcements to many other projects, Mohini Hameed was the first choice for radio presentation.

In 1963, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) called Mohini Hameed the Golden Voice of Asia. She was honoured by the President of Pakistan with the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz and several other accolades and awards.

Kanwal started her broadcasting career at the age of seven. On the day of PTV’s launch, Senior Producer Fazal Kamal, realised that with two cameras in the studio and Tariq Aziz escorting the presidential entourage, there would be no announcer in the studio to go live.

Kamal hurriedly contacted Hameed and asked, “Apa, can we avail the services of Kanwal for just one day. She is quite articulate. I promise we will make the necessary arrangements from tomorrow onwards.” Kanwal was then sixteen.

A simple greeting made Naseer a household name. Her eloquence, enunciation and perfect demeanour remain a cherished memory from the early days of television hosting.

Naseer’s first announcement from the PTV platform was concise, simple and delivered in impeccable Urdu: “Assalam-o-Alaikum – this is Kanwal Hameed. I welcome you to the NEC Pilot Project and congratulate you on the launching of television in Pakistan.” President Ayub Khan, West Pakistan Governor Nawab Ameer Muhammad Khan of Kalabagh, Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Finance Minister Muhammad Shoaib stood behind her while she made the historic announcement.

Naseer’s wonderful voice modulations, perfect pronunciation, and the fact that she could speak English, Urdu and Punjabi with equal ease soon made her a household name across Pakistan. Naseer injected life into listless sentences and read them in a way that her listeners were left mesmerised.

Although Kamal had promised her mother to find a replacement the next day, no one was good enough to replace her, so she stayed.

Like her mother, she took her husband’s last name. He was an army officer. She remained associated with Pakistan Television as an announcer, anchor, newscaster, drama artist and show host (compere). The association of fifty-seven years ended with her passing.

In her teens, Naseer had the honour of interacting with the country’s finest artists, including Madam Noor Jehan, Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Reshman and Mehdi Hassan. Later through her work Naseer was acquainted with the revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who lived near the radio station and worked on a children’s programme with his daughter Moneeza. She counted Yasmin Tahir, Naeem Tahir, Khalid Saeed Butt, Dr Enver Sajjad and Ejaz Shafi among her friends.

She remained associated with the PTV in many ways after her retirement. She was twice honoured twice by the President of Pakistan.

Kanwal Naseer’s name is synonymous with television and broadcasting in Pakistan. Naseer became a legend in her own right and upheld her mother’s legacy with much pride.

The late Naseer campaigned relentlessly for eradication of tuberculosis from Pakistan. Kanwal Naseer is no more, but her efforts to eradicate TB will always be remembered.

The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. He reports on politics,

economy and militancy. He can be reached at [email protected]

The voice of an era