Monday, 12 February 2018

Peshawar Radio’s aesthetic phase when N.M. Rashid ran the show

Peshawar Radio’s aesthetic phase when N.M. Rashid ran the show
City Diary
Afzal Hussain Bokhari
25 January 2005 Statesman

With huge listeners’ mail piled up on his table, station director of Radio Pakistan Peshawar, late Noon Meem Rashid, who was later to become the founder of modern Urdu poem and earn the title of being ‘poets’ poet’, picked one letter after the other and examined the contents personally. The voice that answered the listeners’ letters in those days described itself simply as “payami” (the messenger). Quick to find a pattern in a regular phenomenon, Rashid somehow noticed that every week a letter signed just as “salami,” found its way into the radio mail. The contents of the letter showed that its writer understood broadcasting and had adequate knowledge of Urdu, Persian, Arabic, English, Pashto and Hindko.
The passion for talent hunt, for which old-time broadcasters (like Zulfiqar Ali Bokhari) were famous, dominated Rashid. He decided to reach out to the author of well-written but anonymous letters. “Payami” came on air and dished out a thinly veiled threat that in future he would not be entertaining any letter from “salami” unless it contained his complete postal address. The threat worked and the next letter said it came from 312, Dhakki Munawar Shah, Peshawar City. Without letting anyone in the Broadcasting House know of it, Rashid quietly descended on the place.
Out from the building to greet the radio director emerged a handsome, smiling young student Malik Rahat Ali who was then the editor of the Edwardes College magazine. Malik later did his Master’s in Persian, went into journalism and retired as a senior member of the daily Mashriq’s editorial section. Rashid was amazed to see that the 19-year-old college student had specially travelled to Lahore to see Maulana Chiragh Hassan Hasrat who then wrote fascinating columns for the prestigious Urdu daily “Imroze,” mostly with his byline but occasionally under the pen name of “Sindbad.”
Meetings between Rashid and Malik continued as long as Rashid stayed in Peshawar. During his tenure, writers like Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi, Sa’adat Hassan Manto and others felt attracted towards Peshawar. Qasimi even agreed to stick around and work at Peshawar Radio as script editor for some time. Rashid later left Peshawar and disappeared into the dizzying heights of fame and eminence.
Born in Ali Pur Chattha in central Punjab, Rashid has all along been an essential name on the literary scene. Soon after his birth, a Hindu astrologer worked out a horoscope and predicted that Rashid would have two male issues, which incidentally proved true. His son late Shehryar Rashid by first wife Safia became a civil servant and was later appointed Pakistan’s ambassador in Uzbekistan. Shehryar’s mother Safia is buried in Karachi. Rashid took care to get Safia’s grave cemented. Apart from Shehryar, Safia also had a loving daughter Nasreen, who by good chance is still alive. We pray for her health and a long life.
Almost every year, Rashid’s death anniversary goes unnoticed. Most of the senior names in Urdu poetry and prose feel scared in arranging a get-together where befitting tributes could be paid to the sublime art of Rashid. The main reason for this unpardonable neglect appears to be the mysterious circumstances in which his last rites were performed in London.
Rightly or wrongly, after 29 long years of the poet’s departure, his daughter Nasreen Rashid has tried to lift the curtain on her father’s death. In an article carried by the Rawalpindi edition of a major Urdu newspaper, she wrote that when her father died of a heart attack in Surrey, England on October 9, 1975, he was in the custody of his second wife Sheila, who had an Italian father. When Sheila’s father died in London, he was cremated according to family traditions.
Rashid went to see the cremation of his father-in-law but the guards hesitated in allowing him into the ritual. When he introduced himself as a retired UN officer, the guards ultimately let him in. Nasreen said that on his return from the cremation, Rashid felt so disturbed that he simply would not wish a similar end for himself. All the same, on Rashid’s death, Sheila ordered a cremation. The ashes remained preserved for some time in a crematorium in south London but these were later scattered over the Garden of Remembrance.
The rules in England were strict and gave legal wife the rights to decide about the last rites of her husband the way she liked. Nasreen said she and her brother Shehryar did not want to have the dead body of their beloved father burnt. They wanted to give him a decent burial but they were helpless. They contacted some London-based writers but everybody said he was sorry. In its obituary note, BBC’s Urdu service quoted Sheila, as having said that a cremation was what Rashid had personally desired in his will but Nasreen said she or Shehryar were absolutely unaware of any such will.
The BBC news, when reproduced by the vernacular press in the subcontinent, created immense embarrassment for Rashid’s family back home. People in general tended to dismiss the poet as a Westernised secular intellectual who did not like even an Islamic burial for himself. Nasreen denied all this as one-sided propaganda and said that she knew very few Muslim scholars who understood the Holy Quran better than her father did.
Giving an example of how deeply religious her father was, Nasreen recalled that in order to offer ‘fateha’ on her mother’s grave, Rashid took Tanzeel, his son from the second wife, to Karachi. When Tanzeel said he felt like urinating, Rashid told him to wait until they were out of the graveyard. “How could such a man want cremation as had deep respect even for the dead?” asked Nasreen.
Apart from the unending debate on being more religious or less, in the literature of the subcontinent, Rashid emerged as some sort of T. S. Eliot of Urdu poetry.
The obscurity and vagueness in his poetry, the grandiose and unfamiliar diction, the mystery and the intricately woven rhythm, and his fascinating way of co-relating the ordinary atom to the wider universe is the same as in Eliot.
Even well-read critics of Urdu literature shy away from attempting a worthwhile analysis of his poems and collections of poetry.
Aside from his wonderful translations from modern Persian poets of Iran, Rashid has left behind four beautifully challenging collections of poetry: 1. Mawara, 2. Iran mein ajnabi, 3. La = Insaan, and 4. Gumaan ka mumkin. Cremated or buried, these books will never let Rashid die, anyway.

Post a Comment