August, 2018

By Javed Jabbar

These are draft notes for a 3-Act play about a character unlike any other one has ever met. Every human being is unique. A few are more so than most. Anwar Maqsood is in that handful.

Act One: August 1963. Day-time. Scene: Faculty of Arts, University of Karachi.
Dozens of students walk on the open, roofed walk-ways, and through corridors, in and out of classes, or lounge on steps, or on the grass. This writer is one of them, part of the first-ever first-year B.A Honours group in International Relations comprising only 5 students. One was an attractive French girl named Jacqueline, another a Muslim youth from Mauritius named Adam Karimbocus, the other two fellow Pakistanis, a charming Umra Nur Mohammad and an ever-smiling Ismat Parekh. Each of us is getting our bearings, adjusting to the intimidating new setting of a university campus spread over several acres peopled by several thousands.

There suddenly appears a slim, somewhat senior-looking student with a couple of books tucked under an arm, a quizzical, bemused expression that causes us anxiety. But with ice-breaking introductions over, we discover that Anwar Maqsood is 2 years senior, and in the Economics Department. Over the next few weeks a bond is formed.

At least four elements bring us together. A shared, unspoken appreciation for the engaging company of girl students. The International Relations and the English Department clearly had the most intelligent, articulate and lovely-looking young women on site. Drawn together by chemistry, girls and boys were held together by innocent pleasures of company: soon labelled as “The Coca-Cola group” whose territorial claims covered the cemented steps and the green lawns. In time, and in the future, this group’s members, and others on its fringes, proved to be exceptionally notable in respective talents and achievements, so prominently represented by Anwar. Second: an instant awareness of Anwar’s wit and humour, their spontaneity proving their originality. The anti-thesis of the dryness with which the subject of Economics is associated.Third: post-campus hours, the always hospitable household of Anwar’s remarkable family, headed by his warm, gracious mother, overseeing his gifted siblings, each of them a gem. Fourth: a partially common ancestral linkage with Hyderabad Deccan, of Anwar’s and of this writer’s.

The Students’ Theatre Guild, formed by end-1963 on a collective initiative led by Javed Ali Khan, Qasim Ishaque and others, including this writer, requested Anwar to be the de facto set-cum-production designer. He did not take a speaking role in any of the three plays produced between 1964 and 1966. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (which, by its staging occasionally, became a comedy rather than remain its original tragedy),Moss Hart’s and George Kaufman’s actual comedies You Can’t Take It With You and The Man Who Came To Dinner. But he worked enthusiastically with Ali Khan, the Director of all three plays.

Anwar became the soul of fun behind-the-scenes. Whether mischievously tying up our Roman togas or spotting slip-ups by actors or crew, he had us in such splits it was sometimes difficult to keep a straight face on stage and deliver one’s lines --- while also remembering the puns and pins that Anwar was finding off-stage.

Our perennially hard-up group yearned to see the newly-released film “Lawrence of Arabia” at Bambino Cinema where the huge 70mm camera images were being screened for the first time -- at increased ticket rates. Which, we discovered at the cinema, were beyond what our pockets had. Anwar said: “Don’t worry”. He approached a beggar seated on the pavement, whispered a promise to him -- and presto, borrowed the required amount. (It was re-paid, with interest, later).

Thanks to Anwar, we thoroughly enjoyed the film; and felt a special pride in viewing our very own Pakistani star Zia Mohyeddin in the film’s dramatic first segment.
Anwar filled those three university years with several such episodes of immense hilarity.

Act One concludes to the magical waltz of “The Blue Danube”, the theme music for all the Guild’s plays.

Act Two. Scene One. 1966-1969. Multiple backdrops, commencing with the Kharadar branch of United Bank Ltd. where Anwar finds his first job, Radio Pakistan, Karachi and Karachi Television Centre.

While Anwar begins to explore the fields of finance and banking in 1966 --- including using his valuable experience of extracting hard cash from the least likely sources --- this writer explores the field of advertising and travels away to London for the second half of 1967, thus missing out on regular contact for several months. But interaction soon resumes.

As a free-lance contributor to radio plays and programmes, as a writer and as an on-screen person for the unknown yet quickly developing black-and-white TV medium, Anwar’s written and spoken words quickly become recognizable --- for their unconventionality, their freshness, their sheer funniness.

He is also drawing, sketching and painting. Even in silence, his persona expresses itself distinctly, often quite differently and unexpectedly soberly from his growing reputation for entertainment. One meets him at art galleries, in the company of elders like Sadequain and Ali Imam, and contemporaries like Shahid Sajjad and Bashir Mirza.

Then comes the turning point, the climax of Scene One. 20th December 1969. He weds the elegant Imrana who brings a whole new dimension to his life, an element of support and stability vitally needed for an artiste struggling to escape the straitjacket of Economics and Banking. This writer decides to offer a humble gift to the couple in the form of a Super 8 mm film, recording glimpses of the marriage ceremony. Beautiful bride and handsome bridegroom were captured in flickering, colourful images --- alas now preserved only on a VHS tape. But which, whenever viewed, recreates fragments of the evening when the two of them tied the abiding knot of a life-time.


Scene Two. 1970-1983. Multiple backdrops change over 13 tumultuous years.
As a new Pakistan emerges from the tragedy and tears of 1971, Anwar has already moved from UBL to the state-owned Investment Corporation of Pakistan (ICP), initially led by the always immaculately-dressed Shakirullah Durrani (father of the soon-to-be-famous author Tehmina Durrani). He works as Head of Shares but his heart shares little interest with his mind -- which is often elsewhere. When Z.A. Bhutto becomes President and CMLA on 20th December 1971 --- Anwar’s second wedding anniversary --- ZAB attempts to humiliate Durrani to settle some scores.
After ICP, Durrani had gone on to head the State Bank and PIA. He was summarily sent off to jail and the scene was shown on state-run PTV. While still at state-owned ICP, Anwar dares to visit S. Durrani to express respect and solidarity --- and is able to avoid being penalized for this audacity.

A few years later in 1977, Anwar makes the first of two clean breaks. He locks up the door to the financial field and throws away the key. Mansoor Bokhari invites him to join EMI to enable him to fuse together his mind and his heart in the world of music. Plunging into work with a zest belied by his laid-back manner, Anwar produces the first-ever cassette tape of renderings by the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan which goes on to become a best-seller, followed by work with several other stellar names, including Nur Jahan. Along the way, Anwar helps Munni Begum to develop her musical persona, including suitable garb. Simultaneously, he sustains regular output in writing a range of material for TV and radio, including straight comedy as well as oblique sobriety. He appears as the host of stage programmes organized as ticketed or invitees-only events as also live and recorded shows for PTV. Writing and ad-libbing during the obscurantist rule of General Ziaul Haq, Anwar begins to formulate and sharpen a penetrating, mirth-inducing style which says as much on the lines as between the lines. The hugely popular “Fifty-Fifty” “PTV epitomizes his exclusive approach.

In 1983, comes the second clean break. This time, the break is with being employed full time. Anwar steps into the uncertain yet full-of-possibilities arena of becoming an independent, self-employed individual able to pick and choose whatever he wants to do with his time.

As the lights fade on Act Two, the sound of a Mehdi Hasan song from the super hit Pakistani film of 1983 titled “Dehleez” wafts through the air waves: “Jeewan pyar ka pyaasa hai… “

Act Three. 1983-2018-and onwards. Backdrops and foreground action become a cavalcade of colourful scenes. Yet the main character remains visually virtually the same.

Except for fine white hair. And the signature dead-pan expression.

This Act spans the longest phase, is relatively short and has no end --- because the script continues to unfold. These past 34 years are marked by a prodigious volume and variety of work for TV, radio, theatre, print media, live programmes on stage, endorsement of advertised brands and projection of public service messages, as a free-lancer, and as a Director on the ARY Media Group Board.

In 2007, this writer, as the writer-producer of the cinema film Ramchand Pakistani (directed by Mehreen Jabbar) persuades him to write memorable lyrics for four songs composed by Indian music director Deyabjoti Mishra and Anwar provides emotive power and heart-warming words for lilting melodies.

Uninhibited by authority and pretence, using quick, caustic jabs to deflate pomposity, irreverent and irrepressible, mixing sometimes awkward thrusts with frequently smooth passages, Anwar defines a signature style -- instantly welcomed with smiles or laughs, be it swift one-liners or 3-Act dramas. From one family’s travails in Aangan Tehra to a whole nation’s torment in Pauney Chowdah August --- Anwar deftly traverses diverse terrains with singular humour.

Aptly recognized by the state and society, he receives an array of awards comprising the Hilal-i-Imtiaz, Pride of Performance, Quaid-i-Azam’s Gold Medal and umpteen others presented by democrats like Benazir Bhutto as also dictators like Ziaul Haq.
That friendships formed, such as with some others and with this writer over 55 years ago, endure and grow every day in 2018 and testify to Anwar’s sincerity, character and consistency of values. Even when meeting occasionally in small stag groups, without the charm of the company of girl students as in university days, his company delights and exhilarates.

His work is stimulated by spouse Imrana who, in her own right, is a creative and gifted individual. She helped bring two dear children into this world in the persons of Bilal, who soon became a musical prodigy with his leadership of Strings, and Arjumand who married and took part of the family’s talent to her married life in Saudi Arabia. Imrana writes as many as 35 books for children, and several cookery and health tip books, besides a tribute to her husband. She volunteers time for the SOS Children’s Village in Karachi.

As Anwar’s pen and voice continue to scribble and speak, with a new stage play set to open in mid-August 2018, the central character journeys on. He searches for the past as much as for the future. Perhaps this quest is best reflected in the lyrics of one of the songs he wrote for Ramchand Pakistani, splendidly sung by Shafqat Amanat Ali and Shuhba Mudgal: “Phir wohi raastey, phir wohi rahguzar, jaane ho ya na ho, mera ghar vo nagar…”

Stay in your seats. Act Three rolls on.

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