We spent time chatting with Farooq Qaiser and me past midnight on the bus from Isfahan to Tehran.
It was almost the last leg of the Iran National University of Arts tour and Afghanistan is still to come. Farooq was one of 30 students on a fascinating journey in the fateful March of 1971, and we were all unaware of the terrible saga unfolding in East Pakistan.
He was studying textile design and it caught my eye with a funny skit he and his friend Shahid Nadeem performed at a college campfire. He listened avidly as I portrayed British television satire and Jacques Tati’s humor. His ability to understand human weakness and the vulnerability of the weak was later exemplified in his skits on stage.
A year later, when the slates of Pakistani television since 1971 were cleared, managing director Aslam Azhar took her husband Shoaib away. [Hashmi] And I promise to carry out the program we want to undertake. He laughed when we said we wanted to do a children’s program. But we knew it was time to rethink and focus on a new generation uncontaminated by recent events and PTV’s propaganda machinery.
Farooq Qaiser, a humorist, underrated poet and pioneering puppeteer in Pakistan, passed away on May 14th. Salima Hashmi remembers a young man who chose to be part of Pakistan Television’s first programming team for children. The young man will soon become a star.
Farooq Qaiser immediately came to mind and I confessed to him in the NCA hallway the very next day. When I invited him he Akkarr Bakkarr Teamed up on TV, especially when asked if he knew anything about dolls. When I told him he had something to do with children, his interest grew and he would get paid!
So we went to see a screening of Sesame Street. We have already decided that we want a desi version of Big Bird named Bee-Batakh. Shoaib did not initially share my confidence in Farooq’s potential, and doubted his ability to create life-size puppets when he had no idea about crafting. But I saw his textile papers show and knew he was original. And when he showed up with Bee-Batakh in our rickshaw in Model Town, Shoaib was shocked.
Bee-Batakh’s personality evolved into Shoaib’s voice and aphorisms. Farooq was born to embody that bird. It was a physically challenging role. One arm was raised high inside Batakh’s head and the other was gesturing and picking up objects at hip height, but he did it vigorously.
The trio Shoaib, Farooq, and Bee-Batakh rioted in singing and dancing songs based on the Urdu alphabet, and why tota (parrot) was written toay rather than te, which was sometimes problematic. . Song ‘tota te se hota hai, ya toay se hota hai?’ [‘Is tota with a te or a toay?’] Everyone burst into laughter. And of course there was a memorable moment when Farooq almost passed out inside the doll, which had an air circulation problem that the creators didn’t anticipate!
Soon another puppet joined Bee-Batakh, Bhaloo or the teddy bear. Farooq and Shoaib decided that Bhaloo was destined to become an ambitious poet, and Farooq’s poetic talent stood out. Shahid Nadeem worked on Bhaloo, dressed in a puppet costume, voiced by Shoaib and all poetry by Farooq Qaiser.
It was the beginning of his nonsensical rhyme lyric, and has always flourished, imitating the brilliant poets in his Musharra. So far, it has become clear that Farooq has absorbed the essence of puppet art well. The puppets took on their own identity independent of their creators.
my sister Moneeza [Hashmi], as a producer Akkarr BakkarrAnother character appeared, this time the gloved doll, because he was eager to join Irfan Khoosat, son of the great comedian Sultan Kusat. Farooq was now experimenting with materials for making dolls. He found that a cloth-covered plastic water mug is ideal for the face, and a ping-pong ball provides a wide-eyed staring or half-closed lazy look.
Thus was born Chachawal Khan. Shoaib and Farooq got together and decided they would be the naive yet knowledgeable Northerners paired with the young and pretty Samina Ahmed. In our study, the new carpeted rubber cement puddles were a constant reminder of the crafting of Chachawal Khan at home.
Farooq’s songwriting career began as the characters grew up embodying the character and whimsy of our lives and our children. Arshad Mahmud and Shahid Toosy composed the music for his lyrics and Nayyara Noor soon joined the team. As the song became so popular, EMI introduced a long-running 12-inch vinyl record that is now a coveted vintage item.
Farooq and Arshad became best friends, and were permanently locked in our house while working on the script, arousing Shoaib’s wrath as they swallowed his beloved patissa at Amritsari Sweets on Beadon Road. As with the ecstasy that Akkarr Bakkarr introduced to PTV, the energy was phenomenal. Small, independent chunks of content linked together by thematic context. After six months of airing, Akkarr Bakkarr won the Japanese Children’s Television Award, Pakistan Television’s first international award.
Farooq flourished in this ‘magazine’ format, and his diverse talents gave him space to work with Shoaib and Arshad on a variety of experimental ideas. In a way, he continued to explore this style of work for most of his professional career.
When my father Faiz Ahmed Faiz began to establish the Pakistan National Arts Council and the Institute of Folklore and Cultural Heritage (later renamed Lok Virsa), he desperately needed a solid and creative team. Farooq Qaiser was the first to receive a commander.
They already knew each other and mutual respect flourished as Farooq proved his prowess time and time again. The PNCA logo design is inspired by a silver taweez. [amulet] Picked up in Haripur by mother Alys Faiz for the craft museum collection.
By this time we have already Gup like that And Farooq’s lyrics were sung again by Nayyara. He remained a member of the same creative family, and they formed part of his baraat. [wedding procession] when he got married
Shoaib and the team were banned during Gen Zia’s 11-year tenure, but they were delighted that Farooq and Kaliyaan managed to avoid censorship with their cunning and humor and make the country laugh in the dark.
Farooq Qaiser’s genius has seen us through decades without humor and has given us lungs to breathe and a spirit to simply keep going. He couldn’t stop and it was a glorious inning.
First posted on Dawn, ICON on May 23, 2021