An evening with a legendary speaker and columnist

An evening with actor and scholar Naeem Tahir was held at Alhamra Art Centre’s Adabi Baithak on Monday, organised by Dr Abrarul Haq and Bazm-e-Anjum Roomani Secretary Zamad Garewal.

Despite rain, the Baithak was full with a sizeable audience present to pay homage to the living legend Naeem Tahir. Masood Akhtar, Syed Asim Bukhari, Neelma Nahid Durrani, Javed Hassan Rizvi, Yasmin Tahir and Rubia Geelani were present to name a few. Actor and producer Irfan Khoosat’s message was aired from Karachi.

The first of the facets of Naeem highlighted by the speakers were his contributions in the construction of a new building of Alhamra. It was revealed by Naeem that Alhamra’s present premises were not based on government land. It was purchased and a movement was initiated by him in 1963 onwards to develop the visual and performing arts at this land. He organised the planning of the arts centre in consultation with experts from the University of California, Association of Architecture Organisation and Theatre Consultants UK. Now the problem of arranging funds arose. Friends discouraged him from approaching former president Ayub Khan but he did not deter and presented a model to Ayub Khan and General Musa Khan who granted him funds in 1966. His efforts prevented former governor Sarwer Khan to convert Alhamra into Auqaf Department. Ultimately, the present premises of Hall #1 were ready in 1984 when he was the Arts Council Board of Governors convener

Naeem’s vision for the future was building a National Theatre Complex designed by Nayyar Ali Dada in Islamabad for which he obtained the government’s approval in 2007. In order to house the national theatre, its affiliated facilities and a museum, a seven acres’ land was allotted. His vision was to convert Pakistan Embassy’s old building in Washington, United States (US) to Jinnah Centre for Cultural Understanding. This is Pakistan’s property and could be confiscated by the US government owing to our negligence, Naeem feared.

As a dramatist, orator and teacher, in the capacity of a teacher cum trainer, Naeem trained the Pakistan Television (PTV) personnel from 1968 to 1970 as PTV Central Training Institute principal. Many among his trained students rose to important positions in due course of time. Actor Masood Akhtar emphasised that Naeem taught him the art of dialogue delivery, where to keep his voice soft and where to keep it loud and also where to pause. He taught him to speak on the stage assuming that there was a deaf person in the audience for which his facial reactions and body movements should convey the character. Voice modulations should be arranged in such a manner that a blind person in the audience could decipher the character. Syed Asim Bukhari, Ejaz Hassan Rizvi and Irfan Khoosat shared the same thoughts. Many stage artists owe their work to the training imparted by Naeem.

Naeem has done hundreds of TV programmes as actor, compere, producer and writer. He has played the role of a cultural ambassador of Pakistan. In 1965, he produced a programme based on folk heritage themes, composed by Feroze Nizami for the first cultural delegation of 48 members to China. The troupe included Rafi Anwar, Ami Minwala, Akbar Samrat, Faqir Hussain Saga, Munir Sarhadi and Roshan Ara Bukhari. In the 1965 war, he visited war fronts with artists to show solidarity with the jawans and wrote plays ‘Maulvi Ji’ and ‘Khem Karan’. His efforts to build cultural relations with China continued. He was received by former Fuzhong governor when he was the cultural ambassador. He attended meetings with former US president George Bush in Islamabad in connection with building relations with the US. He met American politician Hillary Clinton at the Ambassador’s House in 2009 in Islamabad.

One of the facets of Naeem is the creation of Callisthenic Ballads. He held many shows like the opening of South Asian Games in 1984 and 2004. He received an appreciation letter from the Pakistani president. His son Ali Tahir learnt and created ‘Sassi Punnoo’ for the South Asian Games. Naeem had a leadership role from 1975 to 1985 in the exports of hand-knotted carpets. The business attracted Rs 5,000 million for Pakistan. He also prompted the export of fruits.

Naeem married Yasmin; the latter revealed that among the young talent who visited his father Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj, she found Naeem the most stable in appearance, attire and conversation. The couple was engaged on August 19, 1960 at Imtiaz Ali Taj’s 40 Abbot Road residence, Yasmin’s mother Hijab Imtiaz Ali was a prolific writer in her own right. The sehra for the couple was written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz and sung by Noor Jahan on March 24, 1962. They have three children Faran, Mehran and Ali; the latter produces, directs and acts on Pakistani stage and TV and the former is abroad. Yasmin was critical about the prevalent system in Pakistani middle class families as the children opted to settle abroad at the time when their parents needed them in Pakistan. The family held many dinners in honour of visiting stars like Kamini Kaushal and Shabnam. Naeem has spent a lifetime interacting socially with Noor Jahan. His interview with Noor Jahan for Khawaja Khurshid Anwar on PTV is remembered to this day. She asked Naeem to be witness to her will. His acting in Shoaib Mansoor’s ‘Khuda Ke Liye’ was appreciated by actors Shaan and Fawad Khan.

As a writer, Naeem has many books to his credit, some of which are Aap Ki Tareef, Samjhota Express, Sail-e-Rawaan and Melluhas.

In my review on the latter’s book, I had commented, “Naeem’s efforts to look for credible lineage turned into a search for roots. His stay in the US made him search for proper material in Berkeley’s libraries from 3500BC down to the 20th century on the Indus Basin. He found out that not much was written about the 1500BC to 900BC era; dark period. Was it a deliberate act to keep this era dark by those who had a vested interest in the survival of their existing theories? Indian history had mostly been written by the British writers, history being a weapon for national struggle. Naeem quotes historian SA Dange that the trend noted by him is evident occasionally with varying political/national agendas. Mesopotamian records indicate that a great civilisation existed in the Indus Valley and the people were called Melluha or Mallaha. Searching the history of these people who turned the Indus Basin into a great civilisation is all what the author has written the book under review on. Hillary Clinton wrote a letter of appreciation to Naeem in 2010. Incidentally, Naeem is also the recipient of the Kennedy Award. So much appreciation from international forums but no government award like Pride of Performance for him so far raises many an eyebrows!

The writer is the recipient of the prestigious Pride of Performance award. He can be reached at doc_amjad@hotmail.com

Published in Daily Times, February 22nd 2019.

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