Agha Nasir was creative, versatile and adaptable. His creativity was reflected in his abiding interest in poetry and literature, both as a writer and a commentator. His versatility was expressed in his work as a writer, producer and director in radio and television as well as a media administrator. His adaptability was mirrored by his remarkable ability to serve under about fourteen governments that held office during the 44 years (1955-1999) that he spent in the service of state media and organisations in various capacities.
While he had the privilege of working under the leadership of pioneers of radio such as Z.A. Bukhari, Syed Rashid Ahmed and others, and of serving with pioneering colleagues in television such as Aslam Azhar, Agha Nasir evolved and maintained his own distinct individuality. He certainly acknowledged learning from others but also consistently produced his own original characteristics and content to define his individuality. With others, and by himself, he made a formative contribution to the realms of media and culture. He achieved the unique distinction of being the only individual to have headed five state organizations in these two fields: Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, Pakistan Television Corporation, National Film Development Corporation, Pakistan National Council of the Arts and Shalimar Recording & Broadcasting Co. Ltd.
Agha Nasir showed harsh realities could be mirthfully depicted on state media even under dictatorships
Of his 79 years in this world (1937 – 12 July 2016) he benefitted for as many as 59 years from the love, companionship, creative and editorial support, patience and charm of his wife, Safia. She became his best friend and quiet source of counsel, always there to share and to help. Between the two, they parented three children, each profoundly different and dinstinctive as a person. Huma Nasir is a well-reputed journalist and columnist with a special interest in social development and a periodic association with UNICEF.
Bilal Agha began writing 15 years ago and has become, in his own right, a respected journalist, presently associated with the Dawn group in Islamabad. Shamaila Nasir is an accomplished interior design consultant who now lives with her family in Canada. Safia and Agha Nasir were thrilled to welcome seven grandchildren and then took one step further up, becoming the great- grandparents of three young ones.
He was the only individual to have headed five state organisations for media and culture
Respectful of gentle giants such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Sadequain in whose inimitable company he spent many wondrous evenings, Agha Nasir studied their respective creations in poetry and painting with deep interest. He also conducted painstaking research into the output of several other figures in literature and the arts. He wrote about them in vivid style to make the anthology titled “Gumshuda Log” (Lost Persons) – a tribute to the exceptional range of people he knew and admired. He did not permit his heavy workload as a chief executive and lead administrator of five organisations , nor his earlier or later pre-occupations, to obstruct the continued production of short stories, scripts for radio and television, ?plays , essays, sketches and a total of seven books.
Two handbooks entitled ‘All about Television – grammar and technique’ and ‘This is PTV – a history’ are of notable value for students, researchers, trainers and general readers. His family is preparing to publish his just-completed autobiography.
For a man who obtained a Master’s degree in History from the University of Karachi in the 1950s, he was unusually interested in the future, with particular reference to how the electronic media were evolving in a quickly-changing world.
Steeped in the rich traditions of South Asian Muslim culture, he sought to portray characters and situations pertinent to how a newly independent nation-state, predominantly for Muslims, was adapting as a society in which a diversity of cultures and lifestyles rubbed shoulders. Whether in his deftly produced version for television of the timeless, satirical, classic stage play ‘Taaleem-i-Baalighan’ (Education for Adults) by Khawaja Moinuddin or his inventive stewardship of the free-ranging, acerbic, hilarious television series named ‘Alif Noon’ (the first letter of each of the two words symbolically representing his own initials) by Kamal Ahmed Rizvi, Agha Nasir demonstrated how harsh realities and truths could be mirthfully depicted on state media even during dictatorial regimes .
Agha Nasir remained committed to progressive, pluralist and democratic values. His ascent as an administrator of media and cultural organisations, at multiple levels – such as Programme Manager and General Manager at PTV, Director General at the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation and Managing Director at PTV – enabled him to discreetly guide qualitative and relevant content production in drama,comedy and entertainment in a tone that evaded the paranoid censorship of authoritarian regimes and the easily-pricked insecurities of even democratic governments.
He travelled widely to represent Pakistan at media conferences, regional and international media forums and in award juries. At home he was rightly honoured with the awards of Sitara-i-Imtiaz and Pride of Performance? in recognition of his varied contributions.
This writer got to know Agha Nasir over the eventful span of about four-and-a-half decades. Our initial contacts came in the mid-1960s when I was still a university student in Karachi and he was already transiting from being a Programme Organizer at Radio Pakistan (for which I wrote scripts for an English play and participated in students’ programmes) to the Television Planning Cell, where he worked from 1964 to 1967. In PTV, as a freelance contributor, I got to know him better while he steadily moved up the rungs to become Director for Programmes to eventually head the body. Simultaneously, when I was elected to the Senate in 1985 for a six-year term, and when I served in three Federal Cabinets between December 1988 and October 2000, I had to work with him in two Cabinets as the Information Minister who oversaw the organisations in which he ably worked.
There were also interactions in somewhat different contexts. In the early 1980s, with two friends, Khurshid Hadi and Zafar Siddiqui, and on the advice of Rehmati Fazli, this writer imported the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ for screening in Pakistani cinemas. Agha Nasir was the MD at the then National Film Development Corporation (NAFDEC). Notwithstanding our long, prior relationship, he was a stickler for observing prescribed procedure and for securing the interests of the public sector corporation whose NOC was mandatory before the film could be imported. The film’s enormous success at the box office softened his formal stance. Another level of dealing with him was in my capacity as CEO of MNJ Communications, which placed large volumes of advertising in PTV and PBC. Though I had resigned from the firm on the 3rd of December 1988, just before joining the first of the three Cabinets that I served in (so as to avoid potential conflict of interest) both earlier and later, Agha Nasir never allowed our personal friendship to affect the official requirements of policy and best practices. Not that one ever asked for exemptions, of course!
When this writer drafted the first-ever law in Pakistan for private electronic media ( the EMRA Ordinance for the Caretaker Government February 1997, deliberately lapsed by the second Nawaz Sharif Government) and later the RAMBO-PEMRA Ordinance 2000-2002 in the Musharraf Government ) , Agha Nasir was one of the handful of experts to provide valuable advice during the consultations with stake-holders in all four Provinces. Post-2002, it was apt that he was invited by Geo TV to become Executive Director.
Always warm, pleasant and friendly, he is deeply missed. One will never forget the special effort he made, despite his frailty, to attend the launching ceremony in Islamabad in April 2014 of an anthology about this writer, compiled by the veteran broadcaster Syed Abid Rizvi. He protested at not having been (inadvertently!) invited to contribute to the book, but was gracious and generous in his remarks. Now, on the airwaves and the stage of Heaven, he has surely begun a new phase of creative explorations. Aameen.
The writer is the author of Pathways. Visit www.javedjabbar.com to learn more