“I am a professor of economics, but I stopped teaching economics long ago. Instead, I teach mathematics; but I don’t read maths; but then I don’t even read fiction. I read history and science. I have been at the Government College for the last 44 years; 37 of them as a teacher. Half of the people in this country have been my students. The prime minister was my student. The Punjab chief minister was my student.”
End of conversation!
Even before the multiple images sink in, Shoaib Hashmi absolves himself of the responsibility. Pause. And then, suddenly he bursts out into a loud guffaw. Happy and contented because, “I have to admit life has been kind to me. I have done my own thing ever so often…” he drops another bomb shell. “All these frames you see in this room are my handiwork. Every single one of them. The first time I did the frames for Salima’s paintings, they said I should sign my frames. I am so good at it. I am the best framer in this country.”
The disclosure is unanticipated, to say the least!
Four decades of teaching Economics, a remarkably luminous career on stage and television, some ventures at film making, a garnish of advertising and column writing…and the man turns around to tip the apple cart and announces that his forte is making photo frames. Why? “Because I have worked my brain to capacity and if anything, working the brain effects your body. It taxes it. Working with the hands is what satisfies the soul. Yes, I got my catharsis from television. I found stage compulsive. That way you have an audience at your behest. You play with them like a toy. This power enriches, makes the adrenaline flow. I have written as well. That has given reasonable amount of satisfaction even if I have not produced a masterpiece every time I did it but, this framing business is the thing for me. Using bare hands to create something…mind you framing requires absolute precision…trying to cut at exactly forty-five degrees, this is what gives me real satisfaction. This is true of all physical labour. Bronosky said it all in a line; that Man’s real happiness lies in the perfection and practise of his skill. He did not say ‘art’!”
The passion shows clearly.
Probably he would have become a framer if college had not come his way?
“No, I would have been working on a lathe,” he said. “The frames got me because I found them so intriguing. I used to stand for hours on end and peer through the window when this framer came to live opposite our house.”
So how did he manage this mix of happiness, humour and, well, teaching? ”For the simple reason that I have lived life totally without planning. I went into teaching because one fine day they called me up to the college and said I should do it. I never planned to teach. No body went into teaching even then because, it was not the thing the really in crowd would do. My mother was all the time made so guilty what with people telling her that a lectureship was well… something self-destructive; like aiming to become a persona non grata. I was doomed to live the life of a bachelor, they predicted, because who would want to marry their daughter to a college lecturer?”
Of course, Hashmi had his share of advisors, and Economics being the done thing, they said he should go in for it. “Somebody else suggested maths and so that was added. My mother thought that without Persian I would remain illiterate; and that was not to be, so in college I took up, all three. The only problem was that nobody else had such a weird combination and so I spent most of the time trying to outrace the clashes in the timetable. My father died when I was four so there was no role model to look up to. But I wonder whether I would have been different had he been there. But then we were good children, all three of us brothers. Mother put us through school and college. We were reasonably good students. I even went in for the competitive exam. I got through but then by that time I had met Salima. She said, ‘You can’t do both. Either you marry me or you join the civil service.’ So, I went to Faiz Sahib. He was excellent with words. He said ‘All right, join the service. You will get a house, a fixed salary, all the perks. You will retire at the proper age and then…but then you would not have discovered yourself.’ That clicked because he said exactly what I had, had in my mind. Self-discovery was already on my mind. I felt I had to find myself. That I could only do if I allowed myself the freedom to investigate. So, I decided against the civil service.”
“Reasonably modest” as he calls himself, Hashmi today could justifiably look back at life with one big smile of satisfaction. He has, for the most part drifted but the drift has brought its rewards. That is exactly what allowed him the luxury to indulge in a” seriousness is stupidity which has gone to college” sort of career as Zaffar Iqbal Mirza would put it.” You know, it is the ‘tamasha’ part of life that makes you really effective. That is what gives the zest to everything. Ask any of my students. I am not even serious in my lectures. What I do is one big ‘tamasha’, whether it is Econometrics or Maths. And I am a good actor. No, I am a very, very good actor.”
The Hashmi signature on television is a landmark of serious intent and happy humour that, to this day remains unparalleled. Critics mark out that period of television – almost twenty years to the day – as the golden age of the medium. Such Gup, Taal Matool and Akkar Bakkar are all reminiscent of a time when television was its own mentor; when the sense and the sensitivity of the viewer was the thing. What Shoaib Hashmi calls his “reasonable amount of modesty” again comes out to fight. “Has television ever given anything like that? No. Akkar Bakkar, I can say with pride, was the best programme ever done. There has never been anything like it. You know why? Because it was a happy programme. There were a whole lot of really happy people doing it. We used to put on mime make-up and actually dance in the studio. What we got together was no classic of a song; it was no great script. We just drew the people around into it. Television used to be such a happy place then. Everybody in the place would come over and watch us. There would be tea and sandwiches and we did half of it without scripting in the formal sense. And it was not just ‘funny fun.’ If it had been that then, nobody would have remembered it after so long. I know people still talk of it. Akkar Bakkar was a programme with a very, very serious intent and people just loved it. Now I would keep clear of television because the happiness has all gone. It is a miserable place. They said they want to bring out the real life; well they have done it in an abominable manner. They make you cry and wail and die to show real life. I wouldn’t watch television for ten seconds now. I don’t deny the misery or the killing around us. Yes, it is there. I am not insensitive or unaware of what is happening. It is there because of our own aberrations; because of what we allowed to be done to ourselves. It is a part of life coming full circle. The only thing is that one should not become a part of the misery.”
So, where is the salvation? If Shoaib Hashmi steers clear of television because he can’t stand the unhappiness, then where do we go from here? ”It’s the young women of this country who are going to bring the salvation. They are intelligent and dedicated. They are the ones who are opting for real knowledge while the boys are going into training. Look at the commerce colleges, they are all full of boys. They are just vying for a training. All right they are not wrong because, we need skilled people to run our factories and mills. But basically, it is the young women who are more sensible. They will take over very soon because they have realised that the acquisition of knowledge, and not training is the real and higher aspiration.”
Which revelation takes Shoaib Hashmi back to his own household: a happy enough one, and the reason for it lies in the fact that both Shoaib and Salima have built up a lasting friendship. There was room for everyone to do his own thing and they did it, meeting for mealtimes once in a while only.
“It is important for everyone to be involved in a self-satisfying activity, so when my son changed track to study Psychology and my daughter decided to do Filmmaking, they just went into it. You have got to have faith in people so that they do not miss out on the finer and higher things in life.”
Yes, Shoaib Hashmi can be serious! But that does not mean to say that the fun is all gone. It is there and in a very potent manner. The Hashmi humour that became a legend in its own time still bubbles. The only difference is that television no longer benefits from it. It manifests itself on stage occasionally.
From behind the stage Hashmi often scripted and directed, bringing in the process a self satisfaction that makes him what he is; what makes him turn back and say with a twinkle in his eye, “I am an old man…”
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