Melodious KP voice that suddenly fell silent
By Afzal Hussain Bokhari
Young newspaper reporters of 1970s blinked in disbelief when an oddly-named Pakhtun entrepreneur Chaata Khan announced the launching of a production unit in Peshawar for his Pashto film. Selected guests in the inauguration ceremony held their breath when the producer started introducing the likely cast of the film. He pointed to a tall, good-looking youth Aimal Khan, who was to perform the lead role. To somewhat restrained clapping, he then gestured towards the would-be heroine: a stunningly beautiful girl who was to carry the film-name of Mahjabeen Qazalbash. She was duly accompanied by her mother. For the benefit of newsmen, Chaata Khan gave salient features of the film. Mahjabeen entertained the guests by copying some popular Noor Jehan songs. She copied the songs alright but her voice lacked maturity. She probably needed proper guidance and practice.
For various reasons, the Pashto film never saw the light of day. However, Aimal Khan and Mahjabeen Qazalbash developed for each other a liking that consummated in marriage. It was later known that Mahjabeen’s family name was Surayya Khanum, while Aimal was actually Amanullah Orakzai. As the co-incidence would have it, Peshawar Centre of PTV was temporarily housed in a bungalow in the University Town. With his Master’s in Psychology, Anwar Khwaja, the innovative television producer from Abbottabad, booked Mahjabeen Qazalbash and Mushtaq Shabab for a Pashto play. Anwar Khwaja also gave Mahjabeen a chance to sing Pashto songs for PTV.
Taking cue from PTV, Peshawar Radio’s Arbab Abdul Wadud sent on air-waves Mahjabeen’s voice into homes where television had not yet arrived. Another radio producer Usman Khan Nageenvi cashed in on Mahjabeen’s voice through a Hindko song “Meri khatir dandasa lana, o dilbar janan”. The song became so popular that in social get-togethers Mahjabeen came to be known as “dandasa girl”.
Mahjabeen never looked back. She continued her advance to fame and prosperity. In showbiz she made money the way nobody else did. When she bought a bungalow in Faqirabad (later Zargarabad), wealthy goldsmiths drove past the place with envy. Visitors from the walled city whispered into rickshaw-drivers’ ears just two words – “Mahjabeen’s kothi” – and the three-wheelers made way to the right place without another question.
She was one of the richest artists in Peshawar. Wealth did not go to her head. In personal life she was sociable and courteous. She mostly remained active in cultural activities. Her admirers missed her presence for some time during the 1980s. At that time her husband Aimal Khan passed away. She concentrated on education and upbringing of her two sons and a daughter. She rendered many songs in Pashto, Hindko, Urdu and Persian. For her services to music, she was given many prizes including the President’s Pride of Performance award.
As turns and twists of life would have it, wealth did not last her long. On first of January she was rushed to city’s centrally-located Lady Reading Hospital (LRH). Her physical condition and financial position were not stable. Hospital director Dr Khalid Masood and medical director Dr Suleman Khan knew that the female patient with heart complications was a celebrity of yesteryear. After initial tests, she was admitted to intensive care unit (ICU) and put on a ventilator. Doctors attending on Mahjabeen battled for her life but wear and tear in internal chemistry of the artist was beyond repairs. She passed away on February 27.
In graveyard the next day fellow singers – Khayal Mohammad, Shakeela Naz, Gul Panra – gave her a tearful send-off. Larger community of artists understandably felt deeply saddened. Reports indicated that during Mahjabeen’s treatment KP government through concerned department announced an interim financial assistance amounting to Rs 500,000. Up to the writing of these lines on Sunday evening there was no confirmation that the money arrived into Mahjabeen’s home.
Six days before Mahjabeen’s death, another tragedy of greater magnitude befell the country. Progressive writers felt sorry for Dr Laal Khan, who lost his 18-month-long battle against lung cancer in Lahore on February 21. His mortal remains were taken for burial to his native village Bhoon in Chakwal district of Punjab. With Yasrat Tanveer Gondal as his real name, he was considered to be one of the founders of class struggle in the country.
He started his revolutionary career from student politics. In the turbulent 1980s, while doing his MBBS from Nishtar Medical College (NMC), Multan, he was an active member of People’s Students Federation (PSF). In those days mainstream political parties had their student wings in colleges. Trade union activities often led to confrontation, which disturbed classes. This also happened in Multan due to which the NMC principal ordered some students to migrate to Lahore or some other college outside of Punjab. Gondal and two other students were sent to the more disciplinarian Army Medical College (AMC), Rawalpindi.
As the co-incidence would have it, AMC had on its rolls a VIP in the person of Anwarul Haq. He happened to be the elder son of country’s president General Ziaul Haq (the younger son being Ejazul Haq). Anwarul Haq and Tanveer Gondal belonged to rival parties. AMC soon began to echo with political slogans. FIRs got registered against Gondal and other PSF members. Gondal’s parents and family friends intervened and managed to get him out of AMC unharmed. They put him on an airplane to Holland where he was supposed to do further medical studies.
In Europe, Gondal got the first-hand opportunity to come into contact with the world-level progressives. On his return home, he emerged as a well-read intellectual writer. Putting aside his family name, he started using the pseudonym of Dr Laal Khan. He wrote several books and articles. With his base in Lahore, he delivered lectures across the country and tried to organise the forces that fought inequality and unfair distribution of wealth at home.
His weekly columns appeared in Dunya newspaper. Occasionally, anchor Hamid Mir invited him as guest speaker on his television show “Capital Talk”. Dr Laal Khan had an in-depth knowledge of the left-wing movements in countries like Russia, China, Cuba and North Vietnam. Dismissing him as “Trotsky-ite”, the hard-boiled communists in Pakistan had a strange love-hate relationship with him. Adequately aware of his socialistic approach, they brushed aside his analyses as falling short of the Moscow and Beijing model. Himself being a medical doctor, it was strange that he could not stave off cancer and ultimately fell a victim to the killer disease. Probably that is the ultimate fate to which most social reformers of our times – dreamers of a better future – are destined. May Dr Laal Khan rest in peace in the world hereafter!