It often happens with me that an old, long forgotten tune suddenly comes to my mind. I hum for a while, and when it refuses to go away from my memory, I search for its lyrics or trivia on the internet. Sometimes it’s an old Bollywood song, for I grew up having a vast collection of audio cassettes of Indian movie tracks along with some of the local pop icons of that time. These being my favourite often come to haunt my now predictable and sometimes mundane life. But when a ghazal sung by Noorjehan or Mussarat Nazir or some black and white era Pakistani movie track tries to take me a walk down the memory lane, I’m baffled myself. I was too young to enjoy these songs as a personal favourite, how come I remember them and that also, fairly ŵell?
As I trace the roots, I often find myself reminiscing of the days when I would be accompanying my parents at home in the evenings, doing something or nothing, while they watched television. That’s a common past time, although slowly going out of fashion, still prevalent. But what was different at my time that there was only one channel: Pakistan Television or PTV. Unlike today, when you hardly take seconds to switch to another channel before your interest lingers, at that time we had not much of a choice. While today, we have an array of channels for kids, for adults’ entertainment, sports and news, there was ONE channel which catered to all. How? By categorising segments in different times.
So what happened was that once I was through watching a five minute cartoon early evening (which was also susceptible to interruptions by live speeches or an international sports event) I lounged in with my parents as they watched news, dramas and intervening segments. While I would be playing with my toys or reading a book, Noorjehan would be singing Main Teray sang kaisayor Ae Raah e Haq kay shaheedonin the background or another popular singer of that time, Mussarat Nazeer would twitch her nose while singing tappayor on a serious note, lip sync on Chale to kat hi jaayega safar or Gulshan ki Baharon Main.Sometimes Nayyara Noor would perform Phooli hai sarsonwhile Masood Malik would present Hum tum honge badal hoga.
Now when I read the lyrics of any of these songs, I get to know why they have been termed as classics. But back then, I had no idea. I even did not have any liking for these songs. However, what PTV did, was inadvertently, introduce me to the world of classical music or ghazals. If I watched Tanhaiyan, it was because the entire family at my home and those of my neighbours would be watching the same drama. Those were the times, when streets were abandoned for the 8 o clock dramas of PTV. While broadcasting the narrative of an autocratic regime, the state run television, in a surprisingly manner, united the nation – in dramas, music and even news.
For any of the audience of Pakistani television during the 80s, there was no possibility of a member of the family watching a programme different than an other. There was no choice: you either watched a program or you didn’t. There were no multiple TV sets in a home. There would be ONE television set with ONE channel running for some part of the day. In the dead of the night or early morning, there was no entertainment or news, unless one had the luxury of a video cassette recorder.
When a broadcast would be of an average quality or of low appeal, one would simply switch the TV set off and get busy doing something else. But if there would be a production of superior quality, the entire family would witness it, whether through direct observation or indirect sensations.
So am I promoting an obsolete idea that there should be no option except one state run channel? Absolutely not! Being part of the local industry of Broadcast Journalism, I was among the first to not only witness but also be a part of the revolution called Geo News. Prior to that, I worked for a production house which packaged business news for PTV and the then new addition, Shalimar Televison Network (STN). With Geo News, there was an eruption of private news channels and later entertainment in Pakistan. There has been no turning back since then, with media becoming one of the top industries providing a source of investment as well as employment.
And the choices for the audience are plenty. You can watch dramas on at least 15 entertainment channels. You can disagree with the choice of soaps or sitcoms with your brother or wife or mother. You can skip entirely the segment of entertainment and watch sports the entire day. You can choose to hear news on one channel and validate the facts and opinions on another. The whole day and sometimes, night is available for non-stop news and entertainment. The world with all its genres is available at the flick of your finger.
And yet, while I may experience exhilaration with a mind blowing performance by a top rated actor in a drama, my husband may be oblivious to it, while my sons would have no idea whom I’m talking about. The television experience today, is of selective, personal choices. There is no limitation, no restriction, no stopping to the stream of data flowing in.
But then, there are no widely popular icons for real. Star appeal is actually specific to a certain class or age group. If I am not a regular follower of Coke Studio on tv or not in the habit of switching to FM radio in the car, I have no clue to what is the latest trending song or who is the most popular singer these days. My knowledge of local singers and performers may remain limited to those who make it to the news or whom I have heard personally, with perhaps the latest in the lot in my memory being Atif Aslam, Umair Jaswal or Abrar ul Haq. And my kids? They can not possibly fathom whom or what I’m talking about!
In a way, I miss the old times of the PTV. I’m glad that at least I’m aware of the classic musical scores. That I won’t be sitting blank when someone would talk about Ghulam Ali or Farida Khanum. I can even quote examples from their wonderful singing. I know the tune and some lyrics of Main nay pairon main payal to baandhi nahin.But ask my teenaged son about Sajjad Ali and you would be disappointed to learn that he has probably never even heard of him!
My son still has a chance of familiarity with these great legends, if I make a conscious effort to share their music with him or if he grows to love music and in his pursuit of knowledge, gets familiar with the some musicians of the old family. Otherwise, with PTV now reformed and its viewership mostly restricted to rural areas, chances are that the legends and icons of Pakistani music will gradually fade into memory.