End of an era

It was Tariq Aziz’s broadcast that heralded the era of TV in Pakistan in 1964

Tariq Aziz was primarily a lover of the spoken word. He started his career from the radio and continued it with the inception of television in the country by making its opening announcements and stayed as a presence on the media for the better part of his life.

These days, we usually label such artistes as anchors, but then they were called hosts and before that announcers. All these were supposed to be facilitators and not really those to do the real stuff. Tariq Aziz wanted to join the ranks of those doing the real stuff.

It seemed that he always wanted to outgrow that role and repeatedly ventured out in other fields to take up assignments that were supposed to be over and above that of a host.

Tariq Aziz was born in 1936. His family hailed from Jalandhar. After independence, they settled in Sahiwal. He was a self-made man. His struggle in the early days included moving from Sahiwal to Lahore and then literally sleeping on the footpaths.

Introduction to radio was the first step in his success. He went on to do radio plays where his vocal talent was first noticed. His story was like that of many others who rose to stardom from the very dregs of society.

Later, his forays into cinema and then into politics can be seen in that light. Partially successful in cinema and politics, in the end the role of the host or the anchor gave him the refuge that he had desired all his life.

He had always been interested in politics but his days in practical politics were hugely chequered. He was an ardent admirer of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and was one of the early jiyalas willing to go to any extent in defending and authenticating the boss/chairman.

He was a favoured presence in the jalsas of the Pakistan Peoples Party where he set the stage with his firebrand rhetoric. He was totally distraught when ZA Bhutto was executed in 1979.

He resurfaced as a politician in the 1990s. This time around, he was elected as a member of parliament on the Muslim League-Nawaz ticket. There was, despite the advancement in years, little fazing of fervor. The same zeal could be sensed in his willingness to carry out the dictates of his party and the boss.

He was also caught in the whirl of controversy following the attack on the Supreme Court of Pakistan building. Later, the assembly was dismissed in the Musharraf coup.

Aziz’s family hailed from Jalandhar. After independence they settled in Sahiwal. He was a self-made man. His struggle in the early days involved moving from Sahiwal to Lahore and then literally sleeping on the footpaths to survive.

Aziz made another attempt at entering representative politics from the platform of the PML-Q. It must have been a blessing in disguise when he could not do so. With a sigh of relief, his admirers saw him quit politics and reenter the field the ropes of which he was more familiar with and where he did not have to go out of his skin to prove his loyalty or his talent.

His loyalty was to the word, particularly poetry. He also was in command of the spoken word. It helped him with his skill as an announcer. The facility with the spoken word, particularly in Urdu, made him fully in charge at the radio, television and then the public stage where he was asked to host many a programme.

He also made a foray into the films and was moderately successful. He acted in a number of films playing characters that were doomed or were meant to be unhappy or spreading unhappiness all round.

He played quasi-tragic roles based on this and many later found that he was in close resemblance in the thespian arts to the morose type that Raj Kumar specialized in.

The much touted Qasam Us Waqt Ki by the acclaimed AJ Kardar proved to be just an elevated documentary on the PAF.

However, his show Neelam Ghar dwarfed his other achievements and he is best remembered for it. It was reinvented many times, but he was always at the centre. His mastery of the spoken word and his fondness for literature, particularly in Urdu, allowed him to become a permanent presence on the small screen.

His talent for the spoken word and later his ability to recall the right verse from his very large reservoir of poetry was something few could match.

In a society prone to versification, he was the ultimate voice. A person may spend hours in oratory, but only be able to truly communicate with the people by rounding off his argument with a verse. This connection between the verse and the receptive ear of the public was not lost on him.

He was able to recall or dip into the pool and come up with something that was apposite or just rabble-rousing and succeeded like no one else.

Popularity, too, was his link to the commercialisation of Neelam Ghar that started in 1974.

His trademark opening sentence was: “Dekhti ankhon aur suntay kanon ko Tariq Aziz ka salam pauhnchay”. Whole generations of Pakistanis grew up hearing this sentence.

He was able to draw plenty of crowds not only with his rhetoric and the ability to utter the right verse, but also to lace it with the promise of a material return of sorts.

His popularity soared as people went home carrying gifts, and the retailers/middle-sized businesses got recognition for their produce.

It was a happy blend of material gain, but well-earned. He remained popular as he could mix a heady brew of patriotism, fascination with material gain and the flair for poetry. With this formula he was able to pull through like few others.

On June 17, he passed away at the age of 84.

Tariq Aziz: End of an era