Obaidullah Baig - A Master of many trades
Written by English NewsPaper/Dawn/Others   

Kasauti catapulted three imme¬nsely knowled-geable and well-read men to fame: Iftikhar Arif, Qureishpur and Obaidullah Baig. "Kasauti was a favourite quiz pro¬gramme of many TV viewers and there was audience participation on both sides of the screen.

 I vividly remember that the former chief editor of Dawn, Mr Ahmad Ali Khan, had also once graced the pro¬gramme as a guest — no mean feat for the producers considering his propensity to avoid the limelight," recalls the 64-year old Obaidullah Baig with a disarming smile on the programme glam¬ourized learning.

A very young and callow kid used to watch the programme avidly — religiously is the word — and wondered how ennobling it would be just to talk with Obaidullah Baig. Little did he know that one day he would get to interview the man ! How did you end up in Kasauti? "Aslam Azhar, the former managing director of PTV at the Karachi centre, asked various people for ideas for new shows. Kasauti was one of the three suggestions that I came up with, and they all got approved. To put the idea to test, we put up a mock show. Aslam Azhar asked a question and it was pre-cisely with eight counter questions that we guessed , what he had in mind — it was Neptune's trident," he said, stubbing out his cigarette. Before I put the next question to him, he lights another cigarette, and adds: "In Kasauti, we have been asked all sorts of inane and zany questions. In the category of weapons, for instance, we have been asked about the gun that was used by Kennedy's assassin, or the baton which hurt Nusrat Bhutto during a protest march in Lahore." I also remember that in the same category, famous beautician Musarat Misbah had penned Nawak-i-Mizgan (the arrow of eyelash) — an expression which is copiously used in Urdu litera¬ture — for the Kasauti team's guessing game. To their utter chagrin, Obaidullah Baig and Ghazi Salahuddin were unable to come up with the right answer, and sheepishly conceded that she had outsmarted both of them.

Born in Rampur in 1936, Obaidullah Baig belongs to a highly cultured and educated family of Muradabad in Utter Pradesh. Intrigued by my singularly peculiar name, he asked me what my forefathers did. I attempt to joke that they did everything except sipahgary (soldiering) — a take-off on Ghalib's off-quoted couplet: Sau pusht sey, hey paisha-i-a'aba sipahgary. With his head held high in pronounced pride, he said: "Well, my forefathers were all soldiers. Subsequently, adverse circumstances obliged them to go into exile, and they forsook swords for ploughshares. After Aurangzaib Alamgir, they started working their lands."

One very noticeable quality of Obaidullah Baig is his genuine endeavour to represent what is best and most edifying in the eastern culture.

Only a person imbued with his culture, and closely affiliat-ed with his historical back¬ground, would treat culture not as a milestone around his neck but as a torch to pass on to others before the flame goes out for good. "At the age of three, I was admitted to a madressah strictly in , accordance with the norms of the day. I studied at the Muslim College, Muradabad; the Islamia College, Bareilly; and the Islamia College, Karachi. But let me tell you, acade¬mic qualifications help you get a suitable job and a fine wife, but in life, they seldom come in handy. I am essentially a self-taught man."

Obaidullah Baig migrated to Karachi in 1951, clutching at a few dreams, some convictions and many ideals. Aghast, he witnessed the horrors of the Partition and the holocaust that ensued. He saw how families had been cleft asunder and how callously men had murdered one another without the slightest compunction. In Matthew Arnold's words, he saw how the ignorant armies clash(ed) by night. Be that as it may, he refused to believe that man is quintessential  evil. His unswerving faith in the intrinsic goodness of human nature prompted him to write a novel which scintillatingly encapsulates his social credo. The title of the novel Aur Insan Zinda Hey bears ample testimony to the fact that the writer maintains that no matter how successfully vice gets the better of virtue, man inevitably turns to goodness and eventually atones for his sins. The novel decidedly has a moral — a demerit if you read novels merely for hedonistic pleasure. The novel is based on a true story that Obaidullah Baig had heard a relative nar¬rate on one of their hunting trips where he had joined them when he was just a schoolboy. Set in undivid¬ed India, the story revolves around two characters, protagonists if you like, a well-educated Narender Singh from the upper ech¬elons of the Hindu society and Naher Singh, a notori¬ous bandit desperately wanted by the Indian police. Your heart goes out to Naher Singh, the out¬wardly compassionless bandit, when you come across this immensely evocative couplet in his well-kept diary:

Ya rub zamana mujh ko mitata hai kis liye
Loh-i-Jahan pey harf-i-muqararnahin hoon mein

What heightens the feelings of pathos is the fact that the bandit has been devoured by a cannibal. In this novel, Obaidullah Baig has proven that he is a storyteller par excellence. He takes you through a thick forest where you can almost hear birds chirp, monkeys gibber, ominous owls hoot and elephants trumpet. He introduces you to the sights and sounds of the woodland. By the same token, you stumble upon exotic flowers, and, in Keats's words, try to smell a 'soft incense (that) hangs upon the bough.' (I read the novel from coyer to 1   cover with great relish and  was amazed to find that several characters in the novel smoked cigarettes and cigars as profusely as the novelist). Among other things, the book highlights Obaiduilah Baig's preco-cious talent for novel-writ-i ing — he penned the book when he was barely 24.

In the sixties, Obaidullah Baig got a job at Radio Pakistan, where he initially worked as a translator and announcer in the External Services.

By Bahzad Alam Khan

Source : The dawn Newspaper