Farooq Qaiser passed away on May 14 – a loss of immense proportion.
He was a columnist, director, puppeteer, scriptwriter and a voice-over artist. He also wrote several humorous books and provided educational services in India for two years as part of Unesco.
Qaiser's portrayal of Uncle Sargam, a puppet character he created and also lent his voice to, became hugely popular in Pakistan and remained a household name for decades.
Uncle Sargam was first introduced in a television show for kids, Kaliyan, when it was broadcast on Pakistan Television (PTV) in 1976.
His duo with another character on the show, Maasi Museebatay, achieved legendary status over the years.
Along with Kaliyan, Putli Tamasha and Sargam Time were Qaiser's most loved TV shows. He was awarded the Presidential Pride of Performance award in 1993 for his craft. Earlier this year, he was awarded the Sitara-i-Imtiaz during a ceremony at Aiwan-i-Sadr on Pakistan Day.
Adeel Hashmi narrated stories of Qaiser, and read some of his poetry in a moving tribute. Among these stories, Hashmi narrates when he took his first script for critique to Farooq Qaiser. Expecting extensive annotations and corrections with a red pen, Hashmi instead received the script as he had given it to Qaiser. Qaiser told him he should go ahead as is, without any edits. The show: Teen Batta Teen. Hashmi reminisces: “The script was not perfect, the teacher was perfect”
While Farooq Qaiser may be remembered as a puppeteer, poet and columnist, his links to music were strong as well. Music was a critical element of the children’s show Kaliyan, which would also host musicians as guests. Here Nazia & Zoheb Hassan talk to children about drugs:
A qawwali about books:
A song written by Qaiser, performed by Nazia & Zoheb about war, weapons, death, and life:
While I’ve included clips of Nazia & Zoheb, Qaiser’s list of collaborators is staggering: Arshad Mehmood, Bushra Ansari, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Shoaib Hashmi, Junaid Jamshed among them.
Adeel Hashmi, in his tribute, narrates a quote from Indian poet and lyricst Javed Akhtar. Akhtar says that it is easy to write difficult poetry in difficult language, but very difficult to write easy poetry in easy language. That is what Farooq Qaiser accomplished with his writing. I would argue that the same was true for the music included in Kaliyan. Deeply emotional, grand ideas were presented simply enough for kids and interestingly enough for adults. The music jumps genres, piques interest and moves the audience. This work is in the class of the most profound Sesame Street episodes and the best Pixar movies.
Farooq Qaiser is one of those artists who achieved so much more than what is acknowledged, had so much more to say than is recorded, and impacted so many more than it might initially appear.
I grew up with an audio tape of Kaliyan, which had over a dozen songs. Each song was preceded by a little skit between the puppets setting up the narrative of the song. The songs were ostensibly children’s music, but they are beautiful in their arrangement and delivery. Mostly, they are deeply hilarious and memorable. I am unable to find archives of these songs online, and in an effort to share this work with a wider group of people am uploading one of these songs (and its preceding skit).