Op-Ed Daily Times
Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi
MARCH 31, 2021
She was a princess while her mother was the uncrowned queen of broadcasting in Pakistan. The mother Mohini Das had joined All India Radio in 1938 at the age of 16 years as a drama artist and later compere its children’s program from Lahore with the pseudonym “Apa Shameem”. She would perform the latter role for an uninterrupted 39 years. Meanwhile she married Mr. A. Hameed and came to be called Mohini Hameed. On Independence in 1947, she became the first woman broadcaster of Pakistan, and soon came to be known as the Nightingale of Broadcasting. In 1948, her princess given the name of Kanwal was born.
The Radio Pakistan, more specifically its boss Mr. Ahmed Shah ‘Patras’ Bokhari was impressed by her speeches and recognized the gifts within her, making sure her talents were utilized almost everywhere; be it in dramas and special announcements or other work. By 1963, BBC was calling Mohini Hameed the Golden Voice of Asia and she was decorated twice by the President of Pakistan with the ‘Tamgha-e-Imtiaz’, in addition to several other awards and accolades. Meanwhile her daughter Kanwal had taken to broadcasting since she was only seven years old from Radio Pakistan, Lahore.
The President of Pakistan Mohammad Ayub Khan indicated his willingness to inaugurate the television project in Lahore on November 26, 1964 and it was only that day that when a senior radio producer Mr. Fazal Kamal, who had been assigned to PTV, realized that only with two fixed cameras in the studio and with Mr. Tariq Aziz escorting the Presidential entourage, there would be no announcer within the studio to go live. He hurried to Mohini Hameed and said, “Apa, can we avail the services of Kanwal for just one day as she is quite articulate. I promise we will make the necessary arrangements from tomorrow onwards.” Kanwal Hameed was then only 16 or exactly the same as her mother’s age when the latter started her broadcasting career!
The initial announcement was terse, simple and delivered in flawless Urdu: “Assalam-o-Alaikum – this is Kanwal Hameed. I welcome you to the NEC Pilot Project and congratulate you on the launching of television in Pakistan.” As she would later recall, by the time she said this, the young Kanwal had nearly passed out as President Ayub Khan along with the Governor of West Pakistan the Nawab of Kalabagh, Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Finance Minister Muhammad Shoaib, in addition to several other dignitaries had entered the studio and were standing behind her.
Furthermore, her lovely voice modulations, perfect pronunciation and equal ease with which she could speak in English, Urdu or Punjabi soon made her a household name in Pakistan. Not yet realizing her potential and the mentorship capacity of Mr. Aslam Azhar, Kanwal made her mark very soon. The ‘arrangements’ promised by Mr. Fazal Kamal to her mother never materialized and were doomed to failure as nobody was good enough to replace her. Kanwal Hameed, later assuming the name of Kanwal Naseer on marrying an Army officer, would remain in Pakistan Television not just as an announcer but as an anchor, newscaster, drama artist and program compere as well. Her association with television and broadcasting would last for over 57 years until the time of her death.
Still in her teens, Kanwal had the good fortune to interact with personalities such as Madam Noor Jehan, Amanat Ali Khan, Reshma and Mehdi Hassan who had enchanted the country with their melodious voices. Her life was caught up between home, school, radio and later television. Faiz Ahmed Faiz lived very near the radio station and his daughter Moneeza would compere a children’s programme on every Sunday. She also came in touch with famous people like Yasmin Tahir, Naeem Tahir, Khalid Saeed Butt, Dr Anwar Sajjad and Ejaz Shafi. After a long innings with PTV she retired but remained associated with the organization in many ways. Like her mother, she was also decorated twice by the President of Pakistan. Kanwal Naseer’s name is today synonymous in Pakistan with television and broadcasting. Following in her mother’s footstep, Kanwal Naseer became a legend in her own right. She also worked as a stage compere in countless events, mainly in the Pakistan National Council of the Arts.
I first met Ms. Kanwal Naseer around three years ago in 2018 during the course of our organization’s End-TB efforts, which revealed to me the humanist side of her nature. She soon acquired the position of a celebrity Stop TB Ambassador and was so comfortable and knowledgeable with Tuberculosis facts that it was apparent she was absolutely dedicated to the elimination of this disease. She injected life even into listless sentences and read them with such emotion and passion that could mobilize her listeners to action. She was at the height of her maturity and would always perform at her best in any undertaking. Later on she linked up with Mr. Farooq Qaiser of Uncle Sargam fame to develop some marvelous skits that could easily appeal to the audience of any age group in Pakistan, as all of us have seen these eminent personalities ever since we were growing up. She never had any qualms or inhibitions about traveling to far flung places with us to organize TB awareness sessions in association with governmental authorities. We never failed to notice her attention to detail in all respects on all occasions be it in her speeches or demeanor. What struck us the most was her modest and down-to-earth nature. She always focused on the realities of life, and pride or self-importance were never a part of her character. She also had a very charitable nature known to her entire neighborhood. Wherever she accompanied us, she would run into persons who knew her and were evidently in awe of her. However, her disarming nature always made them very comfortable. She was always very proper, dignified and embodied the portrait of a lady!
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, which struck Pakistan around 12th March 2020, did not deter her from planning World TB Day activities on and around the 24th of March last year. I last met her in early March this year and though absolutely fit, she seemed to have lost a lot of weight. Around that time, she jokingly told a female colleague of mine that when I die you must come to my place and weep. The remark was made in a light vein and was dismissed accordingly. This year, despite being on her deathbed, TB was on her mind. When I went for a radio talk on the SunoFM channel on World TB Day, I was deeply touched about her comments concerning myself to the compere of the program that very morning while she was in the Intensive Care Unit. And the next day she was gone! It came as a sharp blow to all of us just as if we had lost a family member. Condolences came from far and wide including Dr Lucica Ditiu the Executive Director of the Geneva-based Stop TB Partnership and several others. If I could take the liberty to just change a few words from Shakespeare to sum up a tribute to her unique personality, it would be:
Her life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in her that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, “This was a woman!”
Farewell Ma’am Kanwal Naseer – we will always remember your wonderful accomplishments and health efforts with enormous gratitude and not allow them to go in vain!
The writer is a senior public health and public policy expert in Pakistan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Doc Kazi on 2021-03-31 00:04:29