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Pakistan Loses a Legend

Even outside the classroom, Shoaib Hashmi never stopped imparting important life lessons to those around him

by Zarminae Ansari

The author at her wedding, with Salima and Shoaib Hashmi

For Pakistan, the passing of Shoaib Hashmi is the loss of a living legend; for his family and friends around the world, it is the loss of a loving, warm, affectionate, and hilarious ‘Puppi’ Hashmi. Growing up, I knew Shoaib Hashmi as ‘Puppi Cha,’ a man who was there for the pivotal moments in my life, and whose memory will forever be intrinsically associated with those moments and one very important life lesson.

A hilarious story that Puppi Cha would always narrate when introducing me to friends—and even audiences—was of the time I received my distinction in Architecture at the National College of Arts, Lahore. I had no idea about my results, which were still pending, as I sat on a high metal stool in the varsity’s computer lab. He walked in and announced what sounded like, in his booming voice, “Oye! Teri distinction aa gayi ai” (you have gotten a distinction). I don’t remember the exact words because his exclamation made me lose my balance, falling off the stool and getting a concussion on the terrazzo floor. Ever since, he would narrate this story at every possible opportunity—even on stage at Harvard! Both Puppi Cha and Cheemie Khala (Salima Hashmi) asked me to participate in a Faiz Foundation presentation at the prestigious university while I was studying at MIT. Calling me on stage to join in one of their famous Tal-Matol skits, Puppi Cha narrated this story to the raucous laughter of the audience.

Another moment I can never forget was his attending my wedding reception. It was one of the foggiest days of January in Lahore—I could not even see the bottom of my sari as I stepped out of the car—with many people having to turn back if they even attempted to reach the venue. It took me ages, with the help of many people, to walk just a few feet into the venue. Because of the situation, we did not expect many friends to show up, even though the extended families had arrived well in advance. Cheemie Khala and Puppi Cha were among the few who made the Herculean effort to ensure their presence!

Beyond his love and affection, Puppi Cha was also a great source of inspiration. And as most good lessons are wont to happen, the one he taught me was in the unlikeliest of places and during the most unexpected of occasions. My parents, Anj and Nimo, were living in Lahore at the time, and in keeping with their love of entertaining and being surrounded by friends, were hosting a large dinner party. One person who attended was known for keeping his musical instrument/synthesizer in his car, and then regaling parties with it. After listening to him initially, most people started talking with each other. I was sitting next to Puppi Cha—everyone always tried to be around him because of the insights, witticisms, astute observations he delivered with the humor that Punjabi allows with a simple inflection of voice or change in tone—wondering if I was missing something, or whether he had lost his taste in music, because he kept applauding at the end of every song the person sang.

Eventually, he noticed me looking confused and clapping reluctantly at his cue as everyone around us kept on conversing. He leaned over before the next song began and explained that one must always respect a performer, or anyone on stage: they have put themselves out there for us, and we must applaud them. If one has to leave, do it discreetly, and with respect. I have never forgotten this.

I wasn’t the only one to be inspired and taught by Puppi Cha. He conceived and starred in groundbreaking skits and variety shows, introducing Pakistani viewers—who then had access to just one black-and-white channel, state-run PTV—to composers like Arshad Mehmood and singers like Nayyara Noor and his trademark wit and humor. Farooq Qaiser, creator of Uncle Sargam, was also introduced to puppetry through these shows, and Pakistani audiences continue to be delighted by the comedic and histrionic talents of Salima Hashmi, Samina Ahmed, Naveed Shahzad, Salman Rashid, Irfan Khoosat, who all got their start on shows produced by Puppi Cha. The skits were subversive, as great comedy often is, prompting an eventual shutdown by military dictator Ziaul Haq.

When Puppi Cha got sick 14 years ago, past and present students of economics—now living the world-over—of the Government College, Lahore where he taught for decades, and the Lahore School of Economics lost an unforgettable professor. His break from writing his weekly columns for The News on Sunday, likewise, left a vacuum in the political and social commentary of Pakistan; one that has yet to be filled.

During those early years after his diagnosis, he would squeeze my hand as I talked nonstop, regaling him with crazy stories about my experiences in Moscow, and then Paris, his eyes twinkling with amusement. I pretended that all was well, while hiding the ache I felt at being unable to hear his hilarious pronouncements. I cannot even imagine what those closest to him were going through. The prolonged illness left him suffering for a long time, but the finality of its end does not lessen the heartbreak of his passing. Finally, Puppi Cha is at peace.

Ansari is an architect and writer. Having lived in many cities around the world, she developed a love of languages, and is the founder of Joy of Urdu, an international, bilingual, volunteer-run organization promoting Urdu language and literature. She is based in Portugal.

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