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Shoaib Hashmi’s Humane Minimalism

The teacher, playwright and columnist was a man of depth and humor

by Khaled Ahmed

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Shoaib Hashmi (1938-2023) was a man of the performing arts, but was more a teacher in life, even though pedagogy was unspectacular in comparison. The Government College University (GCU) acknowledged his role in the Government College Dramatic Club (GCDC) that counted great personages of the past among its founders, like GD Sondhi and Patras Bokhari.

The Lahore School of Economics, where he taught Mathematics and Economics, introduced him on its website as: Mr. Professor Shoaib Hashmi, Professor and Director, Center for Media Studies, Art and Design, M.Sc. London School of Economics, U.K. Apart from his education as an economist, he also studied drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London. Perhaps, he wanted to fortify himself for teaching economics at Lahore’s Government College, because he appeared so impressive in class during his long career of teaching. Later in life, he got the President’s Pride of Performance Award in 1996, after having already received the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, 1971, and the Outstanding Merit Award in the Japan Prize Festival in 1974.

Coming to stage and TV, there was a rich crop of delightful comedy sown and cultivated by Shoaib and his talented associates—Salima Hashmi, Navid Shahzad, Samina Ahmed, Salman Shahid and Arshad Mahmood. First there was Akkar Bakkar, then came Such-Gup and Tal-Matol. It was a flood of hilarity, all in good taste. His stage genius was comedic rather than tragic. If you want to cauterize the high-seriousness of an ideological state, do it the way Aristophanes did the sophistry of Athenian philosophers. Shoaib’s TV skits stuck in popular memory as “such-gup” puns that only he could invent.

Shoaib’s emphasis on the artistic requirements of the medium sometimes landed him into arguments with playwrights and stage/film producers who professed to uphold purposeful art. He did not deny purposefulness, but he could not stand hectoring without a trace of art. And when he defended his decision to adapt a Moliere play, he argued that helping a people to overcome their sorrows and tribulations, though temporarily, was also a valuable purpose because it could help them regain the strength to fight for whatever purpose in life they might have.

He was a great dabbler, but one with obstinate depth. Those who find it difficult to define culture simply because they are Muslims, should read carefully his Talmatol, the trivia column he wrote about language. Only he could carry it for years without drying up. Few focused on his life’s wisdom; he was unbeatable because he was non-confrontational. He had no hubris because he was what he once called “a minimalist” in an environment where everyone hoped to register extremes. The advantage that accrued from this credo is that he could gather around him more mutually wrangling Pakistanis than anyone else you know.

Those who have challenged Shoaib on Ghalib will have realized that he was a connoisseur of the Urdu classics. His allegiance to Faiz, as reflected in his readings, is strangely related to the latter’s absence of combativeness. There is a strange, almost feminine, acceptance of pain in Faiz that matches the minimalism of Shoaib. He had a tremendous sense of history. He was born in the year the Second World War started, he completed his studies around the time of the Iskandar Mirza-Ayub putsch; he went to study at RADA in the year Ayub enforced his constitution, he married Salima in the year of the first regular war with India, he retired from the GC in the year Musharraf overthrew his benefactor; and he suffered a temporary disruption of his normal activities in the year Musharraf surrendered.

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