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Spotlight: Khushbakht Shujaat

Khushbakht Shujaat can give an extempore speech that could put a meticulously prepared one to shame, on practically any subject under the sun. But this is just one of her copious credentials. She has been awarded the Pride of Performance for her contribution to the world of media.

In the three years that she was the vice president of the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi, she wrought improvements to the institution that the membership had never thought possible. Currently, she is running a children’s school which is probably one of the rare ones administering character-building classes to its students.

Khushbakht’s speaking prowess is not an art she has acquired over the years but something that comes naturally to her, as was very apparent the very first time she made an appearance on television way back in the early 1970s, when she was a mere university student, better known then as Khushbakht Aliya.

Few who had watched that landmark show hosted by Zia Mohyeddin have forgotten the way she pitted herself against the then giant of the local big screen, the late Mohammed Ali, and emerged with flying colours. But at the same time, none who knew her were surprised by her confidence and spunk.

As a formidable debator and one who can still speak and write on almost any subject with complete assurance, Khushbakht had all the makings of a bold spokesperson since childhood. She was chosen to represent the University of Karachi on national television to begin with, and prior to that, back in ’68 while still in college, she had joined Radio Pakistan for her first radio programme, Bazm-i-Talaba.

She looks as poised and graceful today as she did then, and fields all queries with the confidence of a pro. Speaking about how she got an opening as a compere on radio and television so many years ago, Khusbakht says: “A couple of days after the Zia Mohyeddin Show, I received a call from Aslam Azher offering me a students’ programme - a talk show called Ferozan. In spite of all my protests about lack of experience, I ended up hosting the show. Since then, there has been no looking back. I’ve compered numerous shows both on TV and radio, and written scripts for the electronic media as well.”

However, a year after hosting Ferozan, she tied the nuptial knot and disappeared for nearly four years from the public eye. It was only in 1975 that she resumed her career, when TV producer Shireen Azeem approached her father-in-law for permission to host another students’ programme, Zahanath. Permission was granted and she was back again in the limelight, this time for good.

Among the shows she hosted in the subsequent years, she mentions in particular the first-ever women’s commercial talk show called Meena Bazaar and another programme, Khawateen Time, that focused on young working women and was aired from London on Asia TV and also on PTV. “The programme went on for three years and was very well appreciated, particularly in London, where the expatriate Pakistani community realised for the first time that they had good reason to be proud of their girls.”

Yet another programme that Khushbakht remembers fondly is Chehray. “Its episodes were recorded for the archaeology department and also went on air. The programme focused on interviews of prominent personalities of the country. I interviewed some very difficult people including Pir Ali Mohammed Rashdi, G. Allana, Gulgee, Ozer Zubie and Raees Ambrovi. In all, 75 interviews went on air including those of writers, poets, artists, journalists and sportsmen that the country is proud of. It was a great learning experience.

“With some of the interviewees, I would sit chatting for two to three hours at a time, while for others, I would make repeat visits as they were too old to give an interview in one sitting,” she adds.

She has scripted all the programmes that she has hosted and claims, “I can never read anyone else’s script. Throughout my career I have prepared my own texts and questions. Nor am I able to read from my own prepared text; I always speak extrempore. The one time that I had to read a prepared script at a PTV awards ceremony — when I was compering along with Moin Akhtar and we had to coordinate — I felt I was just not delivering my lines correctly.”

With her four children grown up and family responsibilities becoming less demanding, she started a primary school by the name of Kids’ University some years ago, and hopes to eventually take it up to O-level. Realising that her own exposure to public speaking and the print and electronic media played an important role in her grooming, she has incorporated public speaking as part of the school curriculum.

“There is a tendency in our culture to crush children’s personalities and not to let them express their opinions freely. Especially in the case of girls, they are first stifled by their fathers, then by their husbands and later by their sons. I have been lucky that my father, my brothers and my husband have all been supportive of me, so I appreciate the value of freedom of expression,” she says.

Another interesting subject that Khushbakht has added in her school from grade three is grooming. “We try and build our children’s characters through these classes, teaching them how to interact socially with various people. They learn how to speak on the phone, talk to shopkeepers, servants and adults; how to entertain, sit, stand, and so on. I am keen to build personalities rather than demand brilliant academic results.”

The first woman to have run for elections for the post of vice president at the Karachi Arts Council, she not only won the elections but served for three consecutive years and was instrumental in giving the place a much-needed face-lift. Among the many achievements of her tenure were the construction of a new administration block; completion of a state-of-the-art auditorium; launching of the cultural village concept and fund raising for the Council so that for the first time in years, its accounts were no longer in the red.

Prior to joining the Council, Khushbakht had launched an organization called Idara-i-Qalamdoz to promote literary activities. With patrons like Peerzada Qasim and Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi, the organisation has been holding a number of projects including book launches and mushairas, one of the latter held to raise funds for earthquake victims.

Her term at the Karachi Arts Council has only helped to reinforce her belief in the need for such organisations to boost Urdu literature, as the government alone cannot do the job.

Now that the Council is no longer demanding her time and attention, Khushbakht says she plans to organise an international Urdu conference in the near future “to promote as many young writers as possible, who cannot afford to get their books published.”

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