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Spotlight: Shamoon Hashmi
The quote seems to fit Shamoon Hashmi like the proverbial glove. The writer and host who makes regular television appearances impresses all and sundry with his treasure trove of words, literary references and phrases. Born in a family where reading and writing has always been the order of the day, it was only natural that literature became his constant companion at a very young age.

In a clear voice and correct enunciation, Shamoon narrates aspects of his life not known to many. “It was in school that my interest in Urdu was first nurtured and the training left a lasting impression on my personality. We were a class of 40 students and the homework we used to get during our two-and-a-half-month winter break was to read a prose and an Urdu poetry book, and submit a one-page summary of both. After vacations, on the first day of class, our teacher would place a cane on the table and call students according to their roll numbers. He himself would have read all the prose and poetry books so he could easily tell who had done the assignment and who hadn’t.” The practice continued for four years and today, Shamoon’s personal library boasts of more than 5,000 books. “I can’t say whether I’m an ardent book reader or a book collector,” he says jokingly.

After a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, in 1996 Shamoon took the CSS exam and qualified for the information group, something that disturbed him at the time. Later, however, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as he was able to explore his interest in political science which later got him his Master’s degree. But it was his public sector job that earned him a scholarship to Bournemouth University, UK, in creative writing.

Shamoon puts his knowledge of words to good use in his scripts, thus making them stand out quite distinctly from all the rest. “My scripts come from my speeches. From Raisalpur Academy to Saint Joseph’s, there was not a single institution that I had not won a debating competition at,” says Shamoon who also happens to be the youngest student judge of the Pakistan Debating Society.

The next chapter of his accomplishments includes documentaries for which he has won an array of international awards. “Scripting documentaries requires a lot of research and unfortunately, research material is not readily available in Pakistan. I have to pick material from all over the place, extracting it from various sources,” he says, saddened at the state of affairs.

“The basic problem with our society is that people don’t know how to talk. There is no comprehension in speech. We cannot come up with a single sentence without using yeh, woh, aacha, umm. Ours is not a society where one questions outrightly. We always try to twist the question and as a result, it leads to distortion.”

It was this very power to question that opened the media doors to Shamoon. “I was once invited to PTV’s Lahore centre to participate in an Independence Day programme for youth called The Crisis of National Identity. The female host walked on stage and unfolded a piece of paper, reading out from it: ‘Pakistan was made with great sacrifices by the Muslims ... our Muslim brothers have given their lives for this country ...’ and she went on and on. I just couldn’t take it anymore so I stood up and said: ‘Khatoon, my name is Shamoon Masih and I am not a Muslim. Should I be thrown into the sea as I don’t deserve to be a Pakistani?’ Moneeza Hashmi, who was sitting in the control room, anxiously asked her assistant who I was and to throw me out of the studio. Later on, however, she became my godmother and launched my television career.”

The credit for planning, organising and materialising the first Urdu Conference in Islamabad is also Shamoon’s for the taking. “There are four folders lying in the Pakistan Academy of Letters with more than 7,883 articles published on the Urdu Conference, in spite of the fact that all the godfathers of Urdu literature in Pakistan were against holding it. They had forgotten that in the last 50 years nothing had been done on this level,” he says.

He firmly believes that until Urdu becomes the language of the market and marketing is mixed with Urdu, the same cannot be popularised. Referring to the Indian cultural-cum-linguistic invasion, he says that there is not a single house in Pakistan that doesn’t include Hindi words in their every day conversation. “This is because the Indians have done good marketing.” Giving a practical example, he explains, “When Pakistani Cricket team lost to India during the last cricket World Cup, The Hindustan Times published a front-page detergent advertisement in which the Pakistan cricket team’s uniform was shown hanging with the tag line: ‘Dho dala’. Can you think of a line to counter that?”

He says he also holds the corporate sector “solely responsible for the destruction of Urdu.” Why? “Because there is no maturity of thought.” He terms the practice a lame excuse to slaughter values to fill in the demand-supply gap. “The late Hanif Ramey once said: ‘We don’t teach Humanities so there is no humanism in us, we don’t teach literature so there is no adab-o-adaab in us’. We don’t mix the two together so it’s no wonder that today’s younger generation can’t get out of slang. All they want is the Beverley Hills 90210 culture. If they don’t get it they consider themselves as misfits in this society and go abroad. They know that Alexander the Great came to Taxila but they don’t know that Hans Raj wrote Mahabharat at the exact same place. This is our knowledge of history and literature and we are proud to be hypocrites. Basant, for example, for us is dour and all about yellow outfits, guddis, sarsoon and bhangra. We don’t think beyond this point.”

We go on to his interest in poetry and books. “I don’t get influenced by any one poet or writer. Iftikhar Arif ka gudaz, Fehmida Riaz ki kaat, Kishawar Naheed ka iblagh, Mustafa Zaidi ka andaz and Nasir Kazmi’s pathos — they all drive me crazy and most importantly, Faiz ka aahang and Ghalib ka mizaaj. Ghalib and Mir I can read any time of the day.” Quoting Dr Saleem-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, he says that once a student of chemistry asked him ‘I have not been able to do the crystallisation of Naphthalene’. To this Dr sahib replied: ‘If you don’t read Ghalib, how can you do the crystallisation?’”

Cultural and historical biographies are his first pick, says Shamoon, adding that Songs Sung True on Malika Pukhraj and Memoirs of a Rebel Princess on Princess Abida Sultan top his list of favourites. He quotes a line by Sara Shagufta “Mein to saade kaghaz se bhi ziyada khamosh reh sakti thi.”

“The culture of guns has to be replaced by that of the pen. To make something useful usually takes years but all it takes to destroy it is one stick of dynamite.” Although Shamoon is identified by his words, quotes and references, he can very well be compared to a financial institution, one where the vocabulary account is debited and credited every day but it will never lead to bankruptcy.

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