Asif Noorani: the Writer and His Legends
By Amjad Noorani
Born into a struggling, middle class family in Mumbai, Asif remembers the one-way voyage of migration to Karachi on the Sabarmati, in September 1950. Shortly after, the family moved to Lahore to follow a business opportunity which didn't turn out to be the dream his father was promised and a couple of years later, it was back to Karachi to settle. The parents sent the three sons to the best school that they could afford, St. Paul's Boys School, and Asif took to English language like a fish to water, developing a flair for writing at a young age.
Back in 1960, he submitted an article titled "Singing in the Bathroom" to Morning News, one of the two premier English dailies. Not expecting compensation, Asif was astounded when the publication offered him a whopping sum of twenty rupees - enough to buy three books, a gift for his parents, a treat of chicken patties and chai for himself and friends at Café George, and a rickshaw ride home to Nazimabad. Topping it all and to have a good time marking his celebrity, Asif also gave four annas to each of his brothers. That's how Asif Noorani's writing prowess got discovered and history followed.
Continuing college and writing free lance for Morning News and Dawn (the other English daily), Asif got a connection to a fledgling entertainment magazine Eastern Film and landed the assistant editor's job, doing just about everything including the popular Q and A page on movie trivia titled 'Yours Impishly' which became his mark of distinction. To this day, Asif can be a wealth of trivia, sometimes with more information than you ask for but impressive nevertheless.
Pursuing his masters in English and a teaching job at the S.M. College left no time for Eastern Film after 1970. But he obviously enjoyed writing and continued his professional free lance relationship with Dawn, even as he worked full time in marketing for the next 14 years with pharmaceutical giant Glaxo. A return to the world of publications was inevitable and Asif became circulation manager for the new weekly Dawn Overseas, at the same time carving a niche writing reviews and reports on art, literature and culture - with book and music reviews being his forte. From '93 to 2006, he was editor of Star Weekend, a publication of Dawn group. Over the years, he has been a panelist or guest on TV shows and a writer for a radio series on musical instruments and folk tales of Pakistan. He has recently entered the cyber world, writing a blog for Dawn.com.
Along with his columns and other writings for Dawn and now approaching the eighth decade of an illustrious life, Asif has transitioned to books. His first invite came from Indian publisher Roli Books to write the Pakistani side of Tales of Two Cities - a humorous, personalized history of his early years, the partition and ongoing relationship between Pakistani and Indian people. (He is now working on an Urdu book, comprising his travelogues and a yet to be titled book in English on his visits to India). Following Pakistan's world triumph in the 20/Twenty cricket championships, a Karachi publisher asked Asif to write Boom Boom Shahid Afridi which sold over 2,000 copies. His most recent venture is Mehdi Hasan: the Man and his Music which has also done well, selling over 3,500 copies.
One is often awe struck in the presence of celebrity, especially those of the legendary special class. Besides the personal connection, immense respect and fondness for him, what prompted me to meet with Asif over lunch recently in Karachi - and to write about him - is the amazement I have for the numerous movie and music greats Asif has written about, interviewed or met casually.
Asif's emotions were palpable when he spoke about his first 'legend' interview, the most elite music maestro of Indian movie. "Meeting Naushad Sahib was one of the most memorable events of my life. He was such a polished gentleman of the Lukhnow culture, a true legend", said Asif. "I have been fortunate to have met so many great stars and movie personalities and developed strong relationships, friendships. The late O.P Nayyar and I had a father-son relationship, and we were frequently in touch by phone. I have a cordial relationship with Shabana Azmi and husband Javed Akhtar. Feroz Khan of Tumhari Amrita fame is a good friend. Kaifi Azmi, Gulzar, Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Talat Mahmood bring back good memories. Can't remember them all but an enjoyable interview was Indian prime minister I.K. Gujral . Among the regrets, I wish I had met Bismillah Khan, Vilayat Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Nargis, Lata, Shakeel Badayuni - so many other greats."
"It was an enormous pleasure interviewing the Bangladeshi micro-credit pioneer Muhammad Yunus on two occasions, once just a week before his Nobel Prize was announced".
"On the Pakistani side, my very first interview was of actress Shabnam, star of Chanda and Talaash. Other memorable ones were Waheed Murad, Sabiha and Santosh, Darpan and Nayyar Sultana, director Pervez Malik, music director Sohail Rana, Runa Laila, Ahmed Rushdi, the great Iqbal Bano, Qateel Shifai, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi and of course, the indisputable shahenshah-e-ghazal Mehdi Hassan for my book about him. Nayyara Noor is now a close friend of the family. I first wrote about her in 1976 when she was gaining popularity. That's when Nayarra Sings Faiz was released. One of my greatest joys was also the interview with Omar Qureshi, the king of cricket commentary."
"Visiting the U.S., I had the opportunity to meet and interview the great sarod nawaz Ali Akbar Khan Sahib at his home in San Rafael , California. On the same day, I also met and interviewed the bansuri ustad G.S. Sachdev and the most charming and eloquent table maestro Zakir Hussain. The conversation with Zakir Hussain remains a memorable, most enjoyable one. What a remarkable man, Zakir."
Asif, the Person I know
I can trace back my own passion for music to the kindness and gift of music appreciation that Asif gave to me many years ago. He remains a grounded, balanced, secular, most helpful icon in my family, always looking for those in need who could use a hand. Few people are as fortunate as I am, for having known Asif as I have.