Alamgir still rocks after 40 years on the road
PTV finally recognises the singer with a Lifetime Achievement Award
By Siraj Khan
Think of PPP and the first thing that comes to mind is either politics or a political party. Look at PPP from the lens of music and you think of Alamgir, the uncrowned Prince of Pakistani Pop and a true trail-blazer, if there was any.  

Secret daughter
Dear All,
Ever since I read the obituary of Judy Lewis a few weeks ago, her story has haunted me. She was the ‘secret daughter’ of the Hollywood heartthrob Clark Gable and actress Loretta Young, and was never publicly acknowledged as such by either one.

It was Mansoor Ijaz’s byline in the Financial Times “Time to take on Pakistan’s Jihadist Spies” in early October that set off a chain of controversial and toxic events.

In his article, the maverick Pakistani American businessman and commentator had claimed that President Asif Ali Zardari desperately wanted to pass a message to the White House national security officials that would bypass Pakistan’s military and intelligence channels. President Zardari made this attempt early on May 9, a week after US Special Forces stormed the hideout of Osama bin Laden and killed him in Abbottabad, according to the author’s claim.

The article itself and further related revelations have rocked Pakistan in a way that is matchless. The media, the judiciary, the civil society and the security establishment have jumped on what is now infamously known as the ‘memogate’. It has already claimed Husain Haqqani’s scalp, has reportedly caused huge stress to the president and has brought the entire political dispensation under tremendous pressure.

Since then, there have been a flurry of articles regarding the memogate scandal, involving key military and political players and the departure from Pakistan of Asif Zardari on health grounds. A common denominator of the various storms that have hit Pakistan trace their roots back to the well-known western publications, be it Mansoor Ijaz’s FT article, Newsweek’s news article stating that President Zardari was ‘incoherent’ while talking to President Obama or The Independent’s article, based on Ijaz’s claim, that ISI chief Shuja Pasha sought the approval of oil rich Saudis to dethrone President Zardari.

But many questions have been asked since then as to why it is the case the western media outlets are chosen by our political and social elite to make a point and reveal astonishing details. The equally interesting question is: what standards and yardsticks do these publications apply before publishing such articles. It is also pertinent to ask: would the same news and articles have created equal shock and awe were they carried in Pakistani media. And how does our society as a whole take these articles at their face value, without subjecting the publications and their content to any scrutiny.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have demonstrated that the western media is not immune to hearsay, innuendoes, scandalisation and accused of the spy agencies’ foreign policy games. These wars, which have killed tens of thousands, have in fact been fought with the full backing of the elite — and esteemed — western media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Independent and the Financial Times. These papers apologised for their naivety only too late and their support for western domination, nevertheless, continues.

The News on Sunday spoke to various media experts on the power of the western media and how it can cause storms in countries like Pakistan.

Chris Woods, a senior reporter at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism who has led a small team examining aspects of the US covert war, including CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, said that almost daily the New York Times or Washington Post carry front page stories regarding Pakistan’s internal political situation — just as many Pakistani papers in both Urdu and English carry extensive articles on the US policy. “I think it is an indication of the critical importance of Pakistan to the current US geopolitical thinking and vice versa. The so-called Haqqani Memo in fact relates to both the nations, given that the US officials were reportedly asked to intervene in Pakistani affairs.”

Chris Woods observed that some Pakistani media do lean somewhat heavily on the US media and news wires for copy. “Our investigations into Fata drone strikes have on occasion been ignored until, for example, the Los Angeles Times or a US agency picked up the story and ‘validated’ it. That might perhaps indicate an over-reliance on the US media sources, and a skewing of foreign coverage in some Pakistan-based media.”

BBC’s London-based Head of Urdu Service, Aamer Ahmed Khan, is of the view that countries where media freedoms have been well-established for a long time obviously have more evolved and robust information flow systems compared to countries where such freedoms have been interrupted or curtailed from time to time. “That may be one reason why articles published in the western media command more credibility in countries like Pakistan where we know that access to information is far from easy and is often not supported by adequate legal or political framework.”

“To some extent, this may explain why media in some countries is more tolerant of state policies compared to others. This is something that troubled governments, be they democratic or dictatorial, have often been unable to understand. Shared with the public, accurate and timely information almost always acts as an ally rather than a foe. Societies that understand this succeed in creating consensus even on extremely tricky and potentially divisive issues and that always adds to the strength of the state. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, states continue to treat information as an adversary and their attempts to block it make people look elsewhere,” said Khan.

TNS tried to take the FT’s opinion on the merits of the Mansoor Ijaz article and what tests were applied before the publication of the article, but the spokesperson declined to comment.

Salma Yousuf, a London-based barrister who has a rich experience of dealing with many high profile media related cases, said that reliance on western media to get the “truth” stemmed from the fact that it is not until the foreign media picks a story that it is deemed to be worth taking seriously.

Nick Cohen, broadcaster and The Guardian commentator, observed that the Western media enjoys a lot of power in “free and semi-free countries, not in total dictatorships”. He said the same op-ed (Mansoor Ijaz’s published in FT) would have made no difference in “North Korea and China” where the journalists can’t organise, protest and write freely. He said journalism was free in Pakistan but faced threats from religious extremist elements. “But sill Pakistani journalists make a huge difference through investigative stories.”


The writer works for GEO TV and Jang Group of Newspapers from London. He can be reached at




Pakistan is again being seized by the fit of insularity. The recent decision of the cable operators to discontinue with the channels that don’t speak in unison with the local television networks have been disconnected. The net result is that the much-respected BBC and CNN have been taken off the cable networks for public viewing.

The first question to ask is: who has authorised the cable operators to select and exercise censorship? One thought some other body, a higher authority like PEMRA or the ministry of information, had the power to decide on what is to be shown and what is to be withheld. Cable operators are just facilitators, more interested in maximising the range of their options to advance their business interests and not arbiters of what the people should or should not see. It is like empowering the hawkers in the print media to decide about public good in the distribution of newspapers. Whatever, this power has to be vested in the policy-making echelons of the government.

It could be that the cable operators have swung into action because the relevant authority hiding behind their skirt does not want to face the flak for this shortsighted and counterproductive step.

Though it fortifies the pandemic nature of the general perception — that Pakistan has been always under threat, the victim of conspiracies and the object of adverse propaganda — it also cedes that censorial steps have been necessitated because this vicious anti-Pakistan propaganda has been so very effective as to make a critical change in the thinking and attitudes of the people. If this propaganda is not that effective there is no need to block these channels and networks from being aired through the cable network.

It was not so long ago that the governments, this and the previous one, were taking credit for having brought in a new era of openness, by liberating the media from the censorial shackles. And for uplifting the country to the level of a more advanced society where the onus of making a decision, the choice of right and wrong, rests with the individual. The individual has to decide what to see, read, and partake from a range of choices offered to him.

But apparently the time is not ripe for the decision to be handed down to the individual. The state or the government (in the case of Pakistan the two are used loosely) has retracted and is reconsidering the empowerment of the people, perhaps, thinking that the decision is premature with the people still not ready enough to decide for themselves. The big boss, the government, is still not willing to surrender its advantage to decide for all and limit the number of choices offered to the public, lest in their immaturity they make a choice detrimental to themselves, the society and the nation — a reversal of the seeming progress that the government ceaselessly trumpeted to have made. Now this opportunity is being capitalised upon for revising that concession.

In Pakistan the censorship has been on two counts — one, moral for the values of our societies have been constantly under threat from the more liberal values of the West and even India; and two, political where the institutions of the state are being attacked or questioned. Other than the two holy cows which are above reproach and cannot be discussed, let alone criticised, the rest, the hapless politicians and even civil bureaucracy are attacked, victimised, abused, caricatured, lampooned and pilloried endlessly in the name of freedom of expression.

There was a time when the state controlled radio and television filtered information while the hunger for news and the truth made people switch over to BBC radio for their English and Urdu programmes, catching snatches of information denied to them by the national networks. Similarly, the newspapers too were directly controlled and news ruthless censored. This seemed in the past but in this country, the past, the present and the future run freely into one another, to facilitate the fantasy of our makebelief.

Other than forcing us into isolation let it be said that it does not prove to be effective in the present day and age. In the past, censorship could work, partially though, because the means of communications could be controlled — but no longer. In the past few years one has seen the immense proliferation of the social media, the use of twitter, facebook in forming public opinion and organising people. It became a variable in the presidential elections of the US about four years ago and in societies, which have draconian censorship laws and apparatuses to implement them. The breakthroughs in technologies have made the authorities hapless in the implementation of their censorial policies. Its impact was measured in Iran and then more recently in the entire Middle East, the region not the envy of open societies has been rocked by the political significance of these media/social network and authorities have been scratching their heads on how to bring the old order back to exercise greater control. That probably will never happen because the controls of the past cannot be exercised effectively in the present and the future has more such technological openings.

The free flow of information has had varying effects on societies. The weak societies generally feel threatened by this openness and look inwards for strength and sustenance. This insularity and the desire to seek isolation snowballs with time and even impedes normal interaction with the outside world. A weak and insecure society needs censorship. If the society is strong, secure and confident it has the means and the intellectual resources to face and counter whatever emanates from whichever direction. Instead of making ourselves strong we chose the option of hiding our heads in the sand and cocooning ourselves in the security of our own self-righteousness.

Apart from politics, foreign policy and cricket, art is another subject that everybody has an opinion about. In shows, one hears views and judgments and whether a work qualifies to be art or not. This segregation of art from non-art is so common that artists too face this dilemma before embarking on a new venture.

Of course, the matter of art and non-art can not be resolved on a permanent basis, yet in the views of people some parameters exist which determine the worth of a work as art or otherwise. Interestingly, the question of non-art is a recent concern; in old times the artists were considered mere professionals like goldsmiths, carpenters, glass workers, carvers etc. The term art was not used although works from those periods are now regarded as art. Back then, those works were produced for a specific purpose and were justified as long as served their required function.

Once art was created for the sake of art, primarily as an aesthetic activity, the danger of art’s absence from a work was closely watched and critically feared. However, in the present art world, where the difference between art and life is slowly diminishing, the possibility of non-art has been drastically reduced too.

In this scenario, where descriptions and definitions have lost their authenticity, the artist still encounters the question: What is he making and whether it is art or non-art. It is normally believed that the artist does not create non-art; yet not all that is created could be classified as art. Because disregarding the material, genre and technique, it is the intention of the artist that turns it into art or non-art (one can not divide art into degrees of good, bad, mediocre, acceptable and excellent; as Zahoor ul Akhlaq used to say that either it is art or non art, there is nothing in between!).

Hence, often one can sense the artist’s desire as well as ability to formulate his ideas into new and exciting objects. In some cases, the blend of idea and object is so convincing that one hardly distinguishes the divide between the two, whereas in other cases the artist’s desire to acquire a new language is not supported with the necessary means — of expression and content.

This was the case in the solo exhibition of Khalil Chishtee (Dec 9-17, 2011) at Rohtas 2, Lahore. Chishtee is a trained sculptor resides in the US and has enjoyed a fair degree of success and recognition for his figurative sculptures forged with plastic sheets. His choice of material contributed towards communicating the ephemeral state of human body — not only as a mortal being, but living in a world constantly under the threat of extinction. So, in his sculptures, sometimes in the group of two or three figures, human beings are represented as ghost-like entities. If the work was just about this, it would have been effective. But Chishtee adds a number of small elements in his pieces, such as flower and a bird next to the figures; forms that bring down his work to the level of illustration or suggest that the artist is not clear about the power and possibility of his selected mode of expression.

This tendency, to end up with the ordinary while in the process of shaping something different, was seen in the current exhibition too. Here, the artist displayed ten works on paper (besides a digital print), made with welding sparks on acid free archival paper. The sheets of paper, inside the metal frames, were installed higher than the usual level, and with every exhibit a magnifying glass was attached through a metal chain. A small step ladder was placed under each frame so the viewer could climb, hold the magnifying glass and look at the work on display. Also a piece of paper on board with a pen was attached next to all works, in which the visitors were invited to ‘Please Suggest Title for This Work’ (the generic title of ten works on display).

Once on the ladder and having picked up the magnifying device, one does not find anything extra which was not visible otherwise. Likewise, the image created in each piece was a variation of the same theme and method of making, thus the artist’s decision of to display 10 works appeared as an extraneous choice, because all appeared similar (perhaps a larger number would have a stronger impact!) without having a different aspect/effect.

The whole set up of the work did not explain the artist’s position on art, because if it was about the mockery of art as a sublime endeavour and a comment upon the sacredness of art, his plan to sell his work for Rs7 to 28 lakh was a contradiction in terms. One understands the matter of price as being a critique on the art market, but only so if it was notified in the exhibition (like Iqbal Geoffrey’s works) and not as a private matter only disclosed when asked about these ‘prices on request’.






Alamgir still rocks after 40 years on the road
PTV finally recognises the singer with a Lifetime Achievement Award
By Siraj Khan

Think of PPP and the first thing that comes to mind is either politics or a political party. Look at PPP from the lens of music and you think of Alamgir, the uncrowned Prince of Pakistani Pop and a true trail-blazer, if there was any.

Alamgir is a person with an unassuming personality, enchanting timbre in his voice, combined with a heart of gold.

Never before had anyone in Pakistan picked up the guitar and sung Urdu songs in the public domain that rocked a country otherwise used to gentle mellow Urdu songs. Nobody had set the stage alight with incredible live wire performances before Alamgir. Certainly no other artiste had started his professional career by singing Urdu songs on TV on his guitar, and made people sit up and listen. Composers like Sohail Rana did steer him in the right direction, KTV provided the ideal platform in 1973, but the unique style and delivery was entirely his. Others followed later.

That’s what Alamgir did with Albela Rahi, the Urdu version of a Cuban hit in Spanish. Albela Rahi was no flash in the pan, as a string of hits followed. Dekha na tha, Keh Dena ankhon se, meine tumhare gagar se and those immortal shaam songs Shaam se pehle aana and Ye sham tera naam, followed by Dekh tera kia rang kar dia and many others.

Alamgir has sung 400+ songs for TV alone, many of which are popular even today. He has produced more than 30 albums, sung for films and has performed in 45 countries. He has a special following in North Korea where he has performed five times and his audience included no less than the late President Kim II-Sung.

The North Koreans were stunned when Alamgir sang a popular Korean song to the full. The North Koreans embraced the Pakistani and his breezy yet passionate performances earned him the Pride of Performance from a country, which today must be included in the list of the most-hated countries of the world, if not the most dangerous. As a musical ambassador, Alamgir managed to do bridge building through his music, what seasoned diplomats had failed to do.

Normally, by the time a deserving artiste is bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement Award, he/she has retired from the performing circuit or is phasing out. Alamgir, however, is blazing away 40 years on after he started. He has recently released a new version of ‘Keh Dena’ with Canadian popstar Kristie Yung. (Over 275,000 views on YouTube already) This despite the fact that he suffers from polycystic kidney disease, has to undergo dialysis three times a week and is a candidate for a kidney transplant. If anybody qualifies for a PTV Lifetime Achievement Award it is him. PTV has finally recognised the services that Alamgir has rendered over the years and his lovely wife Shehla, who is always by his side, and his only son Aurangzeb would be equally proud on this national recognition, if not more. As a friend, fan and well-wisher I am delighted.

It was Hans Christian Andersen who had said that when words fail, music speaks. Alamgir has gone a step further. Even when kidneys fail, music continues to speak.


Secret daughter

Dear All,

Ever since I read the obituary of Judy Lewis a few weeks ago, her story has haunted me. She was the ‘secret daughter’ of the Hollywood heartthrob Clark Gable and actress Loretta Young, and was never publicly acknowledged as such by either one.

Young and Gable had an affair while working on the 1935 film “The Call of the Wild” (in which they both look quite gorgeous). Gable was married at the time and both stars had ‘morality clauses’ in their studio contracts, so Young went off and had the child secretly and, for the first year and a half of the child’s life, kept her in an orphanage. When Judy was 19 months old Loretta Young ‘adopted’ her, announcing the news through the influential Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons.

The child had Gable’s very prominent ears so her mother always had her wear bonnets in public and then had her ears surgically reduced when the Judy was only seven. Judy also took the surname of Loretta Young’s husband, Tom Lewis although he never actually adopted her.

Judy grew up not knowing that Young was her biological mother, and only learnt of her connection to Clark Gable when she went through an identity crisis on the eve of her wedding. Her future husband told her the rumour around town was that she was Clark Gable’s daughter.

Judy Lewis revealed her parentage publicly in her 1994 book “Uncommon Knowledge”. Loretta Young was furious as she did not want the fact made public in her lifetime and she refused to talk to her daughter for several years. According to Lewis, her mother was always evasive when she asked about her parentage but finally admitted everything to her much later, once Judy was already a mother herself. Yet she remained reluctant to acknowledge the parentage publicly and referred to her unwed pregnancy as a ‘mortal sin’.

Gable never acknowledged Judy Lewis either, although she said he did visit her once and talk to her when she was 15, something that Young says “never happened”. Clark Gable died in 1960 and his widow gave birth to their son, John Clark Gable four months later. Gable Junior also denies that Judy Lewis had any connection to his father.

Judy Lewis had a difficult childhood and adolescence, trying to discover who she was and untangling the web of lies that had been woven around her birth and parentage, but to her credit she became a successful TV actress and producer and then, later in life, went back to college and trained as a psychotherapist, counselling children and foster families. After the publication of her autobiography she was able to finally come to terms with the truth of her parentage even though her mother refused to admit to the truth during her lifetime, and only did so posthumously in her own authorised biography.

Lewis died of cancer last month, she was 76; her mother died eleven years ago. So, you might ask: since everybody is dead, why am I so taken with this story? Well, I found it a very moving story and was intrigued by it because it involved two Hollywood superstars. It also had a sort of happy ending because Judy Lewis turned out to be something of a survivor and found a way to come to terms with her parentage and her identity and she used her pain to benefit others by working in family counselling and psychotherapy.

Gable seems to have behaved remarkably caddishly — or spinelessly — or both, but I found Loretta Young’s behaviour interesting and gutsy. She was just 22 but she found a way to keep and raise her illegitimate daughter yet salvage her career as well. Despite this, she lived in fear of the scandalous truth being revealed and this coloured her relationship with the ‘adopted’ child in her household (she also had two sons with her husband Tom Lewis).

Parents generally try to do the best for their children, but life is really very confusing. Not simple at all — as you can see from the story of the child of ‘Hollywood royalty’ — Judy Lewis, secret child of the stars.


Best Wishes,

Umber Khairi




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