Zia Mohyeddin’s magnificent timbre
By Zainab Khar
LAHORE: They say he can express the entire spectrum of human emotions through his magnificent delivery. Well, at least that’s how the promoters of Rhyme and Rhythm pitched it. But as far as this man is concerned, this is nothing but gross understatement.
Zia Mohyeddin, 70, was born in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) into a family of scholars and aesthetes. After his degree in philosophy from the Punjab University, Mr Mohyeddin took off for Australia where his velvet voice won him his first broadcasting gig. Down Under, however, was too small for Mr Mohyeddin. He went on to the famed Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1953 and soon began a successful career on the boards.
Mr Mohyeddin starred in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and made his West End debut playing Dr Aziz in EM Forster’s Passage to India. Mr Mohyeddin was a smash on Broadway, too. Stints on the BBC and ITV followed. At the peak of his career, he decided to move back home.
He returned to Pakistan in the 1960s, hosting the Zia Mohyeddin show on PTV. He set up the PIA Arts and Dance Academy the following decade. This is when Mr Mohyeddin, who was married at the time with two sons, fell for a young Kathak dancer, Nahid Siddiqui. The arts academy toured the world and performed at the Madison Square Garden and for Queen Elizabeth II. When Gen Ziaul Haq effectively banned the arts in the 1980s, Mr Mohyeddin, once again, left for London.
Mr Mohyeddin is most at home on stage and began his annual readings in the late 1970s. Last night at the Pearl Continental, he appeared once again, the distinguished thespian, and regaled a small crowd of literary enthusiasts with the magic and timbre of his voice.
The setting was very Mughal. Mr Mohyeddin wore Savile Row and cut quite the figure in the glow of amber Fresnels and candlelight. White and Pink Gladioli wrapped the audience in their delicate scent. There were even trained pigeons heaving their feathery bosoms to the lilts and lows of Mr Mohyeddin’s legendary voice.
Mr Mohyeddin, who is now based in Lahore and on his third marriage, read excerpts from the works of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Allama Iqbal, Mushtaq Ahmad Yousufi, Noon Meem Rashid and Mukhtar Siddiqui. Mr Mohyeddin began with an excerpt from Agha Hyder Mirza describing the friendship between two women and the fascination and curiosity such a relationship excites among men.
He set the mood by citing Mir Taqi Mir: “From door to door in the land of love/Has spread the flame and fire of Hell/Inflame us not, dissembling preacher/This fire is not confined to earth.” Mr Mohyeddin also read a humorous piece of Shahid Ahmad Chatoor’s on the foibles of Delhi folks who lived to serve guests, even if they were poor. He also explained the right usage of the term ‘never never land’. For example, he said, “Nawaz Sharif ordered never never land to General Musharraf’s plane.”
But there were darker moments, too. One such was his retelling of the story of the Delhi King and a man he had condemned to death because he was believed to have been cursed.
Mehmood Ali accompanied Mr Mohyeddin on sitar and Nawaz Nafees Ahmad on tabla. There was also a Kathak performance by Islamabad-based Saima Khushnood, who performed Aiman Ka Aik Roop by Mukhtar Siddiqui. Nafees Ahmad lent his vocals to the dance performance. Mr Mohyeddin will be reading in Islamabad tonight.