It was Wednesday noon when the first sound of bell ringing sound was heard from the Raiwind Diocese’s Central Cathedral of Praying Hands on Waris Road in Lahore. At around 1 pm came the last call of the bell ringing. The bell was tolling for the last time for legendary singer A Nayyar who passed away last Friday.

The funeral service was held at the Cathedral and leading prayers were Archbishop Sebastian Shah, Bishop of Lahore Rt Rev Irfan Jamil and Bishop Azad Marshal. The funeral attended by family, friends, people from showbiz and fans brought back to life memories of the man that he was. The scribe grew up as a child listening to his songs that were telecast on PTV and remember his songs in films when he ruled the roost in Lollywood as the leading playback singer. He has to his credit more than 6,000 songs that include devotional religious songs as well. Most of these songs were in Urdu. He sang very few songs in Punjabi and that was his fall in the industry as fewer Urdu flicks were being made while Punjabi films came in abundance when the film industry was at its lowest ebb in the late 90s. Nayyar also sang for three Bangla films and one Turkish film. The Bangla films were produced by his friend Robin Ghosh who urged him to settle in Bangladesh but he refused to leave Pakistan.

Nayyar rose to fame after his appearance on TV show Naye Fankar in 1974. His first film song was Yunhin din cut jayen, yuhin shaam dhal jaye was a duet with Rubina Badar, composed by A. Hameed. It was an instant hit. Other songs added in his popularity were ‘Pyar to ik din hona tha’, a duet with Naheed Akhtar from the film Kharidar; ‘Sathi mujhay mil gaya’, a song from Jasoos; ‘Milay do sathi khili do kaliyan’ from Amber; and ‘Ik baat kahoon dildara’ from Khuda Aur Mohabbat. He sang only two songs with Madam Noor Jehan. Most of his duets were with Mehnaz. Both Nayyar and Mehnaz badly wanted to be recognized by the state. Both died without getting the Pride of Performance Award.

“This year too my name has not been included in the list of award recipients. Sarfraz please do something because I badly need the money for my youngest daughter Mishal’s marriage. Then all my responsibilities will be over,” he said while talking to this scribe about 25 days ago. He would call me and his friend Sajjad Tafu almost every other day mainly because most of his showbiz friends did not take up his calls. Three years ago I helped him to prepare his file for making request for Pride of Performance Award. We went together to PTV building in Lahore. He was a bit shaken but when he once went inside his confidence returned. I had taken him to Hayat Saif the PRO. From his office he called many producers. He knew all their extension numbers. Then we met PTV GM who promised to nominate him for award. After three attempts he was dismayed by response of the state.

Nayyar was one of the few who never had a scandal even though he was a star of showbiz industry. His wife Rubina loved him so much and proved to be a rock when he wavered in difficult financial times. “I was an easy going person. I earned a lot and lost so much because I helped everyone at the peak of my career. I thought my earning would continue but that was not to be and now I am down and it all seems over for me. It is all due to Rubina that I continue to live even after Tipu (his son who passed away due to failure of lungs and other body organs due to addiction),” he would burst into tears.

The scribe became friends with Nayyar about a decade back when I persuaded him to perform at a Lahore Press Club function. Then began his long association with club where he used to come quite often to while away his time in the evenings. He was honoured by Lahore Press Club by giving him life membership. I remember the time when he was singing at YMCA annual dinner. He was very entertaining and sang many of his hit songs. When he went back home and found that his son Tipu had died. I remember he had lost his senses and continued to weep for hours. He blamed his son’s death on himself. “I was so busy with my recordings and shows that I did not ensure that he stayed away from bad company. The result was that he would be away from home for days and I searched for him at places where the addicts usually are. He was a good drum player. I sent him to Canada so that he may escape the bad company here but he came back after eight months. And it all started all over again,” he would say with tears in his eyes.

The worst thing that can happen to an artiste is to be ignored. That was his living death and Nayyar was facing that for years. He went to Canada and on advice of friends applied for asylum. “When I appeared in the court the attorney who was an Indian said she knew who I was. She called me the Kishore Kumar of Pakistan. I was so embarrassed that I withdrew my asylum application and came back to Pakistan my own country that had given me so much fame around the world.

“On my return the FIA officials were very cooperative and sympathised with me. I did not have to pay anything. I just sang a few songs for them,” Nayyar told this scribe. The last I met him was about six weeks back when he came to press club. After that we only had telephonic conversations. I was in Washington DC when I received the news of his death. I was devastated as one of my closet friends had passed away. I spontaneously told my Editor Salim Bokhari that I would be there at the funeral. Later I realised I may not make it. But his funeral was delayed. His two daughters one living in USA and the other living in UAE could not make it as their passports were not valid for travel. His youngest daughter Mishal who was also in Dubai at the time of death was present at the funeral.

Nayyar at the peak of his career performed in many countries of the world. He performed in USA, Canada, UK, France, Norway, Sweden, UAE, Malaysia, Kenya and Uganda. His musical group Avengers was the most popular band in 80s. He was among the pioneer artistes who help in fund raising for Shaukat Khanum Hospital. He performed in fund raising concerts in New York and Washington along with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Dildar Pervaiz Bhatti. That helped him later as his wife was given free treatment for cancer at Shaukat Khanum Hospital. They had not forgotten his contribution.

My colleague Sajid Zia was lived in the same vicinity as Nayyar that is Canal Park has very sweet memories of what he called the ‘Highly appreciated gentleman who was star of the locality’. “I still recall the time when he wearing off white coat or black overcoat would walk through the street with head down commanding respect of everyone. He was soft spoken and always had smile on his face while talking to anybody. He was a non-Muslim but always took the initiative first of saying Salam to everyone including those who were younger than him. His graceful personality and noble character will never be forgotten,” Sajid Sahab said.