Over the years, many famous artists have died, leaving behind memorable works of art and culture, coupled with painful memories of how we treated them while they left this world in extreme poverty. Though with changing times and commercialisation of the entertainment industry, the new artists, singers, actors and other individuals associated with it have made fortunes. Yet, a majority of them seem to be struggling on their own with neither any hope, nor energy left in them to continue their creativity that demands a specific environment for its nourishment and sustainability. To add to it, there are no private or public institutions for their welfare.

Pathanay Khan was a great Seraiki folk singer. He mostly sang kafis or ghazals that were largely based on the Sufi poetry of Khawaja Ghulam Farid and Shah Hussain. He was the recipient of President’s Pride of Performance Award. We still remember him with his eyes shut, lips quavering and fingers fluttering majestically, as he used to sing “Meda Ishq Vi Toon’ in his heavenly unmatched voice. Khan died after a protracted illness at his native town of Kot Addu on March 9, 2000. He led a miserable life, as he was unable to earn for his family due to his illness.

Ustad Mohammad Juman was a modern Sindhi musician and classical singer. He was born in the village of Sorra, Balochistan. He became famous after performing the Seraiki Kafi “Yaar Dadhi Ishq Atish Lai Hai”. Juman was awarded a Bedil Award, Gold Award, Saga Award, Latif Award and above all, Tamgha-e-Husn-e-Karkerdigi in 1980 by the Government of Pakistan. Juman died on January 24, 1990, in Karachi, in extreme poverty and total helplessness.

Many artistes’ stories have ended in a similar tragedy, as they lived in abject poverty and died without getting help from any quarter. Actress Romana, Nimmi, Zakir Ali Khan, Sudheer, Mazhar Shah, Pervaiz Mehdi, Jaggi Malik and Adeeb suffered in their later years. Romana and Nimmi were seen begging from people in their last days. A few days prior to her death, Romana was seen begging in the streets of Lahore and at the Lahore Railway Station. She suffered from different diseases, but in the end reportedly died of starvation.

Ustad Zakir Ali Khan, brother of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, passed away in abject poverty some years ago. He continued to wait for days on end for his meagre amount cheques to clear. In his last days, he used to visit the offices of art councils and its allied institutions seeking help, as he was also suffering from multiple diseases. He passed away in grief and disbelief that it was not possible that no one had come to his help, considering his contributions in the field of music.

Singers and musicians of different gharanas (families), like Sham Churasi, Gawalior, Patiala and others, have devoted their lives to promote folk/traditional music. But now since not many people are interested in it, several singers and musicians associated with the classical music industry have left their profession in search of better livelihood to make both ends meet.

We have recently lost Moeen Akhtar, Papu Bural, Liaqat Soldier and Mastana. Their deaths have brought an end to a glorious era, while these legends gave so much to the people through their persistence, dedication and hard work. The plight has not finished yet, for we have legends living among us, like Reshma, Ali Ijaz, Roohi Bano, Humayun Qureshi, Alamgir and Afzal Ahmed, who are all suffering in one way or another.

What the government needs to realise is that a few thousand rupee cheques and presentation of bouquets amidst the flashing of camera lights for cosmetic glorifications will neither bring any hope, nor a smile on the faces of these tormented souls, who have given whatever they have in them for our country. It is time to honour these great human beings. Otherwise, their end will not be much different from the ones who left us before them with few tears shed on the electronic media before their fading away in the pages of history forever!

n    The writer is a PhD in Information Technology, an alumni of the King’s College,             London, and a social activist. He is a life member of the Pakistan                 Engineering Council and senior international editor for IT Insight                 Magazine. He has authored two books titled Understanding                     Telecommunications and Living In The Grave and several research papers.

    Blog: drirfanzafar.com

    Email: drirfanzafar@gmail.com