The year was 1964; a young Tariq Aziz came to the office of General Manager Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) Ubaid-ur-Rehman seeking a job. Ubaid Sahib, who was working in Civil Aviation Authority as Chief Engineer (Communications) before starting PTV in 1962 as a joint venture with Nippon Electric Company (NEC) of Japan was asked to spearhead this venture. In the backyard of Radio Pakistan, a tent was affixed for this ambitious project. Later on, a bungalow was hired on Empress Road across the street where the offices were moved while in place of the tent, a small studio building was erected from where PTV went on air in November 1964. Those were good times, merit prevailed and most positions were filled without delays or approach. The young man was desperate as he was the only bread earner for his mother and four sisters. After a brief evaluation he was hired as a newscaster. This was his second break in life. Earlier, the legendary Razi Trimizi had introduced him to Radio. Later on Razi Sahib also joined PTV as a producer. Ubaid Sahib did all the hiring for the Corporation including the talented Aslam Azhar. In 1967, the post of GM was upgraded to Managing Director (MD) and as always, a bureaucrat was nominated to take over. As a true professional, on being superseded by a less qualified person, Ubaid Sahib resigned in protest while the rest continued.

Tariq Aziz opened the innings for PTV with his unique voice and oration together with total command over the Urdu language. There was no looking back for this talented young man from Sahiwal (Montgomery) as he liked to remember it. I met him in 1965 for the first time when we went to stage a play written by the legendary children’s playwright Aziz Asri. The original play was staged at the Young Folks League auditorium on the Mall under the title of; ‘Khushi Ka Taj’ (Crown of Happiness). My elder sister Huma played the role of ‘Pari’ (Fairy) while I tried to manipulate my way through to get the Crown. Then came the war in September 1965. PTV played an important role in the war effort and Tariq Sahib established himself as an announcer while other individuals like Muzaffar Hussain started to read the news. Now the pair of announcers consisted of Tariq and Kanwal Appa. It did not stop here; he then acted in several plays with outstanding performances. One of my favourites was ‘Teesra Aadmi’. In those days, the black and white three-hour transmission was direct as recording technology had not been developed. PTV then expanded to Rawalpindi, Karachi and Dhaka. A training academy was also established in Rawalpindi where generations of artists and technicians were produced.

I had the chance of meeting him again in 1966 when we staged a historic play on the Battle of Panipat of 1526 when Babur captured Delhi to establish the Mughal Dynasty. Being the announcer, he was always there while the other newscasters came for their bulletins only. Luck prevailed and I was introduced to the great Aslam Azhar, who was the senior-most producer on PTV at that time. His mother Mrs Azhar was our maths teacher at school. ‘Bachion ka Theater’ was soon launched as a regular feature. First, Razi Tirmizi Sb was the producer, then the very talented Sikander Shaheen replaced him while Muhammad Anwar remained the director. Tariq Aziz made all the announcements with Kanwal Appa. I acted in several plays and got close to Comrade Tariq Aziz as those were revolutionary times. When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto launched his left of centre People’s Party, most progressives including Tariq Sahib joined him. My acting career came to an abrupt end in late 1967, as I had started too early in life, at this stage, I was required to focus on my studies to become an engineer not an actor. However, another great comrade Dr Anwar Sajjad was able to balance his professional duties as a medical practitioner and performing artist of a very high calibre.

It is widely believed that ‘once a comrade always a comrade’ but Tariq Aziz took a detour in 1997 when he decided to contest the National Assembly Elections from Lahore on a PML-N ticket. It proved to be one of the biggest regrets of his political career when he was trapped into attacking the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Goons entered the court premises. In 1999 when-the-out-of-control government of Nawaz Sharif was sent packing, the political career of Tariq Aziz came to an end.

In the sixties, another great artist Zia Mohyuddin, after a very successful innings on the London stage and cinema, returned to his motherland. He introduced the concept of live audiences in his show named after himself. It was a great hit, many new artists were introduced during this period. Tariq Aziz launched his show called ‘ Neelam Ghar ‘ in which he went a step further by giving lavish prizes to the participants for answering his questions, some of which were trivial. The show ran for over a decade, it was then renamed the ‘Tariq Aziz Show’ and then finally ‘Bazam-e-Tariq Aziz’. During this period, his wealth and fame grew manifold. From a poet, orator and ideologue, he also became a philanthropist. On one of his visits to the offices of Sui Northern he came across consumers who were unable to pay their bills—he paid on their behalf and got their connections restored. As a movie star, he had some memorable performances but as a hero he did not have much success. He remained loyal to his socialist ideology till the end and willed all his wealth and property to the state to be used for common good.

On the personal front, his life was bumpy. Despite pressure from his mother, he married late as he wanted to revolutionise the country through his activism. His wife gave birth to a son who did not live long enough to succeed his illustrious and highly-accomplished father who had started life from scratch but rose to great heights through his abilities and hard work. In his later years, he continued to write with occasional stage appearances. As a nationalist, he believed in Pakistan and the opportunities it offered. He urged the youth to focus on studies with their bag full of books even if their stomach was half empty.

Individuals like Tariq Aziz, Ubaid-ur-Rehman, Aslam Azhar, Dr Anwar Sajjad have now become rare, and we are losing them one by one. The success of television in the country was due to the fine efforts of many but these names standout, their professionalism was unmatched. In addition to their professional abilities, Tariq Aziz and Dr Anwar Sajjad were great comrade ideologues who wanted to bring real change in the country through social equality. Their life and times have lessons for the coming generations to follow, real success comes only through honest hard work. The self and the environment that we live in are inseparable, both have to be built together for long-term sustainability of the nation. May the souls of all the comrades who served the motherland rest in peace.