Moonraker and muckrakers —Mahmud Sipra

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There is talk of all kinds of regulatory set of rules for the Press, the bureaucracy, the legal community et al. Let there be one for politicians as well. One such rule for them should be that children, regardless of their parentage, ought never to be targeted until they have come of age and stepped into the realm of public domain of their own volition

While India celebrates the successful launch of its Chandarayaan I Moon probe, some might consider it an invasion of their realm given that Indian poets, lyricists and song writers have for centuries invoked the lunar muse to wax lyrical in matters of the heart. My good friend, the formidable Lajo Gupta, who can be rather vociferous on such matters, says: “The aspirations of our scientists seem to be at odds with the inspirational and the symbolic nature of the moon…romance is not a rocket science. If it were, every young female in India today would be wooing an ISRO Scientist!”

Bollywood, are you listening!?

I count one of India’s great music composers — Khayyam — as one of my dear friends and well wishers. Many years ago when I was visiting Mumbai, he and his charming wife invited me for dinner because he wanted me to meet one of his dear friends. I arrived at his flat and was introduced to an elegantly dressed gentleman with a shock of white hair who — as was probably his wont — held a pearl-handled walking stick. He got up to greet me warmly, shook my hand firmly and introduced himself: “Mera naam Kamal Amrohi hai”.

Now I can be an absolute disaster when it comes to remembering names but Amrohisahib’s reputation preceded him as a film-maker, screen writer, lyrist and a bon vivant and my mind immediately went to the one great Indian classic which he wrote and directed: Pakeeza, the only film of his I had seen. I hadn’t seen the other magnum opus he had written for the screen: Mughal-e-Azam. Nonetheless, I knew I was in august company.

The evening was spent listening to Kamalsahib’s nostalgic anecdotes from his colourful and star-spangled life while the soundtrack of “Umrao Jan”, composed and arranged by the inimitable Khayyam, played in the background. Ironically Khayyamsahib did not compose the soundtrack of Pakeeza for his friend. That credit goes to Naushad and two others who were relatively unknown at the time.

Towards the end of the evening, as the conviviality level rose and the contents of the decanter in front of him diminished, Kamalsahib became somewhat pensive and rasped to me in chaste Urdu: “You know Mahmudmian, I have lived a life that few people can imagine and you know what I have come to dread most are the memories of some of those moments from my life. The making of Pakeeza was one such experience. There is a song in that film which I wrote and more then anything else I think the words of that song express the emotion that I felt for my former wife, Meena, my one great passion. I could never carry out the promise of that song…”

He then went silent and got a faraway look in his moist eyes. Meena Kumari, danseuse and screen goddess, died less then two months after the film was released. The song: “Chalo Dildar Chalo…Chand kay paar chalo.”

Kamal Amrohi was to live for another ten years and give one more film to add to his been there done that archive. Sadly, I never met with him again; my own moon by then had waned and gone looking for a six pence.

Nothing, however, can take away India’s pride in the performance of its space pioneers. India now stands poised to putting a man in space on one of its indigenous rockets and propelling him further towards the final frontier. It is an historic moment for India and perhaps a motivational and trail blazing path for Pakistan to now follow.

When some fifty years ago, Russia — then the Soviet Union — successfully put its first generation of Sputniks into orbit — initially with a canine called Laika and then in rapid succession sent a man named Yuri Gagarin in to space — they also introduced a new word: “Cosmonaut”.

America was to send its own Astronaut — Alan Sheppard — on a sub-orbital flight aboard a Mercury rocket in a space capsule within weeks of the Salyut rocket that took Gagarin aloft. He was followed by John Glenn — who became the first American to orbit the earth propelled by a Mercury-Atlas rocket in a space capsule named Friendship 7. The Space Race had begun in earnest.

Spurred by the Soviet Union’s early successes President John F Kennedy was to declare America’s resolve to “put a man on the Moon and to safely bring him back to Earth within ten years”. In fact it took less then ten years.

America triumphantly put a man on the moon in July 1969 and brought its valiant crew of three “Astronauts” safely back to Earth, an epoch-making space odyssey that dwarfed every other pioneering space endeavour till that date and one which the world watched in awe on their television screens.

I had the privilege of announcing this momentous event, along with two other news anchormen, Iftikhar Ahmed and Chishty Mujahid for Pakistan Television. I don’t know how Ifti or Chishty felt about it then but it made me feel a part of an elite brotherhood of news anchormen, a brotherhood led in those days by the two doyens of America’s television broadcasting fraternity, Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevaried.

I remember meeting Eric Sevaried a few years later and invited him to make a cameo appearance in my then forthcoming film, The Jigsaw Man, as himself. He accepted and I flew him to London for the filming. He finished his spell and then later graciously dropped in to say “thank you for the experience. I truly enjoyed working with you and your British friends.” Those “British friends” he was referring to consisted of some of the best known names in the British film industry: “Oh I wouldn’t have expected any less from you!” was his uplifting farewell remark to me.

His own presence, however, on the screen was to give a very ordinary film — despite its stellar cast — some much-needed credibility.

One would think that living in a world that in less then 100 years has seen man fly, pick up the first optic strands of the telecommunication revolution, decode the DNA, and reach out into Deep Space, some politicians would adhere to the fundamental code of decent behaviour during their grandstanding here on earth. Not so.

There is talk of all kinds of regulatory set of rules for the press, the bureaucracy, the legal community et al. Let there be one for politicians as well. One such rule for them should be that children, regardless of their parentage, ought never to be targeted until they have come of age and stepped into the realm of public domain of their own volition.

Why? Because, unless there is something genetically wrong with these muckrakers, they are, in all probability, parents themselves.

A sentiment better expressed by Senator. Hillary Clinton: “There is no such thing as other people’s children.”

Mahmud Sipra is a best selling author and an independent columnist. He can be reached at

Reproduced by permission of the author and DT\11\27\story_27-11-2008_pg3_4


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