Last time I saw Dildar Pervaiz Bhatti in person was in year 1993.
In the photo above from left to right are: Dildar Pervaiz Bhatti, Shoukat Ali, Munir Hussain, Masood Rana, Asif Jeved, Surayya Khanum, Naheed Akhtar, A. Nayyar, Inayat Hussain Bhatti, Amjad Perwez, Amjad Boby and Akhlaq Ahmad
I had gone to Pakistan to attend wedding of my one niece. As it has been my habit, upon arrival I would call up all of my friends to let them know that I was in town. In those days Dildar and his dear wife lived in a modest house in Wahdat Colony, Lahore. When I called his home, his wife told me that he was not there but I could catch him at the Avari Hotel where he would be playing stage host that evening at a high level social event. Since we had to go to Avari for some preliminaries for my niece’s wedding anyway, we thought that it will be a good place for us to get together.
Khursheed Mahal at Avari was packed with Sahibs of Pakistan Civil Service, all dressed in Western suits with their wives in Pakistani Shalwar Kameez. (The sight of Pakistani men in Western and women in Pakistani traditional clothes together says a lot about our society). Singer Taranum Naz was on stage all decked up trying to look and sing like Malika-e-Taranum, Noor Jahan. Not every one was listening. Soon Dildar appeared from the back of the stage and there was a unanimous silence. Here he was; the same old Dildar with his crooked right hand third finger speaking fearlessly and extemporaneously. Pakistani bureaucrats mostly come from the privileged classes and often consider themselves superior to all others. Mistakenly they thought they could hoot Dildar down, but that would not be the case. Dildar started with a Chaudhry joke and soon with his caustic tongue and sharp wit he was cutting those Sahibs down to their size.
After introducing the next performer up, Dildar came down from the stage and greeted us at the back of the hall with his distinct broad smile. We did not want to take too much of his time since he had to go back on stage. We told him about my niece’s wedding date and he promised to attend it without fail.
The wedding ceremony went on as planned. The bride and the groom at the head table with every one hovering and making fuss over them. The dinner had not been served yet. Here walks in Dildar with his well recognizable stroll. Spotting Dildar, the younger crowd left the bride and the groom and mobbed this TV star all of sudden unexpectedly among them. Soon the crowd was joined by the mommies and the aunties as well, all asking tens of questions about his TV shows and the celebrities appearing on his shows. Somewhere in the corner I found myself explaining to my American friends that Dildar was Pakistani equivalent of Johnny Carson. He did not stay for the dinner but promised to come over the next day at my parent’s house. Plus the fact that it will give him a chance to steal one of my favorite ties.
We sat at the front Veranda of my home. He looked uncharacteristically drawn. We talked a lot that day. He told me that he was working long hours these days. Other than teaching English Literature at the MAO (Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental) College, he was doing weekly TV show and performing live as Stage MC (Master of Ceremony) many times a month.
Dildar did not care much for money but stage was his life. He loved to perform even when we were kids. But he was sad. He did not hesitate to tell me that in spite of many around him he often felt alone. The people in show business were not sincere and mostly were ready to abuse others. Sitting down and chatting with a childhood friend brought back in both of us all the good things life has to offer. We decided to change the subject and talk about America instead. He said that he might be coming to the States soon. Imran Khan was planning a fundraising tour of the USA for Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital that he was building in honor of his mother. We promised to see each then in the United States.
The phone rang and it was Dildar at the other end. He was calling me from New York. We both were happy and excited to hear each others voice. He was with Imran Khan and along with others in the group they will travel through the US and Canada, mostly to the cities where Pakistani diaspora was concentrated. He will come to see me as soon as possible but in the mean time we will talk again on the phone.
But I did not hear from him again. Never. Few weeks later a friend of my mother called her to tell her that Dildar had died while in New York. He was rushed to the hospital while performing on stage. Later he passed away that day. My friend never made it to my house in the USA.
Pakistan lost its Johnny Carson that day and I lost my childhood bud.
Here is a short video of Dildar’s performance in PTV awards ceremony of 1985-86.
Read Part II of this series here.