By Nisar Mahmood

PESHAWAR: Mashooq Sultan, once the melody queen of the Pashto folk music, is nowadays leading a miserable life because of her failing health and indifference of the state-run radio and TV channels that she served for almost four decades.

Hailing from Shah Dherai area of Swat district, Mashooq Sultan’s family shifted to Mardan when she was a child. She started singing at weddings when in her teens. The singer has more than 1,500 albums to her credit. In 1962, a radio producer, Nawab Ali Khan Yousafzai, spotted her talent and subsequently introduced her at the Radio Pakistan Peshawar. She represented Pakistan in the US, the UK, France, Belgium, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan on several occasions and is recipient of 600 awards including the coveted Pride of Performance award.

Mashooq Sultan shifted to Peshawar two decades ago in pursuit of better prospects, but luck did not favour her, as she is still living in a two-room rented, clay-made house in Chughalpura, on the outskirts of the provincial capital. She recently got her one leg fractured that forced her to sell her ornaments to foot the treatment bill.

In an interview with The News, she said: “I am the only artiste in my family. My elder son is employed with the Islamabad Police and is living there along with his family. Another son is working with a local organisation while the youngest one has done his master’s in Islamic Studies and is serving as clerk at Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, Peshawar. One son and a daughter are unmarried.”

The singer said she supported a family of 10 but now had no source of income. “For the last three years I have not been invited to perform at any private or state-run radio and TV channel. I have no income and am living in misery,” she said while appealing to the chief minister and provincial culture minister to extend her financial help as she had contributed to Pashto music for more than four decades.

Mashooq Sultan said that growing militancy had badly affected the Pashto music, especially in the Frontier. She said the murder of a dancing girl in Mingora was the most gruesome incident. She said several artistes were forced to give up the profession, others fled for safety and a few singers and artistes went abroad. “This is a great loss to our rich cultural heritage. The government is doing nothing for revival of cultural activities in the province despite tall claims,” she lamented.

About adopting singing as profession, Mashooq Sultan said: “Since my childhood I used to listen to folk songs. A family affiliated with music lived in our neighbourhood. I would secretly scale the wall and move into their house to take part in ‘Riaz’ (singing practice). My father in-law Mohammad Hussain, a popular ‘tabla nawaz’ (drumbeater), asked my hand for his son. Then Nawab Ali Yousafzai took my audition. I sang a duet along with Gulab Sher in a children’s programme. Later Rafiq Shinwari, a prominent music director, composed a folk song by Fazal Ghani Mujahid. It was the time of live transmission but under special arrangements my song was recorded which is still in great demand from those who listen to Peshawar radio.”

Regarding acting in Pashto movies, the popular singer said she did perform in classic movies like ‘Jawargar’, ‘Janaan’ and a few others but then switched over to singing. “I thought I could contribute to Pashto music in a better way than acting in movies. Second, I could not concentrate on two different roles. However; I continued playback singing in films whenever offered,” she said while commenting that early 1970s was the golden era of Pashto movies and music.