"I was young and stranded and had left my job as a mechanic. I did not know what to do, but a quiet voice was always whispering to me, 'Whatever you do, make sure it is grand.'"
September 6, 1966: A young, skinny boy steps up onstage for the very first time to participate in a variety show amidst incessant heckling. Surrounded by students screaming insults, his face does not twitch. He calmly approaches the microphone and requests the audience to give him 10 minutes to showcase his talent, and that if they did not enjoy his act, he will step down. He acts with confidence and people see it. In the audience, the 60-year-old is laughing just as hard as the 8-year-old. He ends up performing a 45 minute stand-up routine. He exits the auditorium amid loud applause.
March 11, 2011: That boy, now a man at the peak of his career, graces the stage for the very last time, to thunderous applause. He is there to spend an evening with his fans, an event titled, “An Evening with The Legend.” He informs the audience he will perform for only 10 minutes but at the end of his performance, the audience chants “Encore!” and ensures he stays on stage for a total of 45 minutes.
Every now and again, an individual with the power to transform everything around him, enters this world; spectators too, realise that in the presence of this person, they are bound to witness greatness.
So was the case with my father, Moin Akhtar.
The literal translation of the name “Moin Akhtar” is “A Helpful Star.” And his life proved just how well he lived up to his name. The world knows my father as Pakistan’s finest artist, however, I know him as a giver.
It has been nothing short of a privilege to have grown up watching his utterly sincere and selfless contribution to humanity. For anyone in need, he was the silent helper, but I will choose to keep intact the veil over his many unknown acts of kindnesses, to honour his wishes.
I will point out, however, how highly skilled he was at walking in other people’s shoes, empathising with them, understanding their sorrows like they were his own; and playing his part in easing their burdens.
It is difficult to do justice to his charismatic, larger-than-life presence with mere words. Moin Akhtar the extroverted performer, was extravagant, exuberant, highly social, and enjoyed the finer things in life. Moin Akhtar the introvert, was humble, silent, preferred solitude, and was deeply satisfied by the simpler things in life.
Also read: Moin Akhtar: The star still shines
I recall vividly the chaos our home would be in every time he left the house. That chaos, perhaps, was the residue of the remarkable transformation of Moin Akhtar, the simple soul to Moin Akhtar, the star performer.
To witness that transition again and again, of a quiet and serious man, donning an unironed shalwar kameez and eating daal chaawal; to an entertainer loved by millions, and who was as conscious of his style and surroundings as of the standards he set, was simply awe-inspiring.
Everything from his posture to the way he conversed would change. Suits would not be worn if matching socks did not accompany them. When he would finally step out of the house, it would not be as Abbu but as Moin Akhtar, the artist.
Even though I resided in the room right next to his, and would see him every day, there was always a mystifying aura around him. At home, like on stage, he commanded attention
We take great pride as his family when every day brings a new stranger from a new corner of the world, telling us how my father touched their lives and changed them forever. It humbles me to have witnessed his greatness firsthand.
Also read: Moin Akhtar: in our hearts and minds
Though the intoxicating fragrance of his presence has long faded from our home, his aura remains. The sound of his laughter still echoes here, bringing comfort in the most trying of situations.
It takes a lot of courage, hard work, and many sacrifices to reach the pinnacle. My father was not an exception to this rule; his story truly did come full circle.
My grandfather, Muhammad Ebrahim, once beat my father with a belt upon discovering that his son was pursuing a career in acting. It was quite common back then, to regard the profession as a disgrace.
Thirty-five years later, when my father was getting ready for a show that would have the President of the country, General Pervez Musharraf, in its audience. My grandfather asked him if he, too, could join.
My father replied, “Baba, there is a security protocol. The President’s security detail needs to be informed weeks in advance for such an arrangement. I do not know whether it will be possible.”
My grandfather said, “Tumhe kaun rokega?” (“Who will stop you?”)
My grandfather accompanied my father to the show and I can only imagine what the moment must have been like when the President stood up to meet him and told my grandfather, “Your son is an asset to this nation.”
From going to a fundraising show for children with cancer just 20 days after his own heart surgery; to selling his car to ensure his colleagues got their due payments; to borrowing from others to help strangers he had never met before; to spending many a night out on the roof talking to the stars, to downplaying his legacy so new faces could be elevated; to replacing burning tears with uncontrollable laughter, Moin Akhtar’s is a grand story.
Also read: Missing Moin
When I was asked if I would be willing to write this blog on him, I initially considered exploring my own relationship with him. Then it dawned on me, I already share that story every single time I smile.
The fact that he lives on in people’s smiles, and not just my own, is the true legacy of an irreplaceable parent and human being.
Today marks the fourth death anniversary of Moin Akhtar.