RIP Obaidullah Baig

Another illustrious period in the history of Urdu literature came to an end with the death of Obaidullah Baig in Karachi on June 22, 2012.

Getting fame from a TV show Kasauti, Obaidullah Baig became an instant celebrity because of his vast knowledge, cutting across different disciplines: literature, history, geography, environmental science, etc. He would hold his audience spellbound by moving from one subject to another with the greatest of ease and comfort. Starting his career from Radio Pakistan in 1961, Obaidullah Baig tried his hand at different means of communication to expand his outreach. He wrote novels, columns, short stories, and made documentaries, besides appearing on different television shows as an anchor. His genius earned him a Pride of Performance Award in 2009 and Lifetime Achievement Award the following year from PTV. His documentaries ‘Game Warden’, ‘Lakes of Sindh’ and ‘Wildlife in Sindh’ were awarded for filming, direction and script. His novel Aur Insan Zinda Hai helped him get his first job in Radio Pakistan when he had no degree to support his talents and aptitude. Hired immediately, he proved a source of inspiration because of his civilized, cultured and enlightened lifestyle.

Remembering Obaidullah Baig on his death, his friends could not stop thinking about the love he had for books. He is said to be an icon of the book culture. Poet Naseer Turabi said: “He belonged to the rare breed of book-reading people. His choice of books made him unique; he was not interested in shallow literature.” “He stored knowledge not to impress others but to carve a new world out of it,” said Ghazi Salahuddin, his co-partner in Kasauti, restarted after several years briefly in 1990. Not really happy with the reason for his fame preponderantly because of his TV skills, Obaidullah Baig’s contemporaries actually consider him a man of literature having an insatiable desire for it. Many believe that his work in Urdu literature is yet to be properly appreciated and given its rightful place. His prose had poetic flare that would animate the characters and events used in his stories and columns, making an instant impression on readers.

Unfortunately people like Obaidullah Baig are not easy to find any more in Pakistan. With the book reading culture already in decline and the country living on borrowed cultures, the quality of literary people has gone down substantially. Even PTV has lost its flare and is producing low culture programmes. We as a society hardly contributed to create worthy successors to replace Obaidullah Baig and his like. When alive, we never appreciated or used their genius to pass their knowledge and expertise to the next generation. Indeed, on Obaidullah Baig’s death, many in this country fear the intellectual and cultural desert in our midst is ever expanding. (Source: Daily Times).

Here’s one of several tributes published in Pakistani media on Baig’s death. Farah Zahidi Moazzam writes in her article (The symbolic death of Pakistan’s mastermind) in daily Dawn:

The show that was to make unparalleled history. The show of 20 questions that gained such mass appeal that it redefined the word Kasauti in the Urdu lughat (dictionary). The show that started off in the Radio Pakistan building with three friends with beautiful minds teeming with information quizzing each other with 20 questions about any and every topic under the sun. Kasauti is part of our national heritage. As was Obaidullah Baig whom we lost on June 22, 2012.

The genius of Baig lies in a number of facts. The fact that he did not have scholarly education and was actually the product of Maktab based education in UP, yet so accepted was his status as a man of knowledge that a majority not just assumed that he was a trained scholar but revered him as one.

It is fascinating that a single man could have tapped into so many areas of his brain that he had simultaneous grip over subjects as varied as wildlife, ancient mythology, anthropology, scientific discoveries or simply the people of the world. And was also a writer, a prolific documentary film maker and one of the most well-known faces of the Pakistani intelligentsia. The fact that he did this in an era when search engines did not exist, he could have easily put many a google to shame. And most importantly, that Baig did this all in the most pleasant of ways. Winning humility, undisputed finesse, articulate speech and that amiable smile. It is no small wonder that there was no street of Pakistan on which he would walk and go unrecognised.

Video clips: Ptv Classic – Kasauty (Quiz Show)


A Morning with Farah Interview with Obaidullah Baig, an eminent scholar, Urdu writer/novelist, Columnist and media expert. Obaidullah Baig teamed up with Iftikhar Arif in 1970s and then with Ghazi Salahuddin in 1990s and won renown for the famous Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) quiz show Kasauti. Nowadays, he is running a similar program from a private Pakistani TV Channel with the name of “Kasauti, Master Mind”. The program is conducted by the original host of Kasauti, Quraish Pur. His wife, Salma Baig was also a renowned face on PTV for hosting programs in the past and for her participation in educational sector. Obaidullah Baig was awarded a ‘Pride of Performance’ (August 14th, 2008) for his achievements in the Pakistani media.



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