Obaidullah Baig

Published: June 24, 2012
The writer is author, most recently, of The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society 

The writer is author, most recently, of The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society salman.rashid@tribune.com.pk

The death of Obaidullah Baig on Friday, June 22, brings an era of storytelling to an end. Baig sahib to strangers, this wonderful man was OB to all of us who were his friends, regardless of how much younger we were.

I first knew him back in the early 1970s when he did a travel documentary on PTV. Titled “Sailani kay Saath”, this programme introduced me to a Pakistan I did not know existed. There he was, square-cut handsome face, heavy framed glasses, dark hair neatly parted on the left side and meticulously combed, grey (on black and white TV) safari suit and a microphone in hand facing the camera in an exotic place in some remote outback of Pakistan.

It was a rich gravelly voice with perfect pronunciation and an enviable command of the Urdu language that told us of far off places in a very educated way. I never missed a show and as time went by, I came to admire OB for his knowledge about all the places he presented to his viewers. There was such compelling magic in his narration that each show filled my mind with an unsurpassable urge to go where OB had been. At the end of each programme, I would wish OB had a daily show instead of a weekly one.

It was sometime in the early 1990s that I first met him, when he enjoyed nationwide fame as a television personality. But OB, a perfect gentleman, was made in the classic cast that we were soon to lose forever. He was not filled with notions of self-importance; there was no arrogance about his achievements and renown. It was a very ordinary, unpretentious, extremely warm and friendly OB that I got to know. It was as if I had met an old friend after a very long time.

OB was gracious to a fault. He once told me a tale that I knew was historically incorrect. So, I lent him my copy of the voyage of Nearchus. The book was returned with pages marked in pencil (I never erased them) and ever afterwards, OB would tell me, even in the presence of others, that I had corrected a misconception. And when I referred to him as my guru, the retort came quick, “As the chela, you have far overtaken the guru”.

OB was a class apart, a man of great largesse of the soul; secure in the infallibility of his own expertise and knowledge, he was too great a soul to ever feel the need to belittle another person. Over the past quarter century, I have had occasions to deal with many so-called ‘great men’ of the country. Invariably, I have found them possessed of feet of clay; insecure despite their acclaimed achievements. OB was far from them.

Today, when I see women and men with far lower achievements vaulted to national fame — for whatever it is worth — by utterly substandard television, I am nauseated by their airs. The several channels air so-called travel documentaries hosted by brain-dead youngsters who know nothing about the places they pretend to speak about. The usual refrain is, ‘We are at so and so historical site; let’s ask the chowkidar about its history’. Little do these morons realise that if the poor chowkidar had the capacity to know history, he wouldn’t have been a lowly chowkidar.

And the abhorrent language! These brainless zombies know neither Urdu nor English: they are simply incapable of uttering one complete sentence in either language. But then, it might be that they wish to cloak their intense ignorance under a smattering of a few words of English which, unfortunately, is mistaken for a sign of class and education.

OB winced when I mentioned these vapid, inane shows. But it was not he to censure the current trend. He smiled and said nothing. I would have embarrassed him had I said these modern presenters know no better because they are not acquainted with his work: they have no paradigm to set their work against. Their ignorance of the doyen of travel documentary makers in Pakistan is their loss.

Now OB is no more. An era in learned storytelling has ended. I have lost a pir, a great friend and a mentor. OB, you will forever be missed.

Published in The Express Tribune, 25th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Concerned Citizen
    Jun 24, 2012 - 11:40PM

    I am in love with the honesty of this article in damning a media that forgot its most valuable assets in the race for viewership.


  • Asad Shairani
    Jun 25, 2012 - 12:03AM

    A fitting tribute to the great, great man. Thank you Salman Sb for writing what many of us feel.


  • Pakistanee
    Jun 25, 2012 - 12:23AM

    Such a legendary person he was. Humble, docile and yet such a treasure of knowledge.


  • Visibly Invisible
    Jun 25, 2012 - 2:38AM

    Thank you for writing this. RIP Obaid Sb.


  • Uza Syed
    Jun 25, 2012 - 2:40AM

    Great tribute to a truly great man by an honest and sincere friend and admirer. I’m sure that Ubaidullah Baig Sahib would be very happy to read this wonderful piece about him. Thank you Salman Sahib for your generous praise for someone as praisworthy as Ubailullah Baig Sagib. May he rest in peace and may Allah be kind to him for all the wonderful things he did as great citizen of Pakistan for his people his country.


  • Tariq Ahsan
    Jun 25, 2012 - 3:45AM

    Surprised that someone as learned and gracious as Salman Rashid Sahib is using such harsh language against the youth and chowkidars. People may be competent or otherwise, but all occupations are worthy. Elderly chowkidars are usually very wise. Youth deserve a chance. If the author concretely points out their mistake instead of calling them”zombies” they could actually learn from him and improve.


  • zalim singh
    Jun 25, 2012 - 7:35AM

    RIP OB.


  • pitythenation
    Jun 25, 2012 - 10:27AM

    A great loss indeed…i still remember him,ghazi saluddin abd quresh pur doing kasuati…it was a treet to watch not like todays stupid and utterly nonsense television of dancing shows and what not….its a tragedy that we are losing such gems by the day and nobody to replace them except leaving a wide gulf….a very apt point is made by salman sahib regarding todays young presenters….RIP obaid sahib you will always be remembered


  • bilal
    Jun 25, 2012 - 11:57AM

    very well written Salman sb.
    Obaidullah shib’s loss is indeed a great loss for our country and which will not be filled anytime soon.
    May god bless his soul


  • Adil
    Jun 25, 2012 - 2:25PM

    May the Almighty grant him Jannah.
    This is a great loss for the nation.


  • Beatle
    Jun 25, 2012 - 2:52PM

    Great Man He Was. Full of generousity, humbleness and down-to-earth. I have always been admirer of him, be it expert in “KASOUTI”, his Travel Documentries, his award winning films on Wild-Life of Pakistan, and you name it. And doing all that quitely without any pomp and show. I beleive that this muti talented man has not been celebrated at the level he actually deserved. May Allah Almighty bless the departed soul.


  • irfan husain
    Jun 25, 2012 - 3:54PM

    A wonderful tribute to a wonderful man.


  • mystreeman
    Jun 25, 2012 - 7:46PM

    Now I come to know why alman Rashid is such a superb storyteller. Thanks Salman Sahab for writing the marvelous piece on the great Intellectual of Pakistan.


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