The details that have been surfacing lately about the situation in which Roohi Bano, one of our best known television artists from the 1970s and 1980s, finds herself in are disquieting. Bano has, for some time, been in a poor state of mental health and is living alone and unattended in a dilapidated bungalow in Lahore. Her only family member, a son, was killed in 2005. The former actor’s financial situation is also stated to be grim. While some well-wishers have made attempts to help her, it is clear more intervention is required, with a PML-N MPA stepping in. Bano deserves such support.
But our record in this respect is not good. Comedian Lehri, who died last year after a long illness, received nothing beyond a stipend of Rs2,500 set up for him by the late Benazir Bhutto. One of the subcontinent’s best known ghazal maestros, Mehdi Hassan, also died last year in similar circumstances, while other artists, including Alamgir, struggle to raise funds to meet health needs. There are others in a similar state, including great classical singers and musicians, who have spoken of their bitterness on many occasions in the past. Our governments, and our society, have remained unsympathetic and unwilling to help those whose talents once lit up stages and screens.
Roohi Bano is quite evidently in desperate need. It is sad, too, to learn of apparent attempts to exploit her, by television channels. The news that a female PML-N MPA has taken up her cause is good. But more people need to step in — the television community, the entertainment industry as a whole and the government rank among these. Roohi Bano must be rescued and enabled to build a dignified life for herself. This is what we as a nation owe her and every other performer who has delighted so many. They must not be abandoned now that they are past their prime. The fact that this has happened repeatedly simply exposes the degree of our callousness and our lack of humanity.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2013.
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