Ashfaq Ahmed was a distinguished writer, playwright, broadcaster, intellectual and spiritualist from Pakistan. His qualities of head and heart, in particular his ability to weave Islamic (sufi) wisdom into everyday folk experience earned appreciation across the world. He was regarded by many as among the finest Urdu Afsana (short-story) writers alongside Saadat Hasan Manto, Qurratulain Hyder, Prem Chand, Bedi, Mirza Adeeb, Ismat Chughtai and Krishan Chander following the publication of his famous short-story Gaddarya [The Shepherd] in 1955.
Ashfaq Ahmed was born on 22 August 1925 in Firozpur, British Punjab. He obtained his early education in his native district. Shortly before independence in 1947, he migrated to Pakistan and made Lahore his abode. He completed his Masters in Urdu literature from Government College Lahore. Bano Qudsia, his wife and companion in Urdu literary circles who is also one of the best novelists of Urdu, was his classmate at Government College.
After Partition, when Ashfaq Ahmed arrived at the Walton refugee camp with millions of other migrants, he used to make announcements on a megaphone round the clock. Later, he got a job in Radio Azad Kashmir, which was established on a truck that used to drive around in various parts of Kashmir. He then got lectureship at Dayal Singh College, Lahore for two years. He then went to Rome to join Radio Rome as an Urdu newscaster. He also used to teach Urdu at Rome University. During his stay in Europe, he got diplomas in the Italian and French languages from the University of Rome and University of Grenoble, France. He also got special training diploma in radio broadcasting from New York University.
He started writing stories in his childhood, which were published in Phool [Flower] magazine. After returning to Pakistan from Europe, he took out his own monthly literary magazine, Dastaango [Story Teller], and joined Radio Pakistan as a script writer. He was made editor of the popular Urdu weekly, Lail-o-Nahar [Day and Night], in place of famous poet Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum by the Government of Pakistan.
In 1962, Ashfaq Ahmed started his popular radio program, Talqeen Shah [The Preacher] which made him immensely popular among the people in towns and villages. It was a weekly feature that ran for three decades, the longest weekly radio show in the subcontinent. He was appointed director of the Markazi Urdu Board in 1966, which was later renamed as Urdu Science Board, a post he held for 29 years. He remained with the board until 1979. He also served as adviser in the Education Ministry during Zia-ul-Haq's regime. In the 60s, he produced a feature film, Dhoop aur Saie [Shadows and Sunshine], which was not very successful at the box office.
Ashfaq Ahmed's subtle sense of humour is reflected in his long-running radio programs and characters like Talqeen Shah, while several TV drama series based on his memorable plays of three decades ago are still enjoyed by the audience. Their appeal lies in the universal truths of life portrayed in human hopes, emotions, aspirations and relationships that touch the soul of people of all age groups. His popular TV plays include Aik muhabbat sau afsanay [Bunch of Love Stories], Uchhay burj Lahore dey [Barbicans of Lahore], Tota kahani [Story of the Parrot], Lekin [But], Hairat kadah [Incredibility] and Mun chalay ka sauda [Bargain of the Stubborn]. All through his life, Ashfaq Ahmad endeavoured to reform the society through his writings.
He had authored over twenty five books including a travelogue, Safar dar safar [Long Way Journey], with an atypical style. In fact, he gave a new mold to diction and locale situations, many of his fans would fondly remember. He used Punjabi literary words very well in Urdu and introduced a new kind of prose, which was unique to him. For his excellent literary work, he was awarded President's Pride of Performance and Sitara-i-Imtiaz for meritorious services in the field of literature and broadcasting.
Besides his personality as a great author of impressive and laudable books, Ashfaq Ahmed, in his later period of life, was greatly inclined towards sufism, which was visibly reflected in most of his works. His close association with Qudrat Ullah Shahab and Mumtaz Mufti was also attributed for this tendency. Of-late, he used to appear in a get-together with his fans in television's program Baithhakh [The Guest Room] and Zaviya [The Dimension] wherein he gave swift but satisfying responses to each and every query, placed before him, explicitly by the youth of each gender, in a mystic style.
Ashfaq Ahmed died on 7 September 2004 at the age of 79, of pancreatic cancer.