Thursday, 11 February 2016

Laughter as Holy Obligation

Have a feast of humour with Mujtuba Hussain, because taking affairs of life too seriously is a disease according to Plato.
Despite the traditional recommendation of blessing anyone who laughs – “May God ever keep you laughing”  – there are few zinda dil people (who laugh and make others laugh without hurting the other or compromising truth) around and fewer zinda dil writers (writers often are either found as if weeping or bragging or envying or at least complaining about other writers) and still fewer zinda dil preachers (how many can you name?).
      Taking affairs of life too seriously is a disease according to Plato. Laughter is a great wazeefa that  modern Pirs need to suggest to disciples.  For Rumi laughter reaches the deepest depths of Godhead. Mujtuba Hussain is almost perfect example of zinda dil writer. He, better than psychoanalysts, scans his contemporaries with fun and insight leaving no bitterness nor selling any falsehoods. This great art of portrait writing has few masters. And Mujtaba is the greatest Master of humorous portraiture in Urdu, so argues Irshad Aafaqi’s Mujtuba Hussain Bihasyati Mazaheaa Khaka Nigaar. Today something about the passion of this king of Urdu humour.

      With some other great Urdu and Kashmiri writers, Mujtuba shares influence of Nietzsche and seeks to convert life into art and calls laughter world’s greatest adventure and holy obligation or what we may put as farzi ayn. The last or deepest message of some of the greatest thinkers and writers is: Let us laugh and laugh away this “sorry state of affairs”  that life appears to be as “child’s play.” God, we will forgive your bigger jokes you have played on us if you forgive our smaller one, quipped a great poet. Beckett’s defense against life’s jokes played on us is big though bitter laughter.  Josh thought that he will make God’s chastisement laugh by reading an ode to divine mercy. The best thing is to make life into Zafran Zar by taking all things as occasions for laughter. Here Mujtuba will help us better as he has no bitterness, no demands from the universe.
      One factor in Farooq Abdullah’s charisma is ability to give audience the sauce of humour. One important difference between NC and PDP is better humour in the former and that has enabled Farooq to fight ill health and explains why Mufti Sayeed left earlier. Omar Abdullah, I fear, resembles Mufti Sayyed rather than his father in being too serious. Seriousness is often connected with slavery to ego. I propose starting every day, after prayers, with a joke. A joke in the form of a passage from a classic of humour should be part of every morning assembly in schools. All office work should have 5 minutes break – joke break. Those who are able to crack jokes should be specially honoured by society – we might divert minuscule of salary or fees of doctors or health budget to create and run the Department of Humour to prevent so many diseases. Often we don’t need a doctor but visit to a friend or relative or philosopher who can immunize us and neutralize the poison away with a joke. If you have none of the great calibre in this field in your list of acquaintances, read Mujtaba, read Yusufi and of course Patras and Rashid Ahmed Siddiqi whom one doesn’t fail to love. If you can’t read Mujtabi, read at least few extracts from Irshad Aafaqi’s book, from which some are reproduced here and some from elsewhere.
      Slightly modifying and paraphrasing Mujtaba on collecting calendars: I have seen such people who buy lots of clothes to cover their bodies but while buying a calendar select only that one who has beauties (bollywood heroines) that are too poor to afford clothes. See Mujtaba against despair:"Hansana hi Insan ki shaan-i-kaj kulahi hae, yehi uska turra imtiyaz hae aur yehi is ki kismet bhi. Jis din insane hensi ki taqdees aur pakeezgi ko samjlaega aur jis din her insaan ko uskae hisae kae qahqahae mil jayee gae, us din yeh dunya jannat ben jayae gi.”
      Regarding craze to buy a new calendar "jis qoam nae tazeei awqaat kae liyae cultural prograamu sae lae ker mushairuu tek hazaroo tareeqae iejaad ker rekhae hu us kae liaye nayey our puranaey saal ki tekhsees kuch achi maloom nahi hoti."  The husband’s reply to a wife complaining to husband for not providing her a good house: “ I love you so much that I think it is better to save all money and prepare for Taj Mahal like building after your death.” “A poor poet he has been consumed by fikri gazal O if he had some fikri ma’aash.”   About disappearing culture of Hyderabad: “He finds no Hyderabad in Hyderabad.” On mother tongue his one liner is “Today mother tongue is what mother can speak but her son can’t."  "I congratulate those writers who don’t get any award. It is indeed honourable and deserves congrats that one can escape from awards without losing integrity I don’t know why after getting Academy award the book appears awarded but the author punished ( kitab to inam yafta lagti hae leikin adeeb zaroor saza yafta lagta hae.) His own self portrait is indeed a classic of confessional writing that washed away all his sins as Mekhmoor Sayeedi remarked.  All poets and would be poets should read his “Ghazal Supplying and Manufacturing Company” (along with Mushfiq Khawja’s “Shayri ya azab-i-Illahi.” How much of a nuisance second rate poets are he shows so humourously that we should thank poets for being nuisance and giving us opportunity to laugh. Regarding inability to read books after marriage: “After marriage my life itself has become a big book. My wife adds a new chapter every year and today every leaf of the book is scattered.” Those who pretend reading books in train: “Books on their bosoms and they are sleeping.  It is books that are reading them.”
      The feast that is Mujtaba is presented for our easy digestion and assimilation by various Urdu scholars. Irshad Aafaqi is an addition to this select band of writers. His elegant prose and dexterous quotations indicate that Bandipore is rediscovering its heritage of focus on ilm and adab.
      Irshad Aafaqi has, however, inherited a classical vice in Urdu researchers writing desertations: they write mainly around the topic in the bulk of the thesis reserving generally only one chapter for proper topic. Why write typology and history and grammar and minidictionary of humour in the first place in a thesis devoted to Mujtaba as we can find all these things in dozen other works? The thesis could have been written in 30 pages only: we are already short of paper. But these 30 or so pages do reflect our author’s command over the material he handles. The rest of the book is nevertheless useful for general readers as an introduction to humour writing in Urdu.
      Readers and critics would have better appreciated if Aafaqi, in his widely reviewed work,  had not forgotten pointing out any limitation of Mujtaba or refreshing comparison with world class humourists across traditions and cultures. l was unable to find any portrait of Mujtaba by the author in the style echoing Mujtaba. Instead he has been dealt with seriously! Afaqi does meticulously bring good number of relevant quotations although “forgets” to give source of certain views he pleads for. Much has been written on Mujtaba’s homour including humour in his portraits and one wonders how come anything really original could be said in a new book. Aafaqi hasn’t said new things and perhaps couldn’t invent a new way of laughing with Mujtaba but he has sifted and commented upon previous material in a way that we indeed have a new book that sums up and anthologizes some of the best in Mujtaba and although it deals with humour, is free from authorial humour.
      I conclude on a political note from Mujtaba on leader’s giving new year message and shubkamnaye: “We know that until these leaders are in politics till then no year will be the year of joys.”

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