In these days of doom and gloom one needs to lift one’s spirits — and humour may help. So let us read, or revisit, some of the best humour works written in Urdu.
As is commonly said of such lists, it reflects the compiler’s personal preferences — or, maybe, biases — and readers may disagree, edit it or prepare their own list of best humour works in Urdu.
The purpose is just to remind ourselves that the world is not over yet and, as Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi has put it, “a sense of humour is the sixth sense and if one has it, one can come through any eventuality smiling”.
The list does not include humour works in poetry and only prose has been taken into account. It is prepared in chronological order and not in order of preference:
What makes Mirza Farhatullah Baig a remarkable writer is not just a streak of humour that generally runs through his writings. It is his sense of cultural and linguistic aspects as well, entwined with a flowing prose that makes his works exceptional.
A selection published by Karachi’s Fazli Sons offers a chance to read the chosen pieces for those who cannot devour the entire seven volumes of Farhat’s essays.
Patras Ke Mazameen
Some of the essays included in the book were written in the 1920s when the author Ahmed Shah Patras Bukhari was a student at Lahore’s Government College. But, surprisingly, the essays are as fresh today as they were about a century ago. Patras’s bubbling wit and a slight sprinkling of satire make it a relishing treat.
His essay ‘Kutte’, or dogs, is known for its spontaneity and witty remarks. Mazameen-i-Patras has been published by many publishers and has run into innumerable editions. Better editions include ones published by Karachi’s Fazli Sons and Oxford University Press (OUP) Pakistan.
Rasheed Sahib’s humour is deeply rooted in literary and cultural background and his societal concerns expressed in humorous writings make him a ‘cultural critic’. As a result he has a highbrow following. Mazaameen-i-Rasheed offers some delectable essays. Also, a couple of selections of his essays have appeared.
Azeem Baig Chughtai: Intikhab
Mirza Azeem Baig Chughtai is known for his playfulness and situational comedy. His novels and short stories too are replete with pranks. But many of his essays offer a higher standard of humour.
At the same time, surprisingly, he was a feminist and had a modernist approach. A couple of selections are available, for example Azeem Baig Chughtai: Intikhab, which can save the discerning readers’ time and effort since he was a prolific writer and has a large number of books to his credit.
Shaukat Thanvi was another prolific humourist. He penned over 50 books, though not all could reach a high standard of wit and satire that ‘Saudeshi Rail’ offers, an article that gave him much fame.
A couple of years ago Dr Muhammad Tahir Qureshi had compiled a selection that was named Mazaameen-i-Shaukat Thanvi: Mizahiyya Mazaameen Ka Intikhab and was published by OUP.
Shafeeq-ur-Rahman was hugely popular and particularly appealed to the young readers. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, his books had to be reprinted every few years. His hilarious characters like Shaitan, Maqsood Ghora, Razia and Buddy are witty and extempore.
A semi-philosophical touch and an occasional gloomy undertone lent Shafeeq’s humour a totally different colour. Among his popular books is Parvaaz, though some may prefer his other book Lehrain.
Justice M.R. Kayani wrote humour both in Urdu and English. In Urdu his only book Afkaar-i-Parishaan is a collection of speeches that he delivered on different occasions. In his tongue-in-cheek style Kayani said many things between the lines as he was writing in an era when telling the whole truth was not easy.
Witticism, semi-philosophical thoughts and literary and religious allusions give the book a unique taste.
Colonel Muhammad Khan appeared on the literary scene with a bang in 1966 with his first book Bajang Aamad and became a literary celebrity almost overnight. His outlook and a general attitude to life is refreshingly fresh and stoic: he narrates some of the events of the Second World War — which he fought on British’s side — in a way that sounds like he was on a picnic. It is full of witticism and describes even the untoward incidents in a lighter vein.
It is a delight for those who love to read beautiful prose.
Urdu Ki Aakhri Kitab
Inimitable Ibn-i-Insha parodied the hackneyed textbooks of Urdu and formally — literally — got it “disapproved” by the Textbook Board. Not only has it lessons on the pattern of textbooks but also questions at the end, which are equally hilarious and satirical. It has been published many times over.
Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi is rightly dubbed as one of the greatest humourists Urdu has produced and his autobiography Zarguzasht is, perhaps, the best of his works. Yousufi’s wit, repartee and a deep sense of what good prose ought to be, make the book memorable.
Originally published in Dawn, June 9th, 2020