"Ajab Nahin Hai Jo Tukka Bhi Teer Ho Jaaye
Phate Jo Doodh To Phir Wo Paneer Ho Jaaye
Mawaliyon Ko Na Dekha Karo Hiqarat Se
Na Jaane Kaun Sa Ghunda Wazeer Ho Jaaye."
- Poplar Meerthi
For as long as literature and civilization exist, humor and satire shall remain a part of them. This is because these forms bring smiles and laughter on the faces of listeners and readers. However, there happens to be a thin blue line between humor and satire. Most of the time they are mistaken for each other, an aspect which is rarely corrected.
Humor is a depiction of the fallacies of life in general coupled with a temperament which makes it a rib tickling experience. The writer in this case presents life’s situations in a manner which is sure to make them memorable than being remembered as bland moments. Their focus is to highlight how these circumstances can be laughed at rather than being passed off at as just moments which are a part of life. Shaukat Thanvi, Ibn e Insha, Mushtaq Ahmad Yousufi, Patras Bukhari and Krishan Chander are some names who glittered upon the form of humor in Urdu literature.
'Tanz', known as satire, on the other hand, is a part of humor but is differentiated on the basis of its focus. A satirist usually presents the negatives of a society with an aim of changing it for the better. Gul and Javed in their paper titled 'Humor and Satire in Urdu Literature' explain satire by writing:
“…As a surgeon dissects and opens up the human body in order to extricate it by the infected portion, similarly a satirist identifies the follies of the society and extricates it of the corruptive matters. Although it is true and admitted that a satirist definitely has the gusto and ardor of elatedness and supremacy present in him. Whatever a satirist targets he shows his soreness towards it and is desirous to modify and aspire it. Perhaps the element of sympathy is absent which is considered to be the spirit of humor...”
However, in both these aspects of humor and satire, focusing on certain individuals in order to settle personal scores go against unwritten rules. It is considered an indecent assault on the person and therefore, such humor or satire is the most despicable form of literature. Non-observance of ethics, especially in this form of literature draws ire from all the sections of society and can also jeopardize one’s career in the field.
Urdu has witnessed recorded contributions to its satirical form since the 17th century. However, at that time, the language used across the subcontinent was more of a mixture of Persian and local dialects rather than the Urdu language we know of today. The forms of Rekhta and Dakhni were prevalent in their originality owing to the heavy influence of Persian. It wasn’t until late 18th century that modern Urdu was seen on a large scale.
Mir Mohammed Ja’far from Delhi, who wrote under the penname Zatalli which translates to nonsense babbler, was one of the earliest recorded writers of Urdu satire. Though he was quite controversial for his savage and explicit use of the language, his political satire brought him fame while also eventually leading to his death. He made no attempt to tone down the heat while writing. There still exists some confusion with regards to dates in his writings but for a reference point, his work is still the earliest that exists.
Zatalli’s contemporaries or the generation soon after him include the notable Shah Hatim and Mirza Mohammed Rafi Sauda. It is said that Hatim and Sauda shared a teacher-student relationship. Sauda is known for his qasida rather than ghazal or tanz. He is considered as the greatest writer of qasidey in Urdu. However, Sauda’s contribution to satire is exemplary after that of Zatalli. In fact, Sauda is considered to be the first exponent of humorous and satirical writing in Urdu because by his time there was a foundation of the unwritten rules of writing, something non-existent during Zatalli’s period.
After the entry of the European powers in the subcontinent, Urdu literature witnessed a dramatic change. This was due to the mixing of cultures, change in politics and lifestyle of the region. The Delhi region, considered as the center was affected on a greater scale than the Deccan. Such aspects began to show their influence of the various forms of literature as well.
Syed Akbar Hussain, who later became known as Akbar Allahabadi, lived around this time. He made immense contributions to Urdu satire. His works are the best example which depict the situation of that time. However, his real life was an irony to that of his writings. Also, the introduction of English words in Urdu poetry was a concept he used to the maximum. An example of this could be the following lines:
"Chhodh literature ko apni history ko bhool ja
Shaiḳh o Masjid se ta’alluq tark kar school ja,
Char din ki zindagi hai koft se kya faida
Khaa double roti clerki kar ḳhushi se phool ja."
A notable platform for Urdu satire that came up during the late 19th century was the Lucknow newspaper 'Oudh Punch'. It was inspired from an English journal and pinched the rulers of the time. Once it attacked the colonial manner of governance by printing the following:
"Mehenga kar gyahun sasta kar afeem
Bismillah ar Rahman ar rahim"
Another such platform is the 'Shugoofa' monthly coming out of Hyderabad. It is in existence since 1968 and has brought out more than 450 issues, covering over 30,000 pages of humor and satire. It is a publication by Zinda Dilane Hyderabad, an organization promoting wit, humor and satire. One of its founders was the well-known Urdu satirist Mujtaba Hussain, who passed away recently.
From Akbar Allahabadi onwards, one can witness a sea change in the level of flair and competition among writers in the form of Urdu satire. Mid-20th and the 21st century have witnessed the rise of Jawalla Parshad Barq, Sajjad Hussain, Machu Baig Sitamzareef, Rasheed Ahmad Siddiqui, Tarbhon Nath Hijjar, Mullah Ramuzi, Farhat Ullah Baig, Abdul Majeed Lahori, Patras Bukhari, Azeem Baig Chughtai, Mujtaba Husain, Falak Pema, Anwar Maqsood and Syed Aijazuddin, Meeruti among others as excellent satirists.
The form of political satire is most commonly available owing to the fact that it is common to all citizens and fulfills the need to pinch rulers’ fallacies or governance without collateral damage. It can be said that the level of political satire written or listened to by the citizens of a nation is a depiction of how tolerant their society and rulers are. In the current situation wherein we have witnessed writers suffer at the hands of extremist governance, literature has taken a hit. Some writers have refused to back down from toeing the line in these circumstances and their pens have therefore been made immortal!
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