Literature

Mujtaba Hussain – A satirist par excellence

Veteran Urdu satirist and a prolific writer Mujtaba Hussain passed away on 27th May 2020 at his home in Hyderabad after a prolonged illness. He was 87 years old.

Mujtaba Hussain started humour writing by chance. He was working for an Urdu daily, Siyasat in Hyderabad. One morning in August 1962, as he walked into his office, little did Hussain know what lay in store for him. The editor of the daily asked him to write the next day’s ‘Seesha-o-Teesha’ column, a popular humorous column written by Shahid Siddiqui who passed away a day before and left the newspaper in a lurch. Mujtaba Hussain had never tried his hand at humour writing but the editor’s order left him with no choice. He somehow managed to write a witty piece that day thinking it to be just a stop-gap arrangement. But he didn’t know that the editor had presented him with a fait accompli. The pun-filled one-liners, snappy wisecracks and funny style of writing, he consciously adopted, now became his identity and character. So deep had he immersed himself in humour that where people cried, he would tend to laugh.

Over the years, Mujtaba Hussain has become synonymous with humour, though he described himself as a sober person. “My position is that of the man who dived into the sea on being pushed to rescue a child. And till now I am floundering in the sea of humour,” he said. He once remarked, “Aadmi ko kabhi kabhi peeche mud kar dekh lena chahiye…….” (one should look back every now and then and if nothing else, this exercise would keep the neck in shape). That’s Mujtaba Hussain. For more than half a century, he tickled the funny bone of Urdu readers.

And at the age of 87, even as his energy sapped and limbs were giving away, his sense of humour remained intact. Some years ago when Mujtaba Hussain was felicitated on his long humorous journey, and his website mujtabahussain.com was launched, he simply remarked “Lo aaj hum bhi saheb-e-website ho gaye”, a parody of Akbar Ilahabadi’s line on the birth of lawyer/advocate “Paida hua Vakil to Shaitan ne kaha lo aaj hum bhi sahib e aulad ho gaye…” sending everyone into peals of laughter. Laughter may be the best medicine but for Mujtaba Hussain, it was the mother tongue of the entire humanity. “You may speak in English, French, Hindi, Telugu or any other language but you laugh the same way,” he said.

This purveyor of wit didn’t believe in sitting on his laurels even after 25 books and 13 awards, including the coveted Padma Shri which he returned last year after CAA protests. He worked tirelessly for his Sunday column in Siasat daily of Hyderabad for over 55 years. But due to old age and ailments, he stopped writing. Thanks to Siasat, now all books of Mujtaba Hussain have been digitalized and can be accessed on his website.

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. Mujtaba Hussain fit the bill on both counts. Many thought that he would make mountain out of a molehill. But he didn’t agree with this view, “What I write has a touch of reality. I make a judicious mix of both fact and fiction. When you don’t mind enlargement in photography why do you object to it in literature?” he asked.

But Mujtaba Hussain never compromised on language either. The simple but literary touch in his works came as a breath of fresh air. “His humour is laced with a bitter truth which only an honest person can perceive,” says his daughter, Rashida Samdani. Those who have read his “Apni Yaad Mein” composition will know. It is a masterpiece of self obituary wherein the author highlights his own follies while taking pot-shots at life.

Of his two books, “Mujtaba Hussain Jaisa Dekha Jaisa Paya” is all about his personality while “Mujtaba Hussain Aayeinon ke Beech” published by the Educational Publishing House, Delhi, deals with his art and style. It brought out some of the finest write-ups about Mujtaba Hussain penned by critics and writers of repute. The two publications unveil interesting facets of Mujtaba Hussain’s personality. Several real-life incidents are cited to show his ready repartee, subtle intellect and scintillating humour even during trying times. The man knows how to cry from birth, but laughter takes some learning. But with Mujtaba Hussain’s ready wit, the job sure becomes easier.

This Hyderabadi humorist didn’t believe in resting on laurels. Week after week, he churned out sharp and witty write-ups that were lapped up by his growing fan club all over the world. He can send you into splits at will. Whatever he wrote, creates ripples of laughter across the Urdu world. At a time when the Urdu language has few takers, Mujtaba Hussain revived interest in it through his satirical writings. RIP Mujtaba sahib.

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