His writings kindle the joy of reading
“If ever we could give a name to the literary humour of our time, then the only name that comes to mind is that of Yusufi!” — Ibn-e-Insha
A glorious era of Urdu literature came to an end on June 21 when Mushtaq Ahmad Yousufi, the most celebrated and acclaimed Urdu humourist and satirist of our times, left for his heavenly abode. The 95-year-old wordsmith par excellence had been suffering from a protracted ailment. Yusufi served the Urdu literature throughout his life and he was widely admired in the literary circles for his unique way of writing and subtle satire, as well as the unique way and tone of homour in his creations.
Mushtaq Ahmad Yousufi was the most widely read Urdu humourist and satirist of the second half of the twentieth century. Although he was not a prolific writer and produced only five books in his literary career, his works dexterously intertwined the tragic and the comic to create a lasting impact on the reader. What made Yousufi sahib remarkable was not only his wordplay and repartee, but his refraining from traditional ways of invoking mirth, such as situational comedy or slapstick. His one-liners are often quoted in Urdu’s literary works.
Yousufi sahib was born on August 4, 1923 in the then princely state of Tonk in United India. His father Abdul Karim Khan Yusufi was chairman of the Jaipur Municipality, and later Speaker of the Jaipur Legislative Assembly.
Yusufi sahib completed his early education in Rajputana and earned BA from Agra University while MA Philosophy and LLB from Aligarh Muslim University. After partition of India, his family migrated to Karachi, Pakistan, in 1956. Yousufi sahib became a career banker. He served as the head of several national and international governmental and financial institutions. He remained in the banking sector for a long period of his professional life. He joined Muslim Commercial Bank in 1950 and became Deputy General Manager MCB. Then, he joined Allied Bank Ltd in 1965 as Managing Director. In 1974, he became President of United Bank Ltd. In 1977, became Chairman of the Pakistan Banking Council. He was also awarded Quaid-i-Azam Memorial Medal for distinguished services in banking.
With a thriving career in banking, Yousufi sahib appeared on the literary scene in 1961 with the publication of his first book Charagh Talay that was a compilation of 12 humorous essays. It was followed by his second book Khakam Badahan that contained eight humorous essays and published in 1969. His third book Zarguzisht appeared in 1976. His fourth book Aab-e-Gum was published in 1990. His fifth and the last book titled Sham-e-Shair-e-Yaraan published in 2014.
In his works, Yousufi sahib masterfully disguised crude gestures with his choice of literary words such that the meaning stayed intact. While going through his books, one feels the delightful sketches and enjoys his memoirs. The readers not only did smile by reading his books but their faces also glowed. His books are a recollection of events, encounters and discussions with many different people having totally different personalities and professions. These books offer evergreen linguistic twists with poetry and powerful description along with choice of words as sublime as ever which were the attributes of Yousufi sahib. And, of course, digression, which has always been his hallmark.
He had always been careful about his diction and added subtle elements of surprise to humour. He was also meticulous about the usage and application of words which gives strength to his writings.
Yousufi sahib’s first major piece of writing Chiragh Taley hit the bookstands in 1961. The book, with its razor-sharp satire and subtle humour, achieved critical acclaim and commercial success in equal measure. Readers of Urdu literature loved and enjoyed the way he used seemingly perfunctory aspects of life and imparted a unique and sudden twist to their occurrence.
It took him eight years to pen another work of humour titled Khakam Badahan, a collection of sketches and articles. It also met with great success and to date more than 20 editions of this book have been published.
Zarguzisht, a nostalgic account peppered with witty one-liners and anecdotes, was published in 1976. It is often hailed as his best work.
It was in 1990 that Yousufi’s Aab-i-Gumm was published. It became one of the most popular, if not the most popular, Urdu books of that decade. The book, dedicated to his children, contained five hilarious but profound articles, preceded by a foreword written by the author himself.
Shaam-i-Sher-Yaaran was the writer’s last published work. Though the book’s launch was held with a great deal of fanfare, it didn’t manage to earn too many favourable reviews.
Yousufi sahib was not a prolific writer. But he was fastidious and a craftsman par excellence. Style doesn’t come to him naturally. It is achieved after a long laborious process. He used to write, rewrite, revise, edit, craft and further refine each word and every sentence, time and again. And this alone explains the long gaps or intervals between his literary outputs. And what finally comes out is a style and diction marked by linguistic twists and turns, incessant play on words, alliteration and inversion of thought. Language conscious as he was, Yousufi sahib got the legendary Shahid Ahmad Dehlavi to go through the draft of his first book while the draft of second was referred to linguist and lexicographer, Shanul Haq Haqqi, to point out follies and mistakes, if any, and to suggest improvements in the text.
Yusufi sahib served the Urdu literature throughout his life and in recognition of his literary services, the Government of Pakistan bestowed him with Sitara-e-Imtiaz and Hilal-i-Imtiaz. He also received Pakistan Academy of Letters Award for Best Book in 1990.