I've been maintaining this blog (for better or for worse) over the last eight years. Over these years, its natural evolution has led it into becoming something of a niche place for discussion of music in general and Qawwali in particular. Rather than trying to return my existing blog to its pre-Qawwali eclectic roots, I decided I’d start anew on Tumblr. So if you’re interested in music, Qawwali and subcontinental culture, keep reading/listening/watching/commenting here. For all of the above and everything else under the sun, head on over to my Tumblr page .

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

...Of Yusufi Saheb

I am somewhat notorious for prevaricating when put on the spot, especially when asked to give my opinion on a given subject. The prevarication doubles when the given subject is something close to my heart, for I try to keep my likes and dislikes to myself unless I am absolutely sure that I am either preaching to the choir or have found someone who is, in the immortal words of an 18th century missionary in Africa, just one hearty Hallelujah away from seeing the Light. Ask me about my favorite anything, and I'll either hum and haw, or provide a Top-5, Top-7 or Top-10 list certified to throw anyone off the scent. The reason is probably that it's very hard for me to settle on a single favorite in any of my favorite things. Depending on the occasion, the mood or the company, there is a lot that I can watch or listen to and consider it my favorite for that particular time, place or set of persons.

The only thing I have never prevaricated about are my favorite authors. My favorite author in the English language, for as long as I can remember, has been P.G. Wodehouse. My favorite author in Urdu has been, for as long as I can remember, Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi. The former had passed away 12 years before I was born. The latter has passed away today. 

I discovered both of them in my early teens, digging up their books from the Big Red Trunk that I have written about previously. Now that I think about it, both share a number of remarkable similarities. Both of them were universally acknowledged in their lifetimes as the inimitable masters of humorous writing in their respective languages. Not only that, both were acclaimed as the finest craftsmen of their respective languages, able to produce sentences and passages of surpassing beauty and delicacy. Both outranked everyone else when it came to producing an epigram that could retain its freshness outside the pages it was published in. The wealth of literary allusions in their work belied the depth of learning and scholarship that formed the bedrock of their comic edifices.

Both had a past in the banking profession (a checkered and brief one in case of Plum, a long and distinguished one in case of Yusufi Sb). Both shared an uncanny physical resemblance, both in youth and especially so in old age. From their writing, from their interviews and the recollections of those who had known them, it was clear that the warmth, the joy and the light permeating their writing emanated from a personality that was warm and joyful despite the prevalent cynicism of the age. Finally, with Yusufi Sb's passing today at the age of 95, he also shares with Plum the long innings that saw them outlive friends, competitors and detractors to become the grandest of Grand Old Men.

That is where the similarities end. While I have extolled the virtues of Wodehouse previously on the blog, Yusufi Sb's paeans have remained unsung. Where Plum stayed well clear of anything resembling seriousness, Yusufi Sb portrayed both the joys and sorrows of life, couching the blows in such superlatively beautiful Urdu that the impact was felt subliminally, a crucial moment or so after the reader had marveled at the sprightliness and alacrity of the prose. For me, the emotional impact of some of his 'humorous' essays has been greater than any passage written by the more 'serious' Urdu authors. The fact that he was terribly impecunious in publishing his writing  also gave each passage the quality of rarity and painstaking craftsmanship.

The fact that Plum passed away 12 years before I was born prevented me from ever being able to perform the ultimate act of idolatry, namely to see my favorite author in person and perhaps to express my gratitude for being a constant source of joy. Perhaps one day I might be able to make the pilgrimage to Remsenburg, Long Island and pay my respects to Plum, but for now that's still an unchecked item on my bucket list.

On the other hand, I can rest in the comfort of the memory that I did in fact personally pay homage to Plum's Pakistani counterpart, a day that will count as one of (if not THE) greatest of my life. On the occasion of the centennial celebrations of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, I was able to not only see Yusufi Sb speak, but was able to gather the courage to talk to him, get his autograph (for the younger readers, an autograph was an earlier, less infuriating alternative to the celebrity selfie) and finally, ask my father to take a photograph of me and Yusufi Sb. 

His speech that day is etched in my memory, the autograph is one of my most prized possessions, and the photograph is a visual reminder that I needn't constantly ask myself if I was dreaming or if I actually did meet the finest Urdu writer of the 20th century.



In one regard, Yusufi Sb's limited literary output puts him at an advantage over Wodehouse. While Plum's publications number more than a hundred, making the ability to own his Collected Works something of a daydream, Yusufi Sb's Collected Works are currently right in front of me on my bookshelf. I shall now stop writing and pick up the volume, open it at random and reacquaint myself with the Master.

Rest in peace Yusufi Sb.

2 comments:

  1. This is very nice and this information is very important to me

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  2. Beautiful post, thank you. I look forward to aquainting myself with his writing.

    ReplyDelete