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Kanhaiya Lal Kapoor (1910-1980) was an Urdu satirist known for his sharp wit, ironical style and derisive parodies.

Two giants of Urdu literature left lasting impressions on Kapoor’s mind and his art: Ahmed Shah Pitras Bukhari and Krishan Chandr.

Pitras Bukhari, one of the foremost humorists of Urdu, was Kapoor’s teacher at the Government College, Lahore. Pitras’s bubbling wit began to impress Kapoor on the very first occasion he met him. According to Kapoor’s own account, he had gone to the Government College for admission to MA (English). Pitras, being a teacher at the English department, interviewed him and asked (since Kapoor was quite a tall person) “are you normally this much tall or have you made some special arrangement for today’s interview”? Later, discovering his talent, Pitras advised Kapoor to write humour and always encouraged him.

As he has mentioned in June 1964 issue of Nuqoosh, Lahore, Kapoor didn’t realise that Krishan Chandr was his next-room neighbour at the Hindu Hostel, where he lived in Lahore, until he by chance read an essay of Krishan Chandr’s in Humayun, a prominent literary magazine published from Lahore in those days. Kapoor was so impressed by the piece that he talked about it to one of his fellow residents at the hostel, who laughed and said it was the same Krishan Chandr who lived in the next room. Kapoor met Krishan and both struck a friendship. Krishan, impressed with Kapoor’s punch lines and tongue-in-cheek style, advised him to write humour. Thus began a journey that made K.L. Kapoor a well-known and popular satirist of Urdu.

A satirist is basically a social critic who tries to highlight the ills and shortcomings of the society with laughter. Irony and parody are the weapons a satirist employs. Kapoor had a natural talent both for irony and parody. His first piece was a parody of one of Krishan Chandr’s essays. Though Krishan enjoyed reading it, Kapoor destroyed the article and it remained unpublished. The reason, according to Kapoor, was that the article had satirised Krishan’s style quite pungently. Kapoor’s third satirical piece ‘Chini shaeri’ (Chinese poetry) earned him much praise. It appeared in the 1938 annual issue of Adab-e-lateef, a literary magazine that is still published, albeit it is barely afloat these days. It was a delightful satire on literary critics, especially the ones who know little but pretend to having read everything — even Chinese poetry despite admitting that they do not know Chinese.

But the satirical piece that really shot Kapoor to fame was ‘Ghalib taraqqi pasand shuara ki majlis mein’ (Ghalib in the company of progressive poets), which first appeared in one of the 1942 issues of Adabi dunya. It was reprinted umpteen times and was reproduced in many humour anthologies, though Kapoor replaced the word ‘taraqqi pasand’ with ‘jadeed’ (modern) when he included it in his first book Sang-o-khisht (1942). A subtle satirical piece, it derided progressive mindset that almost always rejected Urdu’s classical poetry and its traditions. It also pokes fun at some of the modernistic Urdu poets such as Mirajee.

Kapoor, along with Shafeeq-ur-Rahman, is one of Urdu’s prominent parodists. His other parodies include ‘Saleem and Anarkali’, ‘Chaar malangon ki daastaan’, ‘Jaana Hatim Tai ka’ and ‘Mir ki shaeri ka nafsiyaati tajzia’. In these parodies, he mostly satirised the writers and literary trends of Urdu. But his ‘Urdu adab ka aakhri daur’ (the last era of Urdu literature) is a parody of Muhammad Hussain Azad’s famous work Aab-e-hayat. Progressive poets and writers often became the butt of his satire and his article ‘Comrade Sheikh Chilli’ is a good example of it.

In those days a literary feud between the authors of Punjab and UP was raging. The bone of contention was Urdu idiom and usage as some writers from UP believed that the writers and poets from Punjab were not capable of writing good and idiomatic Urdu. Even Allama Iqbal’s Urdu had been an issue hotly debated. Authors from Punjab were proud of the services they had rendered for the promotion of Urdu. Kapoor, being a native of Punjab, published a satirical piece, titled ‘Ahl-e-zaban’ (native speakers), in Adab-e-lateef. The reaction from UP was rather uncouth. Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi severely criticised Kapoor and Punjab’s usage. Kapoor, as a reaction, penned yet another piece in his usual ironical style. In his third piece on the issue Kapoor ridiculed some self-important poets. In that piece Kapoor had said something political, which was misinterpreted. It was used as an excuse to condemn Kapoor. Ultimately, he had to tender an apology.

According to Kanhaiya Lal Kapoor himself, he was born on June 27, 1910, “or” Nov 1, 1911, in Chak 498, district Lyallpur (now Faisalabad). Kapoor wrote that the village, situated some 12 miles from Kamalia, “was known for three things: local Baloch Muslims, dust and dogs. All three impressed me [Kapoor] much.” Having passed his BA from Lahore, he took admission in MA (English) at the Government College. Here, according to Kapoor “I [Kapoor] learnt, from my teacher Prof Pitras Bukhari, to make fun of every conventional thing and every unmannerly person”. According to Kapoor, “when I was a student of third year, my parents thought I had grown and attained the age of maturity [though I have never done so all my life] and arranged for my marriage”.

After the Independence, Kapoor migrated to Ferozepur, India, and a few months later landed a job at a college at Moga, a small town in Indian Punjab. Here he missed Lahore to the point of being depressed. As he has put it “Lahore and Moga were worlds apart. Lahore was full of life. And in Moga, a semi-desert town, the most worth-seeing sights were reeds and sand dunes”. His works penned in the wake of independence are quite different from the ones written before 1947. The witticism gave way to cynicism and the streak of humour that almost always ran through his writings began to dissipate. After 1947, extemporisation faded and his satire became more pointed. It was perhaps the result of his being uprooted and the massacre that took place during the migration.

K. L. Kapoor’s other works include Sheesha-o-tesha (1944), Chang-o-rabaab (1946), Nok-e-nishter (1949), Baal-o-par (1952), Narm garm (1957), Gard-e-karavan (1960), Daleel-e-sahar, Naazuk khayaliyan and Nae shagoofe. His collected works were published under the title Kulliyaat-e-Kapoor about a decade ago.

Kanhaiya Lal Kapoor died on May 18, 1980, in Poona, Maharashtra, India.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2015

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