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Shahzad Sharjeel speaks at the event.—White Star
Shahzad Sharjeel speaks at the event.—White Star

KARACHI: Many people have known him as a journalist, poet, diplomat, university teacher and World Bank official. Shahzad Sharjeel, however, surprised his audience on Friday evening with another facet of his genius: a humour writer. Wit has been his forte in every conversation his friends have had with him, but few knew he could produce such high-class humour, or satire, in Urdu.

At the literary sitting with Shahzad at the Arts Council, titled Barang-i-Yousufi to honour the legendary Mushtaq Yousufi, he was eloquent in his praise for the master humorist.

He read out three of his pieces. One titled Kuttay, the other Muaashrati uloom and the third Tujh sa kahan say laoon, which was first read out at the International Urdu Conference last year, to pay his homage to Yousufi.

The audience were amazed how cleverly he used various real-life characters, such as Katrina Kaif and Imran Khan, to make the audience smile, laugh and enthusiastically clap. Using Katrina’s popular dance and song ‘Pawwa charha ke…’, he tickled and enlightened the audience on the classification of booze.

He is a stylish English prose writer and his humour pieces show how immaculate Urdu he can write, but his advantage is his exposure to various regional languages, particularly Punjabi and Sindhi. So he uses fragments and phrases from these languages to spice up his Urdu writings. He seems well-versed with literature of several languages, including Persian.

Dog, the poor creature which has been the subject of many satirists across the world, could not escape Shahzad’s pen either. Speaking on Kuttay, he attacked the quadruped beast to hit the ones walking on two legs.

At the outset, Shahzad admitted that after Bulleh Shah and Patras Bukhari’s well-known writings on dogs, there was little space left to say much about them. “However, a little room is still available to write on their hobbies and activities at the local, regional and international levels.” Then he went on to satirise the political situations all around, amusing the discernible audience in a style bearing a clear imprint of Mushtaq Yousufi.

“It is no longer their official duty just to bite; they are stripped of their portfolios even if they piss or bark at the wrong tree,” he remarked.

Teaching the public a lesson in humanity, he explained Bulleh Shah’s famous couplet ‘Uthh Bulhia chal yar mana le naeen te baazi le gai kuttay…’ saying the Sufi poet urges humans to rise in character a shade above dogs to deserve the title of ‘Ashraf-ul-makhlooqat’.

He ended his hilarious piece on the famous Persian couplet:

Urfi tu ma andesh za ghoghayey raqeeban
Aawaz-i-sagan kam na kunad rizq-i-gada ra

(Urfi, pay no attention to the barking dogs; they cannot deprive you of what’s your destiny.)

Talking about Yousufi sahib, who he idolises, he narrates how Yousufi sahib kept his humour till the final stages of his life. “But during the last two visits I made to his residence, he was so ill that I did not want to disturb him. So I just touched his feet (as a gesture of reverence) and left.”

The piece titled Muaashrati Uloom is a satire on both economic and social conditions prevailing in the country and the world at large.

Shahid Rassam, an artist and avid reader of Urdu and English literatures, introduced Shahzad Sharjeel. Calling Yousufi sahib his murshid, Shahid read out his light piece on Shahzad with generous quotes from Yousufi sahib’s books. His speech too was tinged with humour in ‘Yousufi style’.

After taking early retirement from the World Bank to pursue what is close to his heart, Shahzad Sharjeel now teaches at the Quaid-i-Azam University and Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology in Islamabad. A champion at multitasking, he plans to rehabilitate his mother’s vast orchid devastated by the 2010 floods in Tharparkar. He was serving the Benazir government as a press attaché in Japan when it was dismissed by then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1996, and within the next three days he was back home in Karachi.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2019