A teacher in a small private school in Peshawar recently asked her students of grade seven to run through the main headlines in the newspaper with a view to finding out some funny headlines.
A little while later a boy in the middle rows, otherwise known to be taciturn and withdrawn, raised his hand and claimed in an unfamiliar burst of excitement, ‘ma’am I have found one, a hospital without a doctor.’
Such expressions and displays of wit and intelligence by pupils in our surrounding give all that much needed reassurance to the people caught in the throes of an unbearable turmoil on their land.
Another piece of everlasting fun, though more erudite and exceedingly illuminating, was also gleaned from a story in a newspaper dated 22nd January, 2012.
The news item about a sad incident, authored and dished out by Reuters, and quoting some anonymous Taliban source went on like this, ‘Twelve of our comrades were besieged and mercilessly martyred in the Khyber Agency (area).’
The report did not explain since when have the Taliban started calling each other ‘comrade.’ Has the Saur Revolution finally come to fruition nearly 23 years after Gorbachev called it off and General Gromov, the last Soviet soldier, crossed over into the then Soviet Union through the Friendship Bridge?
Perhaps the reporter got carried away or whatever, but it would do our imagination a lot of good if for a change we add ‘comrade’ to the existing titles of ‘mullah,’ ‘mufti,’ ‘qari’ etc by which most of the Taliban leaders are known.
Pashtuns living on both sides of the Durand Line have kept on zealously to their great sense of humour through thick and thin.
The Pashtuns living on this side of the Line have not taken leave of their rollicking sense of humour even during these telling times, and neither did the Afghans during the Soviet occupation of their land. In fact some of the best humour on the soil of the Pashtuns was borne out of adversity.
A joke conceived during the days of the Saur Revolution, and figuring Mullah Nasruddin has found wide publicity in the literature of those days. The wisecracking Turkish character once visited the office of the People’s Democratic Party. He asked the man at the information desk:
‘Where is Comrade Amin, our first Socialist Leader?’ ‘He’s dead, Comrade.’
‘And where, Comrade Information officer is Comrade Tariki, our second Socialist Leader?’ ‘He’s dead, too, Comrade.’
‘And our fraternal Russian KGB Chief, General Viktor Paputin?’ ‘Dead. But why are you asking all these questions?’
‘Because, Comrade, I do so enjoy hearing the answers.’
Pashtuns are the butt of every second joke being bandied about these days, courtesy the cellular phone. The good thing is that Pashtuns not only enjoy some of those jokes, but they also keep circulating them in their circles.
A well known Peshawar based Pashtun journalist once commented that Pashtuns being the subject of so many jokes reflected on the strengths in their cheerful character.
Humour made an important feature of Abdul Ghani Khan’s vast repertoire. The great Pashto poet and son of the legendary Red Shirt leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, made fun of the clergy, the khans and the politicians to his heart’s content.
In these troubled days, it is so comforting to ponder that Ghani Khan’s humour was appreciated and accepted in its stride, and no mullah declined to lead his funeral prayers when the great Khan from Charsadda passed away.
It is indeed possible that Ghani Khan’s charming soul is lurking around in our milieu and keeps entertaining his folks or how else could we reflect on our pain in such lighter manner.
A joke doing the rounds these days is to the effect that an elderly man, brandishing a sword, walks into an assemblage in a mosque and shouts, ‘is there any faithful among you?’
A hush follows the blunt query, as the man leaves the mosque only to reenter a while later still brandishing the sword, but now apparently soaked in blood. The grey bearded man asks the same question with exaggerated ferocity.
The crowd gets panicky and points to the mullah on the pulpit as the only true faithful present in the mosque. ‘Shut up! You all sinners, the prayer leader screamed in self defence, I cannot even recite the prayer correctly.’
Unfortunately, fate has juxtaposed mullah with General Paputin at the centre stage, and hence the target of all this imaginative banter.
Humour is one of the many vital denominators through which the intelligence of a people could be judged, and all past and present evidence shows that Pashtuns are by instincts fun loving and entertaining folks.
Some of that proof was witnessed in the year 2009 when trouble broke out in the Malakand Region forcing hundreds of thousands of people out of their salubrious habitats and landing them in IDP camps in the scorching heat of the plains.
One found tens of cheerful and confident looking youth, some of them fairly rich, making fun of their misery, as fate had rendered them dependent on aid and charity. The young men had coined various humorous verses that kept them battling their ordeal with smiles on their innocent faces.
One recently came across some more contemporary and highly enjoyable satire. The pun directed at Wapda beseeches the electricity providing agency to remove its cables and pylons, as God in His infinite bounty would provide some other sources of merrymaking to the mynas and sparrows.
A friend pointed out that the joke owed its origin to the Zakhakhel Afridis of Khyber where a frustrated tribal elder had made a similar appeal to Wapda, for electricity would rarely pass through the labyrinthine wires.
Afridis are no less cheerful a tribe. One recently found out that the real name of a friend calling himself G.M. Khan was in fact Gul Mathi Khan. G.M. was visibly flustered when one of his childhood friends pointed that out, but he laughed it off. Such is the spirit in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa these days, and since eons.