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Chiragh Hasan Hasrat: a natural humorist

June 22, 2009

There are quite a few humorists in Urdu who earned great fame and respect on the basis of their humour columns. But the fame and popularity that Chiragh Hasan Hasrat's humour columns earned him is rare even among the humorists. He remained associated with several newspapers and wrote under several pennames.

Born in 1904 in a village near Baramula, Kashmir, Chiragh Hasan Hasrat was a poet and journalist. Most of what he wrote had a streak of humour in it and he was perhaps more of a humorist than anything else. He began composing poetry when he was still a student at school. Even at that time his natural bent of mind showed through his poetry it was humourous and satirical.

Chiragh Hasan Hasrat began teaching at local schools in his native Kashmir and in 1920 joined a school at Shimla to teach Urdu and Persian. Here he had a chance meeting with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and was thoroughly impressed. Hasrat quit the job and went to Calcutta (now Kolkata). Abul Kalam Azad was in Calcutta and in addition to planning a re-launch of his famous newspaper 'Al-Hilal' he was preparing to start a new weekly named 'Paigham'. Azad asked Hasrat to join.

He obliged but due to some misunderstanding quit after a while, though later he regretted his decision and made fences with Azad. Hasrat admitted that he had learnt a lot from Azad, not only in the field of journalism but about politics and literature.

Hasrat came back to Poonch, Kashmir. In 1925, he again went to Calcutta and joined the newspaper 'Nai Dunya' (the new world). Here he used to write a humour column 'Kalkatte ki baten' under the penname of 'Columbus'.

This column became hugely popular and senior journalists and political leaders like Abul Kalam Azad, Zafar Ali Khan and Muhammad Ali Jauhar appreciated him. Soon he joined a weekly 'Asr-e-Jadeed' as assistant editor. Here he wrote humour column 'Mataibaat' under the penname of 'Koocha Gard' and it further increased his reputation as a journalist and humorist. But he soon had to quit because the weekly was staunchly pro-Muslim League and Hasrat was under the influence of Abul Kalam Azad's personality and his pro-Congress policies.In 1926, Hasrat launched a literary journal 'Aftab' from Calcutta.

An illustrated Urdu monthly, 'Aftab' could not survive beyond one and a half years despite the fact that it had caught the fancy of readers and renowned writers contributed to it making it “the only Urdu monthly of the East India”, a claim that always appeared on its masthead. Later, Hasrat also worked for 'Isteqlal' and then another Urdu daily 'Jamhoor' that was running a campaign for India's independence.

In 1928, Nehru Report took the Indian political world by storm. Hasrat as a supporter of Congress favoured the report and wrote many articles backing it. It caused uproar against him and his newspaper since an overwhelming majority of Muslims had rejected Nehru Report. It was a blunder that cost Hasrat dearly and he had to leave Calcutta fearing of his safety. But luckily Zafar Ali Khan was in the city and he asked Hasrat to come to Lahore and join his newspaper 'Zamindar'.

Hasrat came to Lahore in 1929. He had remained in the company of renowned writers in Calcutta and the city itself, being the former capital of the British India, was a picture of modernity and perfect cultural aura at that time. But by that time Lahore, being a centuries-old town with historical relics dotting the city and its suburbs, too, had emerged as a centre of Urdu publishing and printing.

A great many number of literary magazines were being published from Lahore and, just like Calcutta, a galaxy of renowned writers had gathered in Lahore. Adding spice to that literary and cultural scene was the literary and cultural rivalry raging between UP and Punjab. 'Niazmandan-e-Lahore' was an informal literary circle that used to defend the poets and writers of Punjab by writing rejoinders on their behalf.

Though seemingly a useless and unsavoury skirmish, the rivalry produced many interesting and satirical piece from both sides and today makes an interesting part of Urdu's literary history. Abdul Majeed Salik, Pitras Bukhari, Sufi Tabassum, Hafeez Jallandhri, M.D. Taseer, Imtiaz Ali Taj, Abdur Rahman Chughtai and some other writers were the prominent members of the circle. Soon Chiragh Hasan Hasrat became a member and joined in the efforts of the circle that it made to get Lahore recognized as a distinct school of literature just like Delhi and Lucknow.

Another centre of literary activities in Lahore during the 1930s was Arab Hotel. Though named so, it was neither Arab nor a hotel. It was a restaurant. In fact it was not even a restaurant, as it was a small shop with worn-out and oily wooden chairs and tables put on the footpath near Islamia College. But before becoming a hub of Lahore's intellectuals, Arab Hotel was just another ordinary eatery of Lahore meant to provide students with decent food and tea at a low price. It was Chiragh Hasan Hasrat who 'discovered' its tasty food and fine tea and made it his meeting place. Some writers lived nearby and some newspaper offices were also in the vicinity. Islamia College was just across the road. Soon students and trainee journalists began paying a visit to Hasrat in order to learn a few tricks of the trade and within no time Arab Hotel became Lahore's most popular literary rendezvous. It's a pity that we do not care to preserve such places, though we appreciate how such places are preserved in other countries. Today there is no trace of Arab Hotel, but it was an informal training centre for many a student and journalist and Hasrat was the one who made the party go.

At 'Zamindar' Hasrat wrote 'Afkar-o-hawadis', the famous column that Abdul Majeed Salik once wrote. In 'Ehsan' he wrote 'Mataibaat' under the penname of 'Sindbaad Jahazi'. Hasrat launched his own journal 'Sheeraza' in 1936 from Lahore and serialised a parody 'Jadeed Jughrafia Punjab', which may be ranked among the finest of Urdu parodies. After working for different newspapers and publishers in Lahore including 'Zamindar', 'Ehsan' and 'Shehbaz', Hasrat joined All India Radio, Delhi, in 1940. But the real shocking news for his friends was Hasrat's joining the army. How could a person as careless and happy-go-lucky person as Hasrat survive the discipline of the forces, they asked. But he was in fact editor of a newspaper brought out for troops. He not only survived but thrived and soon rose to the rank of major with all his carelessness. In 1945, Hasrat was sent to Singapore to edit a newspaper for the troops, which was named 'Jawan' and was published in Roman Urdu. Hasrat returned from Singapore in 1947 and in 1948 joined 'Imroz', Lahore, as editor. As usual, he had some differences with the management and quit. In 1951 he joined Radio Pakistan, Karachi, but developed differences with Z. A. Bukhari and resigned and went back to Lahore in 1953.

Chiragh Hasan Hasrat was a restless soul. He could not work anywhere for too long and looked for something different. But then his health deteriorated and he had to be content with writing a daily column in 'Nawa-e-Waqt'. Radio Pakistan, Lahore, arranged some programmes with him but Hasrat fell ill again and died in Lahore on June 26, 1955. Chiragh Hasan Hasrat wrote 16 books. 'Kele ka Chhilka' and 'Mataibaat' are collections of humorous writings. 'Harf-o-Hikayat' is the collection of his columns. 'Do doctor' and 'Murdum deeda' are collections of pen sketches. His humour drew upon current affairs but it is natural and his command over the Urdu language, his wit, metaphors and allusion made it a real treat for anybody who is well-read. This is perhaps one of the reasons why today he is not so popular, since most readers today are not acquainted with the finer points of literature.

Dr Tayyab Muneer's Ph.D dissertation 'Chiragh Hasan Hasrat' was published by Idara-e-Yadgar-e-Ghalib in 2003 and I have relied heavily on his book in writing this piece. Dr Tayyab Muneer has also compiled and published Hasrat's poetry, titled 'Baten husn-e-yaar ki'.

drraufparekh@yahoo.com