Shafiqur Rehman - A joy for ever
Written by English NewsPaper/Dawn/Others   

THE function of laughter is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought.The central element in humour is the feeling of relief that comes from the removal of restraints.

Sigmund Fraud (1856-1939) regards humour as a means of outwitting what he calls "censor", his name for the internal inhibitions which prevent us from giving vent to our natural impulses. Censor not only represses sexual impulses but also the malicious ones. It allows us to indulge in forbid¬den thoughts if they are dis¬guised as double entendre or an insult which appears as a com¬pliment at first sight. As an example of the latter genre, an incident comes to mind.

During 1930s, a story got around that Mahatma Gandhi had a chance encounter with a venomous snake. Instead of biting him, the snake bowed his head and quickly disappeared from the scene. This episode was touted as proof of the Mahatama's supernatural powers. Asked to comment on the incident, the Quaid-i-Azam remarked that the snake was merely showing courtesy due to a fellow professional.

One may or may not subscribe to Freud's theory. However, it can not be doubted that laughter provides much needed relief from "the weariness, the fever, and the fret" of day-to-day living. Pain is a more universal experience than pleasure. Thus those who attempt to make people laugh are serving a noble cause. Humour is a by-product of profound and vivid interest in per¬sons and events. Unlike the slapstick we see in the sitcoms frequently shown on TV channels or atrocious antics of Mr Beans, creating humour is an arduous and challenging toil. This explains why humorous writings are so few. In nearly 60 years of its existence, Pakistan has produced only a handful of humorists wiring in Urdu: Shaukat Thanvi, Patras Bukhari, Shafiqur Rehman and Mushtaq Ahmad Yousufi.

Shafiqur Rehman stands out amongst them for his simplicity, candor and lucidity. In simple language, he created characters and situations which were funny, profound and true to life.

Shafiqur Rehman was born on November 9, 1920. He passed his MBBS in 1941 from King Edward Medical College and joined the Army Medical Corps the next year. He attained higher medical degree from Edinbrough. He rose to the position of major-general in the Pakistan Army Medical Corps. After retirement, he served as Chairman, Academy of Letters from 1980 to 1986. He died on March 19, 2000 in Rawalpindi.

Shafiqur Rehman started writing short stories during his student days. His first collection Kirnain contained seven short stories, all of them revolving around handsome and athletic young men. All of them permeate an aura of boundless romanticism. The characters belong to higher middle class with not a worry in the world. The girls are beautiful and have a number of suitors. The hero is tall, handsome, bright and is fully conscious of the attraction he has for the fair sex. More than loving, he wants to be loved. There is a touch of narcissism in him. All the stories are a delight to read. The reader is transported to a world which has colour, flowers, music beauty and innocent love. The first story in the collection Shikast and the one after which the collection was named deserve special men¬tion. The story Kirnain also con¬tains the urdu translation of W.B. Yeat's enchanting love poem "When you are old".

The humourist in Shafiq was yet to emerge. Nonetheless we see flashes of fun and gaiety to come in sto¬ries like Fast Bowler and Lady Doctor. The most striking feature of his collection Parvaz is the emergence of his most delightful character Roofi alias Shaytan. A typical comic character is a man with an obsession. Shaytan has a number of them. He is short-sighted, noth-ing much to look at, tactless and sometimes impertinent even to his elders. But succeeds in hav¬ing it both ways. His biggest obsession is girls. He habitually falls hi love, sometimes three or four times in the course of a day, and wonder of wonders, succeeds in enamouring his objects of affection. Some times when ardour goes sour, he has his own blase way of dealing with it. His former girlfriend writes to ask him to return her picture. He replies that he honestly does not remember who she is and encloses a dozen pictures requesting her to retain hers and return the rest. Another example: To catch a glimpse of Shaytan's new girl-friend, his friends assemble on the rooftop of a house next to hers. Hopelessly short-sighted, Shaytan struggles to pinpoint his latest girlfriend. After a few false moves, he finally points out that it is the one in green duppatta. One of his friends suggests that he should fall in love with the girl in red. Shaytan gets annoyed and remarks "I am a lover not a clown".

The character of Shaytan features in his number of stories, he is falling in love, participating in a dog fight, taking part in horse-race, playing cards, trying to entice his Khala into financing his trip to Darjiling by acquiescing to her craze, that is, of administration of home¬made medicinal concoctions to those whom she perceives to be ill. His is a masterly grafted character.

His pranks are so fresh that each time one reads them, unpremeditated laughter ensues. Creation of this charac¬ter is indeed a great service to humorous literature of Urdu. The other characters that he created like Razia, Hukoomat Apa, Maqsood Ghora, and Buddy are also a sheer delight to read.

Many of his stories and travelogues are written in first person singular. Barsati (Raincoat) is a travelogue, written in his earlier days. Apart from being highly readable, it reflects his profound knowledge of the his¬tory and the geographical fea¬tures of the countries he visits.

His parodies also have a stamp of his unique style. They are humorous and, at the same, contain cutting sarcasm of mis-deeds and plunder of the likes of Nadir Shah. Parodies on Hatim Tai and Jahazbad Sindbl embody jocular gribes on their respective passions.

His travelogues reveal deep-seated observations about peo¬ple and places. When he reach-es Cairo he rings up his Egyptian friend to inform him of his arrival. The friend is delighted and tells our author that he will reach him in a minute. What happens after-wards? Here is a rough transla¬tion from his travelogue Nile.

"When, in accordance with eastern traditions, he reached in about two hours, I was surrounded by a crowd of hawkers. All of them were trying to sell essential goods. One person wanted to sell a horse saddle dirt cheap. The other insisted that if I do not buy his high class and cheap whip for the camel, I will regret it for the rest of my life. Others were trying to sell cradles, instruments for needle¬work, machine for cutting flow¬ers, long-lasting locks, electric bulbs and footballs — all the items which a traveller badly needs."
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Lehrain By Shafiq ur Rehman

Two other travelogue deserve mention. Danube and Dujla dealing with his travels in Europe and the Middle East respectively. Strange as it may appear, Shafiq also wrote stories of ill-starred lives, of unrequited love and of anguish of failure. Jeanie deals with the tragic story of a girl who is intelligent, talented and likes to live a life in her own way. The story also con-tarns observations which would delight any feminist's heart. His collections, Putchtaway and Mud-o-Jazar consist of stories of this stripe.

The breadth of subjects on which Shafiq wrote was amazing.

He wrote on such diverse subjects as art of advertising, quotable quotes, needless words and phrases habitually introduced in speech (Takya Kalam) etc. He also composed a few humorous poems, parodying free verse. Each piece presents a fresh angle on the subject and engenders customary delight associated with his writings.

Krishan Chandre once remarked that on reading Shafiqur Rehman's short stories, one is reminded of dazzling colours: blazing red, shimmering orange, radiant emerald and brilliant yellow.

Most of Shafiq's personal life was the epitome of the cheer, beauty, happiness and enjoyment of life which are found in his sto¬ries. He was a popular writer, a successful professional, mar¬ried to a beautiful woman and was father of three handsome and intelligent lads. Alas! This unmitigated bliss did not last in the later part of his life. In 1981, his middle son, Khaliqur Rehman, committed suicide for unfathomable reasons. Shafiq was a broken man. And more than him was his wife. His let¬ters written to Dr Safiya Bano between 1981 and 1991 reflect the heartache, the agony and the anguish the two experi¬enced. The lad is described as a tall, handsome, simple, large-hearted and magnanimous being. He was nicknamed "Saintly Joe". Shafiq's wife developed a rare disease called polycythaemia in which blood multiplies and has to be period-ically extracted from the body of the patient. To compound the tragedy, his younger brother and a niece in her early twen¬ties also died. After these tragic events, his letters are full of pessimism and fatalism. At number of places he remarks that everyone has to carry his own cross and grief is a person¬al matter. It is distressing to read such tragic remarks com¬ing from a person whose life, only a short while ago, was hap¬piness personified.

Shafiqur Rehman's personal tragedy aside, the work and the characters he created would remain a source of joy for ever. His stories full of fun, gaiety and happiness, couched in simple and easily understandable language, can be advisedly used as an introduction to Urdu literature to our increasingly anglophilic young generation.

by Shamim Ahmad

Work of Shafiq ur Rehman shared by Salman Siddiqui : Shagufay