Shaukat Thanvi: A cultured satirist

Shaukat Thanvi’s pen seems to hesitate from becoming ‘outrageous’ in its intensity, incisiveness and force


KARACHI: Despite hundreds of years of man’s so-called independent inquiry, answers to many fundamental questions have remained elusive. And among these is also the question about the mystery surrounding the emergence of a grand literary creation.

While so many would argue in favour of individual talent, Muhammad Hasan Askari believes in a literary tradition.  According to Askari, all great artists become ‘great’ due to the literary experimentations and linguistic contributions of dozens of other people — both their predecessors and contemporaries — who pave way and create groundwork and atmosphere for a grand literary work.

If we take this as a rule of thumb, we may venture to conclude that without the satirical and humorous writings of Shaukat Thanvi, we may not be able to see Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi’s work reach such zenith of perfection as it reached in his magnum opus Aab-e-Gum.

However, this rather controversial statement does not mean that Thanvi’s writings now only have a historical significance. Judging on their own merit, they still have an attraction and flow that makes them highly readable, if not exceedingly humorous.

In fact Thanvi’s essays, first published more than half a century ago, are a must-read for all those want to learn the art of writing a simple, idiomatic and easy flowing ‘Lakhnavi’ Urdu. However, this is not the only merit of this old master.

Thanvi’s work presents his satirical and humorous outlook on life. An outlook that highlights people’s individual and collective contradictions, follies, failures and foibles but it does this in a very mild and ‘cultured’ manner — a quality also pinpointed Qurratulain Haider.

Some of his essays in Mazameen e Shaukat Thanvi: Mizahia Mazameen ka Intikhab present the humorous dichotomy between idealism and reality – the contradiction between the high-sounding claims of the freedom movement leaders and the actual chaos after independence or Allama Iqbal’s ideal youth and the actual new generation.

He also creates humour through anachronism at one place by imagining how a political jalsa would have taken place in Lucknow if its princely status had survived. However, in most of the essays, Thanvi finds something to laugh about in the day to day incidents and regular people.

On the down side, his prose has the fault of repetition, a problem which probably stems from his habit of writing too much without finding time for an editorial review — Thanvi was a prolific writer and apparently authored around 60 books.

Even in this rather smallish collection, one finds three essays revolving around the same idea of feigning illness to ward off filial responsibilities or criticism. The same element also troubles in a few stories (his essays often narrate an incident) in the form of constant repetition of certain words or phrases.

His art apparently also lacks a sustained beauty. He seems to reach a certain height at certain parts of his essays but a few of them nosedive by the time they reach their end.

On the whole, one gets the impression that his art is tilting more towards satire rather than humour.

But whether it is primarily satirical or humourous, Thanvi’s pen seems to hesitate from becoming ‘outrageous’ in its intensity, incisiveness and force. This apparently is the hesitation of a cultured mind. But to a reader, who has lived and breathed Yusufi’s world, this mode of writing does not seem completely satisfying.

Title: Mazameen e Shaukat Thanvi: Mizahia Mazameen ka Intikhab Compiled by Muhammad Tahir Qureshi

Publisher: Oxford University Press, Pakistan

ISBN: 9780199402649

Price: Rs350

The writer is a staffer at The Express Tribune

Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2016.

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