Obituary: Mushtaq Ahmed Yousafi


– The man who redefined humour


There’s a certain stoicness when one imagines a banker. In the 20th century, and even today to an extent, the job defines the 9-5 routine. Men in hats and suits, carrying briefcases and crunching numbers, maybe rolling up their sleeves and smoking a cigarette or two when the going got a little tough. Banks and bankers are titans of the capitalist world, and funny is the last thing you would expect them to be.

But funny is exactly what Mushtaq Ahmad Yousafi was. In fact, the man has defined humour for an entire generation, and his passing away at the age of 94 on Wednesday took away from the world of Urdu literature one of its preeminent writers.

The son of a former Jaipur legislative assembly speaker, he followed the path of many other young Muslims of the Indian subcontinent at the time by completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Agra University before pursuing an L.L.B from Aligarh Muslim University. He then joined the Indian Civil Service and with his family moved to Karachi after partition, taking up banking as a profession.

Yousafai’s trajectory in life was that of a young, educated, Muslim gentleman of the Indian subcontinent. He was of the crop that was to have built Pakistan. A refined generation that has slowly gone the way of time thinking where everything went so wrong.

A banker par excellence, he rose high in his field and came to writing late. His first work, a collection of essays called ‘Chiragh Talay,’ was published in 1961 when he was nearing 40. But the wave it created in the world of Urdu literature was unmistakable. This frail looking, muhajir banker had popped up out of the blue and written a masterpiece that wowed the critics and the greats of the time alike. His contemporaries of the time were all praise and with his collection of 12 humor essays Yousafi managed to establish himself as a profound literary satirist.

But what Yousafi gave in quality, he did not quite have the same returns in quantity. His eagerly awaited next work Khakam ba Dahan – containing eight humorous essays was published eight years after Chiragh Talay in 1969.

His zenith as a writer for many came with his third book, Zarguzasht, appeared in 1976. The fictional autobiography which leaves the reader to interpret who the character of Yousafi was is not only a narrative masterpiece in all languages, but full to the brim with that often subtle, often wry and sometimes uproarious humour he made his own.

That he was still publishing until a few years ago, his last work appearing in 2014 to much fanfare, is testimony to the sharpness of his mind. Until the end in interviews and appearances, he was willing to laugh and offer the near impish grin that marked him as a man that enjoyed life and lived a full one.

Thoroughly unpolitical in his writing, and consciously so, Yousafi is a loss to Urdu literature that may hit is with its full impact in a few years. For he was the last of a very special generation, and his is a loss to readers, writers, and satirists of all kinds alike.