ONE of the prominent features of 20th century Urdu journalism is that some writers, most of them journalists, began writing humour column. It is generally believed that `Oudh Punch`, a humour magazine launched from Lucknow in 1877, blazed the trail in the field of humour column since it was the first to have ever published such writings in Urdu.
Though many of the pieces published in `Oudh Punch` could be termed satirical or humorous, they were not columns in strict sense of the term. Munshi Sajjad Hussain (1856-1915), the editor and the most prolific of the `Oudh Punch` contributors, wrote some humorous pieces and miscellanea commenting on the social and political milieu, but these pieces depicted the usual `happy-go-lucky` style of the magazine and were in fact not columns but either essays or editorial notes written in lighter vein. I believe Moulvi Sirajuddin Ahmed, the first editor of `Zamindaar` and father of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, was the first who ever wrote a humour column in Urdu. He would write a humour column on the first day of April every year. These columns, published from 1904 to 1909, were later published in a slim volume under the title `April fool`.
After his father`s death in 1909, Zafar Ali Khan became the editor and began writing humour column in `Zamindaar`. He wrote the column `Fukahaat` by the penname of `Naqqaash`. Later, Chiraagh Hasan Hasrat wrote the same column. Abdul Majeed Salik, Mehfooz Ali Badayuni, Abul Kalam Azad and some other columnists popularised the genre so much that in the 1930s and afterwards humour column became an integral part of Urdu newspapers. Among those who have reserved a seat for themselves in the hall of fame on the basis of their humour columns are Majeed Lahori, Shaukat Thanvi, Ibrahim Jalees, Ibn-e-Insha and Nasrullah Khan.
What makes Nasrullah Khan stand head and shoulder above his peers is the fact that he wrote humour column for some 30 years at a stretch and penned some 12,000 pieces. His other honour is to have remained a practising journalist for over 50 years. Khan Sahib would pepper his simple yet lovely prose with satire. Though his humour column was usually based on news and current affairs, his keen sense of humour saw incongruity in the most normal of situations and he made reader see things from a different angle. This almost always made reader smile. His usual technique for creating humour was to draw a point from a piece of news and expand it and drag it to other aspects and create new angles in such a lively manner that it brought smiles to the faces of even gloomy persons. The only ones who could not enjoy his column were the ones who became the target of his sharp wit — high officials and politicians —, mostly.
Though his comments on politics and politicians landed him in trouble on a couple of occasions and he invited the wrath of high-ups, he kept on writing his column `Adaab arz` that appeared almost every day. In an interview of his, taken by Asif Farrukhi, Khan Sahib revealed that anybody who was somebody was displeased with his columns at one time or the other. Khwaja Shahabuddin, once a federal minister and later the governor of NWFP, asked him why couldn`t he write about something else. He advised him to write on mosquitoes and flies, for instance. Khan Sahib told him that he had written a lot on mosquitoes and flies since all previous governments had asked him to write on them and even mosquitoes and flies had become angry with him and had started biting him. Once, in the late 1980s, Khan Sahib narrated to this writer in his usual witty way how a federal minister of Z. A. Bhutto government got angry with him just because he had written a column on the devastating floods in 1974. Khan Sahib was harassed by police for several days. His columns are in fact a political and social history of Pakistan.
Nasrullah Khan was born on November 11, 1920, in the Jawra state, Malwah, Central India. He did his BA and BT from Agra in1945 and MA (Urdu) from Nagpur in 1947. His journalistic career began in 1935 when he launched a monthly named `Aabshaar` from Amritsar, in collaboration with Aga Khalish Kashmiri. Khan Sahib was lucky to get a chance to work with Zafar Ali Khan at `Zamindaar`. In fact it was an apprenticeship with a legendary figure that helped shape his mind and career. The satirical tone and rebellious mental attitude against the injustice and ineptness were perhaps a natural outcome of the training with a person like Zafar Ali Khan. When the government of the British India banned in 1938 the publication of `Zamindaar`, Nasrullah Khan launched `Naqqaad` along with Muztar Hashmi from the premises of `Zamindaar`.
Nasrullah Khan wrote for many newspapers such as `Inqelaab`, `Ihsaan`, `Nawa-e-waqt`, `Siyasat`, `Imroze` etc. After joining daily `Hurriyet` in 1961, he began writing his column in it that continued till 1989 and a year later he started writing for daily `Jang`. He was a seasoned broadcaster as well and served Radio Pakistan`s Karachi station as producer from 1949 to 1952. Some of the features and plays written and produced by him, such as `Dekhta chala gaya` and `Lighthouse ke muhafiz`, were hugely popular.
He was a fine sketch-writer and collection of his pen-sketches `Kya qaafla jata hai` (1984) is a strange book. It is, as Waheed Qureshi has put it, not only a collection of sketches that makes several celebrities come alive, but also a history of important events and movements of the sub-continent painted by a maestro. It lets us know vital facts about our society and the writer`s life as well. His other book is `Baat se baat`.
Nasrullah Khan died in New York on February 25, 2002, but he will be remembered for his humour column and pen-sketches.