How Shugoofa, a 52-year-old Urdu humour magazine from Hyderabad, examines society through satire
It is one of the few magazines in the country (in any language) devoted entirely to humour. The publication groomed new writers and poets in Urdu humour, leading them to recognition.
In the immediate aftermath of Independence, humour, especially in Urdu, was looked upon as a lesser form of literature. One magazine from Hyderabad dedicatedly worked to dismantle that illusion, and proved that humour and satire could be employed as powerful means to educate and inform while eliciting a laugh.
Started in 1968, Shugoofa has remained a stable home for all things funny. Deriving its name from the idiom "shagoofe chhodna" (to say something new and funny), it was founded by academic, Dr Syed Mustafa Kamal. It is one of the few magazines in the country (in any language) devoted entirely to humour.
Kamal recounts, “We changed the perception that humour could only be second grade literature. The idea was to use it as a tool to address social topics ranging from inequalities to ethics, to address grievances against the system.”
The story behind the magazine
The origin of Shugoofa can be traced to the Fine Arts academy of Hyderabad, which was a cultural hub in the post-Independence era and had various verticals for music, theatre and literature. The literary arm of the academy was called 'Zinda Dilan-e-Hyderabad' that conducted annual events from the early '60s and organised the All India Humour Conference in 1966 for the first time in the city.
With eminent Urdu writers of the day as its part, the event created an audience for humour. A merry by-product of that interest was Shugoofa. Modelled on the legendary Awadh Punch (1877-1934), the first literary humour organ of Urdu literature, Shugoofa in its initial years published original satire by some of the best-known writers of the day including Mujtaba Hussain, Yousuf Nazim, Krishan Chandra and Dileep Singh.
While Awadh Punch supported the Independence movement and the Congress Party’s quest for freedom through its hard hitting yet rib-tickling pieces, Shugoofa was built on the philosophy of addressing social issues with humour. It attracted popular Urdu writers from Pakistan too, with authors like Mushtaq Ahmed Yousuf, Dilawar Figar, Zameer Jafri, Moinuddin Ghouri and Younus Butt pitching in.
The 64-page magazine brings out 11 issues, plus one special commemorative issue every year. Initially, it was published once every 45 days, but became a monthly in 1973. One of the few magazines which has withstood the changing tastes of generations, Shugoofa has brought out more than 500 issues and around 75 special issues that honoured individual writers, or were themed on different topics. It has a dedicated overseas editor and though small, its loyal following includes readers in the Indo-Pak subcontinent, the Gulf, United States, Canada and United Kingdom.
The magazine groomed new writers and poets in Urdu humour, leading them to recognition. It has also introduced non-Urdu humorists to the Urdu world by printing translations of their work. In its initial years, it employed popular writers of the day to pen articles, thereby encouraging and adding enthusiastic readers.
It also helped that certain articles remained etched in the memory of literary connoisseurs: Ewaz Saeed’s Ghat Ka Pathar (November 1968), Raaza Naqvi Wahi’s seminal tribute Nazre Ghalib (March 1969), and Krishan Chandra’s Gwalior Ka Hajjam (August 1970) were immensely popular, and helped the publication build its reputation and following.
The reason behind Shugoofa's success was its ability to be both relevant and humorous. Its overseas editor since 2012, Dr Aleem Khan Falaki explains, “It gave a platform for talented writers. Old timers still recall its articles proving that humour comes with no expiry date. In fact, articles like Mujtaba Hussian’s Daanth ka dard kisi ko na ho (No one should suffer from a toothache), Yusuf Nazim’s safarnama (travelogues), Dileep Singh’s take on societal imbalances or Abid Moiz’s humorous essays 'Sag guzeeda' (dog bitten) cemented its cult status.”
Shugoofa gives equal importance to both prose and poetry. While literary forms like the short story, reportage, essay and sketch find a place in its pages, so do poetic expressions like marsiya (songs of mourning), masnavi (poems in rhyming couplets), rubai (nazm poetry comprising four lines), and ghazal, along with newer forms like haiku. Its poetry especially is known for its razor-sharp wit and sarcasm.
From book reviews to travel writing and satires on serious issues of the day, all writing is humorous. Kamal confesses that he employs both humour and satire for specific purposes. “Satire is more important than humour. Humour is temporary while satire goes inside a human and shakes him/her up. It stays longer and brings about change, while humour is more effectively channelled in non-serious issues,” he says.
Over the years, the special issues of Shugoofa have become cultural milestones because they are a repository of Urdu writing. Some of its specials are dedicated to great Urdu humorists and authors like Mujtaba Hussain, Narendra Luther, Ibrahim Jalees, Taqallus Bhopali, Bharat Chand Khanna, Rasheed Ahmed Siddiqui, Kanaya Lal Kapoor, Yousuf Nazim and Parvez Y Mehdi.
Other specials like the 'Hindustani Tanzo Mizah' published on the World Humour Conference in 1985 surveyed the humour in Indian languages. Collectors' editions include the 'parody issue', which dissected the various patterns of parodies and the 'drama issue', which outlined the significance of drama in different languages in a lighter vein.
For the first time in its long history, the magazine brought out a combined issue of three months (May, June and July) due to the pandemic. Otherwise, as its founder says, they are famous for being out on time, be it in baarish (rain), aandhi (storm) or otherwise. The 81-year-old founding editor is, however, sceptical of its future. “The interest in reading is generally coming down among the younger generation.” He adds wistfully, “I don’t know how long, I will be able to continue this especially if no one comes forward to take up the reigns.”
The magazine has changed with the times, sending online copies to subscribers while charging a yearly subscription of Rs 400 for printed copies. It has also used the newer generation of Urdu writers like Dr Abbas Muttaqi, Dr Mumtaz Mahdi, poet Iqbal Shana, Najeeb Ahmed Najeeb and Dr Haleema Firdaus to address contemporary issues.
Aleem Khan Falaki says: “Today, people are interested in WhatsApp and Instagram where they read less and watch more. Other forms of humour like stand-up comedy or videos are preferred. But Shugoofa will always remain the custodian and a benchmark for literature, which will make you laugh but leave you thinking about it.”
He explains the lore of Shugoofa saying:
Jo bachpan mein yaro khila hai Shugoofa
Wo pachpan mein bhi ab naya hai Shugoofa
Ye hai khahkhahon ka chmanzar markaz
Jo tanz o mizah ka bana hai Shugoofa
(A bud name 'Shugoofa' blossomed a bit too early in time
At 52 as fresh and young as it was then
And you know what it does
A humour satire gun, a machine that creates fun)
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