This is the fourth in an eight-part series on Urdu fiction by contemporary Indian writers. Rakhshanda Jalil is the curator and translator for this series.
KANHAIYALAL KAPOOR (1910-1981): Kapoor's best-known collection titled Sang-o-Khisht contained essays such as 'Apne Watan Mein Sab Kuch Hai Pyare' ('We Have Everything in our Country, My Friend’) and 'Qaumi Libas' (‘National Dress’) – the latter was a spoof on the correspondence between Gandhi and Jinnah. Kapoor turned his pen towards his fellow writers, parodying the fare that was being passed off as ‘new poetry’ in 'Ghalib Jadeed Shoara Ki Ek Majlis Mein' (‘Ghalib in an Assembly of Modern Poets’). Several contemporary literary, social and political issues became the subject of Kapoor’s satire, including the powerful literary group known as the Progressive Writers’ Movement (to which he belonged), in a letter-like essay 'Tarraqui Pasand Dost ke Naam' (‘To a Progressive Friend’).With great mastery over wit, humour and satire, he perfected the technique of the anti-climax. One of his finest sketches is ‘Tutor’, which seamlessly blends humour and pathos. The post-Partition period in India gave him material to sharpen his tools, as in ‘Shan Shan Shan’, ‘Hijrat’ (‘Migration’), ‘Gunde’ (‘Goons’), ‘Professor Danish’, ‘Urdu Ka Akhri Daur’ (‘The Last Phase of Urdu’), ‘Film Director Ke Naam’ (‘To a Film director’), or ‘Sansani’ (‘Wildfire/Gossip’) . Using both prose and verse, Kapoor could create delightful parody from even the most tense or fraught of situations.
I Have Done My Bhartiya-karan | Kanhaiyalal Kapoor
I said to myself: Why don’t I do my own Bhartiya-karan — that is, ‘Indianise’ myself — before someone else thinks of doing it? However, the first problem was my name. Perhaps you don’t know; my name is Iqbal Chand. It occurred to me that ‘Iqbal’ is an Arabic word. What kind of nationalism is this, to live in India and have an Arabic name? And so I changed my name to Kangaal Chand. As it happens, this name is far better suited to my financial condition, considering ‘kangaal’ means ‘poor’. And why just me; it suits the rest of my country too.
A second problem arose, that of dress. There was no trace of Indianness in the pants, coat and tie I wore. In fact, all three were a reflection of my slave mentality. I was amazed that I had worn them all this while. I decided to wear pajamas instead of pants. But then a certain Persian person told me that the pajama has come to India from Iran. And so I began to wear dhoti and kurta. But not a kameez as the word ‘kameez’ too is of Arabic origin and it reeks of the stench and stink of an Arab!
The third problem was that of hair! After all, what is it if not treachery against the country, a blatant form of anti-nationalism, to keep one’s hair fashioned in the English style? I instructed the barber to keep only one lock of long hair at the back of my head and shave off all the rest. He did exactly that. I had seen images from ancient India showing men with long and lush moustaches. Following their example, I began to grow my moustache. When my friends saw this large moustache on my somewhat small face, they assumed that I had put on a fake moustache possibly because I was acting in some play. Forget friends, when I saw myself in this new look, I began to feel that I had been created not by God, but Shankar, the cartoonist. But I did not lose heart.
One has to do all manner of things to be Indian.
Now we come to my eye-glasses. I asked several pandits: ‘Is there any mention of eye-glasses in the Ramayana or the Mahabharata?’ They said: ‘In those days, people didn’t eat vanaspati ghee and so their eye sight did not weaken while they were still young.’ I asked: ‘Did Sugreev, Kunbhakaran, Dushasan and all the rest have such good eye sight that they never felt the need to wear eye glasses?’ The pandits replied, ‘All of them applied kajal in their eyes.’ I found the solution to my problem. I took off my spectacles and began to apply kajal. As a consequence, when it got dark, I began to mistake a rope for a snake and a goat for a dog. And when I attempted to read a book the words turned into black doodles. In a few days, even during the daytime, I began to mistake one thing for another. I consulted an eye doctor. He advised, ‘If you don’t wish to become blind, kindly wear your spectacles.’
‘But spectacles are not Indian?’
‘How does it matter? This watch that you have strapped on your wrist is not Indian, and this cigarette that you are smoking isn’t Indian either.’
‘You have rightly reminded me. From tomorrow I shall smoke a huqqah.’
‘What have you decided about the watch?’
‘I shall take it off.’
‘And if you have to know the time?’
‘I shall ask someone.’
‘Do as you please, but kindly wear your spectacles, or else you will lose your eye sight.’
Thinking that I would simply add to the number of blind people in India if I were to become blind, I went back to wearing my glasses.