Ayoub Sabir, a retired head master, who has written twenty books in three languages, is a known satirist. He tells Heena Muzzafar that art helps a society stay connected with its roots.
Kashmir Life (KL): How has humour evolved in Kashmir?
Ayoub Sabir (AS): Humour has played an important role in shaping Kashmir’s political conscience. It has been here since ages. Local humorists, who were mostly illiterate during old days, would highlight issues concerning society. There used to be gatherings in mohallas, villages, and even in towns, where humorists would entertain people. Those gatherings were special.
KL: With modern means of entertainment available easily, do you feel traditional humorists have lost their relevance?
AY: It is not entirely true. I think, only the mode of listening has changed. Earlier people used to gather around humorists and get both entertained and educated. Now they gather around a television or a radio for the same.
I believe, in coming years humorists will the most sought after people, as we live extremely stressful lives.
KL: But are traditional forms of entertainment losing audience to modernity?
AY: I agree. It is sad. The most beautiful forms of traditional arts like Ladishah, Bandehpather and Tasnehgor etc. have lost their sheen as people practicing it are gone. This is because artist cannot sustain their families on these arts now, which was not the case earlier. It is ironic that nobody cares about these people anymore. There are just a few such artists left now, who too live on the margins.
KL: Is there any hope in sight for these artists and the arts they used to practice?
AY: There are a number of agencies who are trying their best to save different forms of traditional arts in Kashmir.
These artists, though a very few left now, are invited by radio and television for programmes. These programmes help encourage these artists, both financially and emotionally. It also helps the art to survive in people’s memory, which is good.
KL: How important is it to save the traditional art?
AY: Any form of art helps a society stay connected with its roots. Likewise it is important to save ones mother tongue, as it is part of our identity. Art doesn’t only entertain people but exhibit their emotions as well. It is important to have such forms of arts in a society like ours. Art becomes an important toll of resistance against oppression. Thus it becomes important to save ones art, language, traditional practices, culture etc. as everything is interlinked.
KL: Is it possible to pass on the art to the next generation?
AY: Art cannot be taught at all. It is gifted. Allah has bestowed every individual with something unique, which makes us distinct. But at the same time one cannot be master of everything. In order to save different forms of art from becoming extinct, these people, who are bestowed by Allah with something unique, need to be respected and nurtured. Then only art can survive the onslaught of cultural aggression and time. As far as humour is concerned, I believe a person who has experienced tragedy closely in life can create good humour.
KL: What is the difference between humour and dark humour?
AS: Well, as we know humour is primarily aimed at making people laugh by speaking, acting or drawing sketches etc. An artist, or humorist, can make his audience laugh by his actions, words, jokes, or by using a situation or even a tragedy etc. However dark humour is cruel, even morbid, and could be offensive to some, as it uses slangs etc. to make people laugh. Given the sensitive nature of our society this form of humour has almost no takers here.
KL: Does your art reflect the changing fortunes and misfortunes of Kashmir?
AS: I am 80, and I have witnessed ups and downs in our society and as a humorists. But there is not a single incident that I have missed, or have not noted down and presented in a funny but truthful manner. So whatever Kashmir has witnessed, be it oppression, development, good or bad, beautiful or ugly, has been duly recorded and presented. As a humorist, I draw my inspiration from the society I live in. I too am part of the same setup, after all.
KL: A humorist is often critical of the state and its bureaucracy, true?
AS: I recall a poem which I recited at a high profile Mushaira Mehfil held at Pahalgam. It was critical of favouritism prevalent in the government.
Bueziww, kitch hish gayi pabandi
Rate lista goew bawas kueth,
Mulazim tim gayi laginn aendii,
Interview goew nawas kuethh..
(Listen, strictness is in place,
Just to keep rate lists in check,
But, when it comes to providing jobs,
Interviews are held for formality, only.
KL: Does you think humour is the best way to highlight sensitive issues?
AY: A thought provoking message delivered a pinch of humour and wit is often effective. Had it not been effective, this form of art must have died its natural death long ago. But the fact it has survived the tests of time and suppression proves my point. The best thing about humour is you can say anything without offending anybody. However, I see the type of audience and mould my speech accordingly.
KL: How difficult is it to write humour? Any specific element one needs to keep in mind?
AY: A piece of humour should educate, inform and as well as entertain. Then only it is complete. I try to keep a piece of writing simple, without using any element of absurdity etc. The basic idea is to make people laugh; education and information part is bonus.
KL: What do you like to write most?
AY: When it comes to writing, I do not confine myself to one particular thing. I have written a poem in Kashmiri titled Kuekurr. It covers almost all aspects of the society and is widely celebrated.
I have also written a book titled: ‘Kalam bai Nuqteh’ in Kashmiri. It is a 132 pages book without a single full stop. The entire book is a single sentence you can say.
KL: Please tell us more about your work?
AY: I have written twenty books so far: one in English, two in Urdu and seventeen in Kashmiri. Besides, I have written a number of poems for children.
KL: You have been an academician as well. How was the journey?
AY: I have served for 34 years in the education sector and retired as head master of a middle school. I advocated play way method in the schools. In 1985, I got Best Teacher Award from the State government. In 2013, I got Bal Sathiya Purskar for my book ‘Gulalan Shaadmani’.
I have written a book in Urdu titled Rubaiyaat. It has 390 short poems. The book is a comprehensive guide for a child who wants to master Urdu language.
KL: You have been vocal about many social issues. Right?
AY: I often talk about issues like drug addiction, conversion of agricultural land etc. These issues are close to my heart, as I cannot see our future generations in chaos.
I am being asked to write slogans for various awareness programmes. It was me who gave Beti Bachao Beti Padao slogan.