Literary notes: Remembering the once-famous humorist Haji Laq Laq

Pakistan Press Foundation

“THE best fame is a writer’s fame: it’s enough to get you a table at a good restaurant, but not enough that you get interrupted when you eat,” said Fran Lebowitz, the American writer known for her satirical remarks.

But writers are not famous enough here in our society to get even a table, let alone being interrupted while eating. In fact some of our writers have to scramble to put a square meal on their own table, that is, if they have one at all. But fame, it seems, is after all a strange phenomenon, especially for writers. Though many toil and moil for it for quite long, the goddess of celebrity barely winks at them, while others find fame knocking at their door, and greatness, according to words ascribed to Shakespeare, is “thrust upon them”. And there are some writers who enjoy the spotlight of imminence for a while and then are lost out to the darkness of anonymity, almost forever.

Haji Laq Laq belonged to the third order: he was a well-known columnist, journalist, poet, translator and humorist of Urdu. Quite famous in the 1940s and 1950s, after his death in 1961, all about him was forgotten and today many may not have any idea who Haji Laq Laq was.

Born Ata Muhammad on September 14, 1898, in Patti, a town some 50 kilometres from Lahore and now a part of Indian Punjab, Haji Laq Laq could get little formal schooling, but spoke many languages quite well. Inspired by Maulana Nawab Deen Ramdasi — a Sufi, religious scholar and Naseem Hijazi’s father-in-law — Ata Muhammad added the word Chishty to his name. He joined the British army in 1919 and was sent to Iraq during the First World War. He already knew Persian well and during his stint in the British army he learnt English, too. According to Shorish Kashmiri, at the end of the war Haji Laq Laq married an Iraqi woman. This made him fluent in Arabic as well. He stayed on in Iraq, but his mother grew impatient. She went to Iraq and brought him back to Lahore in 1933.

Before coming back to Lahore, he had taken a different name and had been writing short stories for Urdu’s literary magazines with the penname of Abul’ala Chishty. His first short story was published in Nairang-i-khayal, a prestigious literary magazine published from Lahore. Once back in Lahore, he worked for different newspapers and magazines, such as Taj, Imaan, Ihsaan and Shahbaaz as editorial staff, one after another. His ability to translate from Arabic into Urdu came in handy for translating articles and pieces of news from Arabic newspapers. But what made him truly famous was writing humorous poetry and humour columns for Zamindar, Zafar Alik Khan’s famous newspaper that Haji Laq Laq finally joined. At that time he adopted the penname of Haji Laq Laq. In addition to satirical articles, he wrote Adab-i-kaseef, a parody of the then popular romanticised poetic style known as ‘adab-e-lateef’. Then his “modern ghazals” and his column ‘Laqlaqa’ became so popular that people forgot his real name.

Though Haji Laq Laq’s humour is not subtle and consists mostly of word play and jest, his wit shines at times. He relishes humour of situation too and some of his stories remind one of Mirza Azeem Baig Chughtai for their playfulness. Writing to earn a living affected the standard of his writings and sometimes they become a run-of-the-mill affair, but they do reflect the political, literary and social issues of his times, an era that was marked by numerous ethnic, religious, lingual, political and social issues. The tussle between Muslim League and Indian National Congress, the political unrest and Lahore’s civic problems were the topics that are often discussed in his pieces.

Haji Laq Laq was an Urdu and Persian poet of considerable merit. He launched his own newspaper, but it could not survive. In his book Daranti aur doosre mazameen, Haji Laq Laq has offered some glimpses of his autobiography, especially details about his taking part in the First World War with his ‘daranti’, or sickle, which he had taken with him as a symbol to tell the world, as put

by himself, that even Indian farmers had joined the forces to fight that war. Laqlaqa, Adab-i-kaseef, Minqaar-i-Laq Laq, and Taqdeer-i-Kashmir are collections of his poetry. Some of his other books are Awaaz-i-Laq Laq, Parvaaz-i-Laq Laq, Haji Laq Laq ke afsane, Sarkash roohen and Adam-ul-lughaat.

His last days were miserable as he was penniless and ill.

Haji Laq Laq died in Lahore on Sept 27, 1961.


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