Laughing At Others

by Gautam Pemmaraju

Auron par hasney ka anjaam jo hoga so hoga;

Lekin voh qaum nahin miththi jo apney aap par hansti hai.

The consequences of laughing at others will be what they are.

But the people who laugh at themselves will never be erased.

GhouseKhamkanLast week, at a screening of my documentary film (a work in progress) on the humour-satire performance poetry traditions of Dakhani, the spoken vernacular Urdu of the Deccan region, one of the first to arrive was the eighty-six year old bright-eyed, warm and charming Ghouse Mohiuddin 'Khamakha'. The above couplet of his has remained with me over the years, and its current relevance is but obvious as we see the unfolding of several disturbing things.

As fleeting relief I offer some fine examples of Dakhani Mizahiya Shayri (humour-satire poetry) here. The richness of the vernacular, drawing largely from folk traditions and situated as it is further down the interrupted path of the glorious rise of the language till 1700 CE, is expressed amply in the humour-satire poetry in the Deccan. Stricken though it may be by the vicissitudes of time, the triumph of conquests, and the contempt of the elite, the tongue still remains spoken today across the Deccan plateau.

Firstly, here's something from Mohammad Himayatullah, another senior poet and the true inheritor of the legacy.

Sawaal apna bhi poora hoinga?

Kya hai ki, kya nai ki.

Yeh bandey ku kabhi sukh hoinga?

Kya hai ki, kya nai ki.

Arre Allah, tu mashuka ku duniya mey chuda daala.

Marey baad hooran deyinga?

Kya hai ki, kya nai ki.

Will my question be answered ever?

What it is, what it's not, who knows.

Will I find some contentment ever?

What it is, what it's not, who knows.

Hey Allah, you've filled the world with beautiful maidens.

And after death, virgin angels forever?

What it is, what it's not, who knows.


The first big name in Dakhani humour-satire poetry is Nazeer Ahmed 'Dahqani' originally from Jangaon village in Nalgonda, Telangana. His nephew, Khwaja Qutbuddin, who is at the Bahadur Yar Jung Academy in Karachi, recited this pithy gem for us—the folksy desperate prayer of a man in need.

Allah izzat bahut dey.

Allah shoharat bahut dey.

Allah daulat bahut dey.

Nai deta to maut dey.

Allah, great respect, grant me.

Allah, great fame, grant me.

Allah, great wealth, grant me.

If not, then death, grant me.

Another early name is Ali Saheb Miyan. When I first met Ghouse 'Khamakha' a few years ago, he recited this; a chavva (quatrain) expressing the wry, deadpan cynicism of a rural labourer.

Haddiyaan tutey talak yettiyaan karate rahey.

Gando ki baat ayi to phirkiyaan phiratey rahey.

Umar tamaam yuich kati Ali Saheb ki.

Amma ka khaye, mamu key bakriyaan charatey rahey.

They made me labour till every bone broke.

But at payday, they spun me around like a joke.

Life passed this way for Ali Saheb Miyan.

Living off his mother; tending his uncle's goat.

This sense of wretchedness and desperation, tinged with a lush satirical colour, is found widely in this kind of Dakhani poetry. Wealth, leisure and creature comforts allow for other sorts of concerns and reflections; here though it is to do with the immediate environment.

Gilli Nalgondvi, another late poet, offers much the same:

Aabroo waley chindiyaan mey bhi tan ko dhaaptain.

Behaya ku phatti chaddi rai to kya, nai rai to kya?

Those with honour will if need be cover themselves in tatters.

But for the shameless, does it matter if he has torn shorts or not?

Sarwar Danda was much loved in Hyderabad. His poetry, which he often sung with what people recall as unmatched charm and skill, more often than not speaks for the underdog. He is one of the few to use Telugu words in his poetry. Although he mingled with the progressive writers and Communist Party members (he was a good friend to the revolutionary poet Makhdoom Mohiuddin), Danda remained aloof from all persuasions. He was his own man.

Sadaa mere gavaan po ghurbat ka mausam

na faaqon se fursat, na dum meich hai dum

Yaan dhoti bhi gat nai, vaan unku hai resham

Ide naa mana deesham, Ide naa mana deesham

Always there is here the climate of despair

No relief from starvation; strength is but rare.

Here clothes are all shreds; but velvets shine there.

This nation we share; this nation we share.


The late, great Sulaiman Khateeb was famous for being able to deftly change the tone and mood of the poem being recited. From ‘wah' to ‘aah', as is commonly said. From the comic to the solemn, in one quick move. In these lines of domestic banter, a domineering mother-in-law spars sharply with the devrani (her son's bride), when the latter evokes the great Mirza Ghalib to express her hopelessness.

Kaun Ghalib yeh tera saga hai

Ki kalejey ko thaam leti hai.

Itti deeda-dileri dekho maa!

Ghair mardaan ka naam leti hai!

Who is this Ghalib to you,

that you embrace him so true?!

Such passion with which you take, oh my!

A strange man's name, shame on you!

Digs at wives, much like in stand-up comedy, are quite popular. Most poets have a few up their sleeves. Here ‘Khamakha' transposes general male philandering onto a leader, giving it a ‘political' twist:

Ek leader sey poocha mainey, kya yeh acchi aadat hai?

Har aurat ko taktey ho tum; biwi ki bhi chahat hai.

Leader boley, tum kya jaano, yeh bhi ek siyasat hai.

Aurat meri kamzori hai, biwi meri taaqat hai.

To a leader I once asked; what habit of yours is this?

Every woman you ogle; surely, a wife also there is.

What do you know he said, a kind of politics is also this.

Women are my weakness; my strength though, the wife is.

In today's times apart from the octogenarians—Himayatullah and ‘Khamakha'—there are quite a few poets who routinely perform at regional mushairas. But as is generally observed, many of them use catch phrases, slang words and sounds, or slogans; few really do truly Dakhani poetry. Many of the contemporary poets comment on the events of our times, particularly conflict. Sardar Asar recites this couplet off and on:

Bam key nazdeek jako dekha mai,

Zafrani tha; hara thodiyich hai.

I went close to the bomb and looked at it.

It was saffron in colour; not at all green.

He has previously angered a few by lampooning murshads and sajjadas (a common theme in the poetry).

Thodi chak ko dekho bola Murshad ku

Poori sheshi pey gaya na, ghat bolkey!

I told the Murshad to take just a sip.

He downed the whole bottle in a glug!

A few poets write and sing of drink. The metaphoric taverns and intoxication of mystical poetry is of course quite widespread in both folk traditions and high literature alike. But the regional drink, the sendi, is eulogized here in a charming, if melancholic manner, by Shamsheer Kodangali, a poet who passed a few years back. True to his Telangana roots, he says:

Mera sendi mey padey dam,

dulhey-bhai salaamalaikum.

Roz jeney ki hai khat-khat,

Kab talak jaan ku jhanjhat,

Mar bhi nai jaatey chatachat

Aaj pi lengi ghataghat

Door kar lengey chalo gham

Dulhey-bhai salaamalaikum.

My drink is fierce some

Brother-friend salaamalaikum.

This day-after-day grind

Till when must I mind

A quick death would be kind

Let's drink ourselves blind

Lighten our sorrows some

Brother-friend salaamalaikum.

It would indeed be quite nice to do away with some of our current sorrows. But as always, we remind blind, and whether it is Peshawar or Paris, we are but left woefully inadequate to cope with the countless sorrows, as the fabulous Himayatullah says in the quatrain below. To his gentle wisdom I raise a toast.

Tumay viraan khandaron ku diye to bastiyaan detain.

Jo ghoday ka dua maangta, usey tum hathiyaan detain.

Aji Allah, aankhaan bhi humko bahut dena tha.

Lakhon key gham diye; roney ku sirf do ankhiyaan detain.

To lonesome ruins, a bustling hamlet you give.

He who asks for a horse; an elephant to him you give.

Hey Allah, you should have given us many eyes.

Millions of sorrows; to cry only two eyes you give.