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Scents of humour in Hades.

LAHORE: Lahore's best-known citizen Munnu Bhai, ne Munir Ahmad Qureshi, will be remembered for his funny bone commenting on what state and society were experiencing in the name of ideology and nationalism. Good-looking in his old age and stricken with a stutter that never affected communication, he spent his entire life writing newspaper columns and TV drama series and reciting cathartic poems in a Punjabi idiom that only he could write. His famous long one Ehtasab dey chief kommishnar saab bahadur will live forever in the memory of Lahorites like the poems of Ustad Daman before him. He was the bard of the spoken idiom of Punjab.

He fell on the wrong side of Pakistan's "mission statement" because of his Marxist views. His friend Alan Woods wrote on his death: "Munnu Bhai was a very humane person with a profound sense of the injustice of class society. He always took the side of the poor and the oppressed against the rich and the powerful, and did whatever he could to express his indignation in his writings and poetry. As a progressive journalist in the 1960s, he played an active role in the revolutionary struggle against the Ayub Khan dictatorship and eventually became very close to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Chairman and founder of the Pakistan People's Party. He wrote stage plays for the movement and he was involved in the numerous political rallies that took place in those turbulent times".

He kept his fire under the bushel for survival in a rapidly Islamising state but the lampoon in his popular TV series Sona-Chandi endeared him to the masses and the state was compelled to recognise him in 2007 with the medal of Pride of Performance when his creative pinnacle was long past. His series of plays like Dasht about Balochistan's deprivation never failed to rebuke. His socialist worldview became more intense as Pakistan plunged into its human rights Hades but his friend Woods recalled:

"Always a man of the left who held the most advanced and progressive views, Munnu Bhai showed great interest in the ideas of Marxism which he frequently used in the pages of Jang newspaper for which he worked as a columnist for many years. During our many discussions about politics Munnu Bhai was fascinated by the life and ideas of the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky as also was his friend and comrade Javed Shaheen who later translated Trotsky's biography My Life into Urdu. Both Munnu Bhai and Javed Shaheen became active sympathisers of the International Marxist Tendency and through their writings they attracted many young people in Pakistan to the ideas of Marxism and Trotskyism."

Javed Shaheen, the other Marxist, also lived with a stutter that only increased the effect of his speech. Munnu Bhai had many devotees that he attracted through his 50 years of journalism, starting as a translator of English news for his Urdu daily, then writing a column, with screenplays on the side, that made him a household name. He stood up for women's rights, and in his Sundus Foundation looked after abandoned and deprived children till his death. He is today compared with Habib Jalib as the "awakener" of Punjab with the proviso that Munnu Bhai was a humourist who kept the sunny side up when disagreeing with the status quo.

His most quoted poems were Ow wi khoob deharay san, Ajay qiamat nai ayee, Sufnay sown na dainday and Ehtasab dey cheef komishner saab bahadur, but it is the last-named that has become more relevant today as the state enters its terminal phase of internal decline because of its religious misdirection and international isolation:

Munnu Bhai was known to be a stalwart of the Left

"Mr. Chief Commissioner of Accountability!

You are asking thieves, robbers and murderers,

About thieves, robbers and murderers,

What can they tell you, and why should they tell you?

Who will tell you that his son is a robber,

And his brother has been accused of murder,

My uncle looted the properties of others, and my aunt,

Embezzled the savings of poor people, while

My uncle was a policeman thieving on the side,

"Has anyone ever stood witness to his own crimes,

Who will put the noose of death around his own neck,

Everyone here is spying on others, so stop asking thieves

How many thieves they can catch.

It is hard to ask a snake for an antidote,

As grabbing a piece of flesh from a lion's mouth,

Neither will buzzards give you the catch from their beaks,

"Deeds buried in files are hard to dig out.

Our homes were looted, our corpses strewn in our yards,

And our honour was dragged through the mud, and

We kept knocking on the door of justice,

Hiding our wounds from dogs and crows.

Please make the wounds in our hearts as witnesses,

And make us witnesses to our misfortunes.

Hungry, naked people reciting the kalima

are lying on the roadside and wondering what is meant

by the word 'Pakistan'.

(Extract)

Munnu Bhai was completely untouched by the hatred and prejudice radiating from the "nazria" of Pakistan. The Punjabi man - who backs state nationalism more whole-heartedly than the other nationalities of Pakistan - agreed with his worldview when he talked to him. On one occasion there was spontaneous applause when he revealed to a Punjabi audience a fact about his life that was not known: "I have been a foster brother of a Sikh boy, Gurdutt Singh. His mother nursed me for 15 days or so, because my own mother was sick at that time".

Waqar Younis, the world-record-holding Pakistani cricketer, was least expected to appreciate his genius, but even he was not left untouched by his death and tweeted: "Munnu Bhai we'll miss you dearly. Sona Chandi, his famous drama, can never be forgotten". Unlike many rightwing ideologically safe intellectuals of Lahore, Munnu Bhai was less blessed with the bounties of state approval, but on his going his funeral was one of the biggest known to Lahore.
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Publication:Friday Times of Pakistan (Lahore, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jan 27, 2018
Words:999
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