Ibn-e-Insha 1927 – 1978
Ibn-e-Insha is a 20th century Urdu language writer of great merit – his real name was Sher Muhammad Khan. He was the contemporary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, but his poetry is apolitical. His travelogues are rife with interesting encounters and witty descriptions of peoples and places. Pitras Bukhari and Shafiq-ur-Rehman were his peers in satire but he has always been unmatched in the density of humor per square page, and it was here that he forgave no one including himself.
He was a civil servant but his passion lay in writing. He died of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 1978.
His well-known works include:
Urdu Ki Aakhri Kitab; Khumar-e-Gandum (humor/satire)
Ibn-e-Batoota Kai Taqub Mein; Chaltai Ho To Cheen Ko Chalo; Awara Gard Ki Diary; Duniya Gol Hai; Nagri Nagri Phira Musafir (travelogues)
Iss Basti kai ik Koochay Mein; Chand Nagar; Dil-e-Wehshi (poetry collections)
Khat Insha-jii Kai (letters)
The following piece, translated in its entirety, is taken from the book, “Khumar-e-Gandum”, published posthumously in September 1980 under the supervision of his brother, Sardar Mehmood.
I chose to translate this piece because I felt that at least here, I would be able to transport some humor across the language barrier.
This piece is inspired by the meaningless notices, announcements and addresses by any typical lickspittle of any establishment, and turned to gold by Insh-ji’s cheerful magic.
An Address – by a Selfless Volunteer
From Ibn-e-Insha’s Khumar-e-Gandum
‘Your honor! The organization of Pakistan’s selfless volunteers, “Selfless Volunteers of Pakistan” (registered) greets you with the bottom of her heart. Your Honor! The demand of our day is that all patriotic Pakistanis should unite to strengthen the arms of the government. Therefore, the organization in question is also prepared to strengthen the arms of the current government most sincerely – just as beforehand, she strengthened the arms of President Ayub, the arms of President Yahya, in fact, the arms of all previous governments.
‘Your Honor! In addition to strengthening the arms of the government, another peculiarity of our organization is the readiness to leap into the arena. Therefore, even today, we are ready to leap into the arena on the slightest signal from our beloved President, provided that the arena is layered, from here to there, with cotton-stuffed cushions, mattresses and carpets. Without these, leaping into the arena can be hazardous. Someone might get hurt, which, in the light of the country’s current situation, would be inappropriate.
‘Your Honor! The organization in question, i.e. “Selfless Volunteers of Pakistan” (registered) has opened its doors to everyone; because there is nothing inside – once there was, but it was embraced with open arms and carried away by the volunteers. Now, just the door’s signboard is left, which, the present organization is willing to dedicate to the nation. It is made of solid shisham wood. Launderers can use it for rapping dirty clothes; those who are not launderers can bang their heads on it; it can also be used for washing corpses – in fact, corpses can bathe themselves over it on the basis of self-help.
‘Your Honor! All workers of our organization are selfless in the extreme. If someone considers rewarding them for their efforts, they readily come to blows. This, your humble servant, Mian Faqir Muhammad, secretary general of the organization in question is a most self-effacing man. He does not seek any favor from you, except the favor of rank; and has no greed, except the greed for money. Past establishments tried their utmost, but could not buy him. First they offered ministry, but he kicked it away. Then he was offered ambassadorship but he kicked that away as well. This humble servant has kicked away riches, status, fame, and countless other things which he cannot presently recall. Alas, now his leg is no longer capable of kicking anything else. Out of habit, your humble servant once imparted such a kick to a dog – who did not understand metaphors and could not appreciate the spirit of sacrifice. He bit me in response – an act befitting mankind.
‘Your Honor! As your humble servant has explained, your humble servant seeks no personal gain from you or the government, although if he is allotted the large shop in the corner of the city’s Main Market, still under construction, your humble servant’s spirit of selfless service to the nation could flourish by the day, because beside the chairmanship of the organization in question – using which for personal gains he considers adulterating – your humble servant also runs a small personal business by the name of “Faqir Stone Works”. Our beloved president has ordained the other day that we should all work hard – work hard, even “with a stone bound to the belly”. Hence, your humble servant’s firm has started supplying stones on discounted rates. These stones are cut from the hill of Manghu Pir, and therefore, aside from being hard, they are also rife with mercy and blessing. There are other utilities for them as well, aside from being bound to bellies. Beloveds use it as their threshold stone and make lovers rub their foreheads and noses over it. Aside from rubbing foreheads and noses, it can also be used to grind various spices. Our stones are also efficacious for suicide. Anyone jumping into the river with this stone bound to his body never resurfaces, while the callous society is left grating. We possess countless certificates from suicides verifying that they got the job done with a single stone, setting themselves free from the ‘prison of life and confinement of sorrow’ [Ghalib]. Now send a few stones on our behalf to so and so. We bear the expense of transporting them from our shop to the riverside, and do not charge the customer.’
‘Your honor, I forget which poet said it, and said it well, “Death is better than such a victual as mars man’s flight” [Iqbal]. Indeed, the root of all evil is food, i.e. grain, etc. At this point in time, our nation does not need victuals so much as stones. Take this little example. One of our forebears, whose name I am forgetting, was driven out of paradise because of a grain of wheat – no one has been driven out because of stones till date. The above-mentioned poet considers stones more valuable than victuals for a reason. The beautiful stones from our shop are used for building tombs of the dying, not tombs of the living. Whoever once acquired from us his gravestone became our admirer forever. Your honor! To you as well, we are presenting an undated gravestone. You will need it when the time comes. If you would kindly accept…’