Laughter is a tranquiliser with no side-effects. And he dispensed it for close to half-a-century with great success. One can’t think of a comical serial, a humour mushaira or mehfil-e-latifa goyee without his presence.
Some remember him as the bespectacled Munshi Sabir Ali, the heroine’s father, in Adhikar TV serial while some know him as the Chote Nawab who regaled visitors in the annual Numaish. For a large number of Hyderabadis, he remains the uncrowned king of tanz-o-mizah (humour and satire). But, the truth is Mohammed Himayatullah is the Qutb Minar of Deccani humour in the city of Charminar.
He seized life by its witty side. Humour, for him, was not a purpose but a passion. A minute into conversation and one would realise that quite unwittingly one had been led into a funny dialogue. Right from his school days in All Saints, Himayatullah was attracted to satire and humour. He saw a humorous angle in everything. Once, when there was a severe shortage of onions in the market, he went poetic in a mushaira thus:
Meri shayeri ko rokne ande aur tamate nakko maro
Marna hai to piyaz ke dailliyan maro
(Why hurl eggs and tomatoes to stop my poetry
Throw some onion if you want to show resentment)
Nothing shows a man’s character more than what he laughs at. Himayatullah came across as a person who took life in his stride – unperturbed by its vicissitudes. Surprisingly, this humour trait in him was not a family legacy. His father, Capt. Ghulam Murtuza, was a tough Army man who was not given to wisecracking but cracking the whip. Naturally, he didn’t like his son’s wayward ways of nachna-gaana. Young Himayatullah, however, found release in occasional comic skits which he presented at school day functions. Not many know that he eked out a living as a civil contractor.
A founder member of the Fine Arts Academy, Zinda Dilan-e-Hyderabad and IPTA, Himayatullah combined in him a multifaceted personality. To use the Deccani idiom, he was a ‘har fun moula’ – actor, producer, writer, poet, satirist – all rolled into one. He started off as a parody artiste, turned into a humour poet and ended up as a successful actor on the small screen. He hit the idiot box with Musibat Hi Musibat in 1980 but, luckily, ‘musibat’ proved a good break for him. In 1992, he starred in Hansi Ka Safar which was telecast from Mumbai Doordarshan. The following year, he acted in Lekh Tandon’s serial Farman, and Adhikar.
Himayatullah’s towering personality caused an inferiority complex in many. But, his down-to-earth manners and affable nature put everyone at ease. He gained popularity as ‘Chote Nawab’, the character he donned in a play broadcast by the All India Radio, Hyderabad. The character became so popular that for many years, AIR made Himayatullah a permanent feature in its children’s programme every Sunday. Even now, the Chote Nawab skits are aired at the All-India Industrial Exhibition.
Himayatullah’s stage shows and mushairas took him to the US, London, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and Pakistan. He took part in the Urdu play Sham Dhalay Sawera at the Commonwealth Hall, London, in 1983 and the following year, he acted in another play – Qubul Kiya Mai Ne. Though he moved in the company of Deccani poet Sarwar Danda, he was inspired to write humour poetry by a Telugu street play he once saw at Aghapur. Sample the funny shayeri:
Tandana tana tana, Telugu samajh jana
Chawal ko bolte biyyam, shaitan ko bolte daiyyam
Adrak ko bolte allam, gud ko bolte bellam
For Himayatullah, humour was an effective medium to convey message. He regarded it as a sugar-coated pill which could be easily forced down on people. His book Dhanmadi contains hundreds of Deccani verses on diverse topics. See how he talks about a sensitive issue like untouchability in his poem:
Mai bade logon ke ghar ko kabbhi naee jana kate
Mai Harijan hun mandir main bhi naee ana kate
Kal subah ko do pujari aake ye bole mujhe
Ek naya mandir banana hai mai ana kate
In day-to-day life also, Himayatullah was humorous. During the ’70s, cycle riders were supposed to carry a ‘qandil’ (lamp) during night. Those violating the rule were penalised by police. Once, while returning home after watching a second show movie, Himayatullah dismounted from his bicycle near a police station as he had no lamp. Instead of moving away fast, he called out the policeman on duty. When the latter emerged, Himayatullah pleaded that he had no lamp and could he ride the cycle. The humble request invited a volley of abuses from the bleary-eyed cop.
Himayatullah’s contribution to Telangana couldn’t be ignored. When the agitation for statehood was at its peak during 1979-80, he wrote a poem which became very popular. The then Chief Minister, Kasu Brahmananda Reddy, is believed to have taken note of it.
Tan dana tana tana, we want Telangana
Khud aap ki biwi bhi chahti hai Telangana
Aji aap se akhalmand hai aapka zanana
Ab chief minister ko do kaam reh gai hain
De dena Telangana, Guntur chale jana
Bara baras se chal gaee, ab naee chalengi andi
Ab jaag gaye dekho sub veer Telangana
Though he wrote hundreds of verses, his poem ‘Aankhon ka Atiya’ (eye donation) and ‘Operation’ stand out for their uniqueness. Sample the feelings of the eye donor who is romantic by nature:
Mere ankhyan to de roon pan ki meri baat mat bhulo
Mere ankhyan tume jis ko lagye usku ye bolo
Secunderabad jako roz meri jaan ku dekho
Mere aankhon se dekho pan ki apne dil se mat dekho
Urdu poetry has innumerable verses on ‘angdai’ (lazy stretching of arms), but the humorist in Himayatullah describes this action in a different way. He says:
Tight shirt po bhar ko angdai liye
Gundiyon ka tut ko jhadna aee re
Mai to mai ab to hava bhi ched ri
Jhuk ko sadi ku pakdna aee re
This great poet received several awards, including the ‘Shayer-e-Latafat’ award from the Entertainment Association of North America and Indira Gandhi National Unity award. He was also honoured by the Aiwan-e-Urdu, Karachi. But, the government in the combined Andhra Pradesh and, now, the Telangana government has chosen to ignore him. A case of ghar ki murgi dal barabar.