On 23 July, 2009 renowned Urdu poet and humourist Yusuf Nazim passed away at the age of 91. This is not supposed to be an obituary in the strictest sense, one which involves a commentary of his work or an analysis of the numerous essays he penned. It comes out of a special bond I shared with him.
I had first met him in 2005 when I used to visit my would-be wife at her Bandra house. His flat was just opposite my wife's, and I hardly ever let go a chance to say 'aadab' to him after being formally introduced to him. I was drawn naturally towards Yusuf Nazim, the person (first) and Urdu satirist (later) and always enjoyed my conversations with him.
He had retired from Government service in 1976-77 and had numerous tales and anecdotes which he shared in his inimitable style. Whenever I used to meet him, I was bogged with a unique sense of emptiness around me. It stemmed from the stark fact that I can't read or write Urdu.
In almost every conversation of ours he used to say "Arrey, Urdu nahin aati aapko", as if he had just come to know about it. As if to prove him wrong, I would hold a Urdu paper or magazine lying around him and try and read it out. "Quran sharif padhni aati hain, to thodi bahut Urdu padh sakta hoon," I would say even as he would correct and prompt the Urdu letters.
"Aasan hain. Aap jaldi seekh jaayenge." "Ji bilkul main bhi seekhna chahta hoon." It was a ritual. None of our conversations were complete without this.
Yusuf Nazim's energy and life was his pen, which even at the ripe age of 91 did most of the talking for him.
He always had some Urdu literature around him, which he would read at short intervals. His writing pad (to a young man it only reminds of exams) and pen were also his constant companions. His satire and humour were not limited to the essays and poems he wrote, they would come out in real life too.
His laugh had the innocence of an eight-year-old jovial, well-mannered boy. And just as you had thought it was all over, another comment would come enabling you to enjoy the luxury of laughter, a much sought-after commodity these days.
He was a natural satirist who had a keen interest in the happenings of the world. Our conversations would always start with current affairs and then go into various dimensions. At times he would shock me with his scathing comments on some issues and then go on to elaborate why he said it.
I have barely read his work, but would like to think I have an idea of it because I knew his personality. Or maybe I am belittling him by linking his work to his personality, the many shades of which I am possibly not aware.
Yusuf Nazim had good number of visitors and used to get invited at regular intervals at various seminars and meets. Though he was always overflowing with energy, Mumbai’s roads and his old age prevented him from attending many of them. But if he ever attended one, he would speak about it in great detail.
I once noticed a new and beautiful walking stick next to him and asked him from where did he buy it.
“Ek sahib bahar gaav gaye the. Unhone tohfa diya,” he answered. He used to get frequent visitors and had people who were in love with his work.
His age gave him the authority to speak about writers, poets and leaders of the present as well as the pre-independence era. He used to refer to Akbar Allahabadi, Mirza Ghalib, Zoe Ansari, Jinnah, Nehru, P V Narasimha Rao, Inder Kumar Gujral, Sharad Pawar, Dr Rafique Zakaria and many others.
Once he corrected me on how to pronounce “Jinnah”. My face turned pale. “Oh my God, I have pronounced ‘Jinnah’ the same way so many times,” I thought to myself. After that I became a bit reserved in my conversations with him - thinking twice before uttering a new word, lest I pronounce it incorrectly.
That was the only instance when he corrected me. But I am sure that it was not the last word he would have liked to correct, had he not remembered my ‘Jinnah’ face. He was always dressed in white ‘kurta pyjama’ while at home.
When he attended my wedding, three people went up to him to say hello because of the cap he was wearing (in pic above). “Hamen jaanna tha ki yeh sahab hain kaun,” said one of those who had walked up to him. Anyway, his face was very suggestive of his personality, with or without any external paraphernalia.
Apart from books and pens, his other constant companion was his wife, Aisha. I always felt, Daadi, as I call her along with my wife and her siblings, was the perfect match for him. They complimented each other very well. She loved ghazals and old songs. I had observed that Nazim sahib used to say with some amount of pride, whenever Daadi was away in the kitchen or in the bedroom, that Aisha knows, listens and can recite a lot of old songs.
The last time I met the couple was in the first week of June. “Bhool gaye aap Dada ko,” she told me. I had gone to see them after almost a month. “Main bhool jaaon to bhi kya hua? Yusuf Nazim ko to zamaana yaad rakhega,” I replied even as Nazim sahib smiled.
About Yusuf Nazim
Completed his BA (Urdu) and MA (Urdu) from Osmania University, Hyderabad
Member Secretary: Maharashtra State Urdu Academy
President: Maharashtra Anjuman-e-Taraqqi Urdu Hind
Received Ghalib Award in 1984
Haryana Urdu Academy gave him Mahendra Singh Bedi Award-1992
Contributed to major Urdu newspapers and magazines