Surendra Sharma on being different, and everything under the sun
“Anybody can crack jokes if they are not frustrated,” says Surendra Sharma. Humorist, poet and radio presenter, Sharma is the aam aadmi’s bard. “The best way not to be frustrated is not to aspire for anything. I’ve always worked on my own so I’ve never been frustrated at not being promoted,” he added.
Doing stand up comedy since his student days at Shri College of Commerce in the sixties, Sharma has joked his way through much contemporary India’s memory. He is a humorist, but a conservative. “(Cartoonist) Aseem (Trivedi) should not have shown parliament as a toilet. Parliamentarians may be dirty, but not the institution; our hands may be dirty, but the flag we hoist isn’t. Trivedi maybe young but he is not mad,” he says.
Even in humour, Sharma punches stay above the belt. “I don’t attack individuals but personas and institutions, in a way that even the victim laughs about it and learns from it. We (traditional humorists) laugh at ourselves, the new generation laughs at others. You can say we are the classical dancers of humour, while modern stand-up comedians are cabaret dancers,” he feels.
His inspiration for jokes comes from the daily rigmarole in Delhi. Any new comer who travels around the Capital, eats at its food stalls, travels in its buses and shops in its old markets is taken aback by the instant wit of the common Dilliwali and Dilliwala.
Sharma, who hails from Mahendragarh in Haryana, attributes this marvellous ability of the city to its Haryanvi roots. “We are jovial people and we populate Delhi. We are people who take life as it comes, and joke about it too even if no one is listening,” he explains.
Speaking before his departure to the Vishwa Hindi Sammelan in Johannesburg, Sharma rues the fact that officious “pure” Hindi has corrupted what he calls the popular language. “Only the Hindi spoken by the peasant and the worker will remain popular, not the vidvaan Hindi they write in government offices. ‘Train late hai’ is Hindi. ‘Railvaahan vilambit hai’ is harsh to hear. That is because those who create it think in English and translate it in Hindi,” he opines.
In the nineties Sharma’s ran a popular column in Sandhya Times called Atpate Sawal, Chatpate Jawaab. “I enjoyed getting letters from readers those days. Nowadays on Big FM people send me texts. The quality of letters was much better. And letters had a particular identity of the writer according to his or her age group,” he reveals.
On being told that videos of his shows are available on Pakistani websites, Sharma pleaded ignorance as he is a novice in all matters digital. But he asks, “Why does a music contest have a name like Surkshetra. Are sports and music, war? Bharat ne Pak ko cricket mein raundh diya? (India tramples Pakistan in cricket) What sort of language do TV anchors use these days?”
All the talk of scams these days has given humorists enough cannon fodder. Sharma finds the uproar contrived. “Do we want an honest PM or an efficient PM? Is honesty the only virtue? People ask me for advice. My advice is stay away from those who give advice,” he says.