Hyderabad and humour go together as well as haan and hau. Serish Nanisetti discovers the humour in its many avatars

“A Malayali lady gets down from a rickshaw in Tarnaka and offers Rs. 5. The rickshaw puller speaking Telugu wants only Rs. 2. And the squabble begins. Then a Hyderabadi steps in and solves the problem and walks away with Rs. 3,” says Sukhbir Singh who has just penned his book on Humour from Hyderabad.

He is not the first one to discover the rich vein of humour that bubbles in the city with a distinct language, culture and lifestyle. In an earlier age, Mahmood took the Hyderabadi humour-laced language to the Bombay film industry. But even before that, in 1962, a clutch of young men came together to start an organisation called Zinda-Dilan-e-Hyderabad (The lively hearts of Hyderabad) to promote humour. In November 1968, they took one step further when they launched an Urdu magazine devoted exclusively to humour helmed by Syed Mustafa Kamal. In a world that seems obsessed with doom and gloom, the magazine is like a ray of sunlight in darkness. “Perhaps it has got to do with the Deccani language that is spoken here which has absorbed influences from Telugu and Marathi. We have more poetry, less prose,” says Kamal about the magazine which can be glimpsed online at shugoofa.com.

So, is the humour from Hyderabad changing as more people flock from outside to the city? “No. Change is constant. Deccani was the first literary language developed in the south, later, even after the tumultuous advent of Mughals, Hyderabadis didn't lose their sense of humour. The legacy of humour is now carried forward by women who stay at home and whose language doesn't get corrupted in the short term,” says Kamal. “The humour can be triggered by the language, occasion or the event but it is never sexual,” he says. Sukhbir Singh pegs the sense of humour to the leisurely pace of life in Hyderabad. “People here are still not in a tearing hurry. They are not pushy and there are multiple comic interactions. When I first came here I was taken in by the people who laughed easily,” says Sukhbir.

Theatre person Rashmi Seth recalls her association with the popular Choto choti batein team — the late Ahmad Geli, Himayatullah, Afhana, Aslam Faroshouri, and says they truly reflected the spirit of Hyderabad through their programme on All-India Radio, Hyderabad station, and later doing live programmes at the annual All-India Industrial Exhibition , which would attract hordes of visitors to stop and enjoy the humour on loud speakers in between munching mirchi bajjis and bombai mithai.

This sense of humour is not lost on Telugu film makers. The recent Ala Modaliandi has a slice of Hyderabad that everyone can relate to. The man drives his car and bumps into the one in front and the quarrel begins till the heroine gets down and asks the man his name tells her name and both walk away with a smile. The humour is being taken to a different level by a clutch of film makers from the city after the success of Hyderabad Blues (Dil pe mat le yaar) Angrez (chindi choron ko dekh loonga). Even the cuss words in the movie evoke laughter instead of rancour.

The ultimate place to savour a slice of Hyderabadi humour is the annual Industrial Exhibition where the announcements, advertisements and the milling humanity create the perfect recipe for a laugh. The second best place is the interaction with autorickshaw drivers!