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In reading between the lines lies the true genius of Sukumar Ray: Mir

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Noted artiste Mir Afsar Ali talks about new-age internet humour and the importance of reading in between the lines to stay sane. The Space.Ink caught up with him at the 9th Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsob, held at Oxford Bookstore.

You have done the popular series called ‘O Ma Go’ on the internet. There are several other digital creators whose jokes are centred around mothers or caricatures of mothers. Why this obsession with mothers when it comes to generating laughs?

When you look at the family as a unit, you will notice that the most interesting, confused and loveable character is that of the mother. It is something we can all identify with. Mums all over the world have to constantly face this challenge working outside, keeping up with the pressure of their jobs and then coming back home to take on additional responsibilities of being a hands-on mum as well as looking after the household. Working fathers don’t face this challenge. So, when we are looking to make content, this is a situation from where one can derive a sort of very organic humour. For example, there is someone who has made plans to go out for a movie and dinner with his/her friends. These things take time, but one’s mum will chip in from behind saying, ‘you must come home early’. This is a joke in itself! How can one come home early when he has plans! So, I feel, since the mother is such a loveable character, a lot of people have faced different humourous situations with their mums. We all have instances and all mothers are absolutely alike; they behave the same way. In terms of content creation, there is a lot of scope here.

Another trend we notice on the internet is, there is a lot of community focused humour. For example, Gujjus are like this, Punjabi aunties are like this, the Bengali bhodrolok is like this, and so on. How good or bad is this? Do you think this trend could also be borderline dangerous?  

Yes, it is borderline dangerous. The reach of social media is such that when you start reacting to something, the next line of content will be lined up for you by then. We change and switch topics at the drop of a hat. Our level of concentration has gone down. The way we surf reels on social media, we don’t really have time to talk about or talk to someone at length. We don’t even have discussions or arguments anymore. But as long as it is in keeping with the humour, and not below the belt, then I don’t see any harm in that. Bongs love being laughed at, they also enjoy good jokes. Similarly, each community living in India has particular characteristics which are humourous. If one can do it without sounding political, it is fine by me. But that thin line of respect needs to be maintained at all times. People who are very sharp, can take the humour and turn it into something entertaining. It has to be done in good taste, without offending any sensibilities.

Mir at radio station

Who has been your greatest literary influence when it comes to humour?

Sukumar Ray has been a great influence in my life. Whenever I have been down or feeling low for some reason or other, I have found myself going back to his writing over and over again. Another reason I have delved deep into his writing is because I have worked on audio versions of his short stories. So, when everyone else is celebrating 100 years of his literature, I find it immensely gratifying and a happy occasion.

Do you have any projects lined up for 100 years of Sukumar Ray?

I did have a few projects lined up when I was working with radio. We worked on a few things then, which also got executed.  But I feel that only celebrating him in his 100th year is not enough. We should be talking about his works all the time. A man of his stature who has created such wonderful content in such a short time is a man in a totally different league. Each day new names are being added to his list of readers. When it comes to Rabindranath Tagore, every day we see people adapting his poetry, his drama, his songs for films or making different kinds of content with his work. We can do the same with Sukumar Ray. If Tagore can be so contemporary and relevant at the same time, then why not Sukumar Ray! We can do a lot more with his works than we are doing now.  

Do you think people talk more about his humour rather than the depth of his works?

When it comes to literature, there is something called reading between the lines. Therein lies the true genius of Sukumar Ray. What we see in the socio-political scenario around us also reflects in his writing, which was written so long ago. He wrote about universal issues and it fits into any continent, any country and into any social structure around the world. Even after so many years, his writing has remained so relevant.

As an artiste who has worked in the comic genre for long years, what is your message to new age content creators …

In Bengali there is a saying, bhabia koriyo kaaj, koriya bhabiyo na. One must think twice before one says something. Don’t regret after you have said it, the cat is already out of the bag by then. What we mostly do is react without thinking. Whether it is what we are saying or what we are writing in the comments section of social media pages, a little bit of thought and restraint is very important. This will surely make the world a better place.

All images: Google

A writer, journalist and radio presenter based in Kolkata.

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