Sunday, Oct 02, 2022

Turning the World Upside Down

Taarak Mehta, one of Indian literature’s finest humorists, passed away in Ahmedabad yesterday. He was 87.

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Raghuveer Chaudhari, Jnanpith awardee

Theatre was Taarak Mehta’s first love. He was a popular name in Mumbai’s theatre circuit, where his writing was prolific. Unlike many literary giants of Gujarati of his time, Mehta held no staunch political views and steered clear of them; society and its people held more interest for him. Humour was his true calling. His column in Chitralekha became so popular that they were televised for the TV series called Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah, which was first aired in 2008. At some point in his life, Mehta also held a job with the Central government.

His writing centered on a character called Tapudo, who was a keen observer of social situations. Mehta’s bold writing earned him many admirers and those pieces marked Mehta’s metier in social satire. His eloquence was similar to another Indian humourist of Gujarati literature, Jyotindra Dave, who was an inspiration to Mehta.

After a stint in Mumbai, he moved to Ahmedabad two decades ago. Even though the last five to seven years saw him grapple with health issues, his vivaciousness for life remained.

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Asit Kumar Modi, creator and producer, Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmah

My relationship with Taarakji is many years old now, and goes all the way back to when I decided to make a show based on his popular column. I’d enjoyed his writing for a long time because of its simplicity and humour. He had the gift of observation and he could turn almost any everyday situations into material for his columns. Of course, when I finally made the show, it was different from the column, because the column didn’t really follow a story line. But Taarakji was always positive about the changes that I made. He gave us a free hand, and was very happy with how the show turned out.

Sanjay Chhel, writer and director

I’ve known Taarakji since the ’90s, when I directed one of his plays, a satire set in a newsroom, which perfectly captured his sense of humour. He was a very warm person and very encouraging. In fact, before he started writing his famous weekly column, Taarakji was well-known in Gujarati theatre circles for his adaptations of plays such as Ayn Rand’s Night of January 16th and Bernard Slade’s Same Time, Next Year. He had a liberal, progressive outlook and I believe that he brought freshness to Gujarati literature. The Padma Shri that he received in 2015 came much too late.

Bhagyesh Jha, president, Gujarat Sahitya Academy

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Gujarat has lost one of its tallest humourist in Taarak Mehta. Taarak Mehta na Undha Chashma made him popular, both within and outside Gujarat.

Taarak bhai was honoured with numerous awards, including the Padma Shri (2015) and the Gujarat Gaurav Puraskar (2011) and recently he was awarded the Ramanlal Nilakanth Hasya Paritoshik by Gujarat Sahitya Academy.

I recall when he was given the Gujarat Gaurav Puraskar, he narrated his visit to Paris, where he was introduced as a humourist to an audience. He did not speak French, and since the only famous character he knew was Charlie Chaplin, he simply performed an act that had the audience laughing. Such was his style.

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Mehta’s autobiography Action Replay is one of the most candid accounts by an author, where he opens up to his drinking habit and slips in his personal life.

Taarak bhai’s essays too are hugely popular. Pradesh na Pravase, his travelogues, and Wife in Bombay and Lafraa in London, his banter on married life, and and Dadaji, You Are Great, are read and re-read at many literary seminars on humour in Gujarati literature. He will be remembered as one of the finest human beings who made entire Gujarati mahajati (a word coined by another author, the late Chandrakant Bakshi, which means the ‘global community’) laugh.

Bharat M. Ghelani, Editor, Chitralekha

Much before Taarak Mehta became a household name with his weekly column in Chitralekha magazine, he was making a name for himself in Gujarati theatre circles. In fact, my predecessor Harkisan Mehta recognised his talent after watching one of his plays and asked him to write for the magazine. The play was called Duniya Na Oondha Chashma, and that also became the name of the column.

I’ve known him even before we began working together. When his column first started appearing in the magazine, I was in Kolkata. I was so taken with his writing that I began to write letters to him, and he would actually take the time to respond. When I moved to Mumbai years later and joined Chitralekha, I got to know him well. Despite being famous, he had no ego hassles. He was very child-like, in fact, and was a happy, positive person. Many humourists get by with jokes about their wives, but that was something he never did. His wife, Induben, does appear in his columns, but never as the butt of jokes. She is depicted as what she was in real life — his companion.

Mehta had a fine knack for taking the ordinary incidents of everyday life and spinning them into humorous tales. His characters were always ordinary people, the men and women that he observed in his mohalla. In his first column, which appeared in 1971, he addressed the popularity of Rajneesh (Osho) and his philosophy of nudity by showing how the boy Tapu (familiar to readers and viewers of the TV show), misinterprets Osho’s words and goes about naked in his locality. In this week’s issue, he has written about Trump and the confusion being experienced by Indians in the US.

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Mehta was born and brought up in Ahmedabad, but lived and worked in Mumbai for many years and the city had a profound influence on him. In the last two-three years, because of age he had been unable to physically write his column. So he would discuss what he wanted in the column and we would get someone to write it, and he would then approve the copy.

I have known him for the last 30-odd years and he remained the same till the end, with his boyishness, keen observations and sense of humour, humility and generosity.

First published on: 02-03-2017 at 12:11:22 am
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