Master of clean, wholesome humour (1929-2017)

Taarak Mehta, columnist, humourist, writer and playwright, best known for the column Duniya Ne Undha Chasma in Gujarati, also translated and adapted several comedies into Gujarati, was a well-known figure in the Gujarati theatre.

The humourous weekly column first appeared in Chitralekha in March 1971, and ever since has been looking at contemporary issues from a different perspective. He published 80 books over the years, three books were based on the columns he wrote in the Gujarati newspaper Divya Bhaskar, while the rest were compiled from the stories in Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah.

In 2008, SAB TVB, a popular entertainment channel in India, started a show Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah that was based on his column, and soon it became the flagship show of the channel. The daily soap brought a whiff of fresh air in an era dominated by countless saas-bahu sagas, and it remains one of the top, longest running shows on Indian entertainment television.

Born in Ahmedabad in December 1929, he died at the age of 87 years on 1 March 2017, after a prolonged illness. Even though physically very weak due to age-old problems, his wit and humour were intact. His family donated his body for medical research.

Awarded the Padma Shri in 2015, the Gujarat Sahitya Gaurav Puraskar in 2011, and Nilkanth Hasya Paritoshik in 2017, he made Gujarat laugh. A much-loved name in literary circles, he became a household name across the country, and abroad too.

It takes special ability to make people laugh, but Mehta did it effortlessly. And even when he went through troubled times in his personal life, this gifted writer didn’t let it affect his writings. Mehta even suffered from glaucoma for a long time, but this eye problem couldn’t damage his humorous ‘vision’. In spite of these setbacks in his personal life, he continued to make the nation laugh till his very last breath. A wonderful conversationalist, he could take humour to an unimagined level, and felt it should be organic. A very warm and affectionate person, sans expectations, he always welcomed everyone whole-heartedly. He eschewed politics, nor did he have any ill words to say about anyone. Selfless to the core, he didn’t crave for any awards, nor was he envious of his contemporaries. His phenomenal literary contributions helped him express his thoughts without any inhibitions. Words cannot do justice to the stature of his writing and its impact on the readers, but can only be measured by the immense love he received from them. His zest for life was inspiring. Even though unwell and old, he had a wonderful smile on his face, and mingled with people with unparalleled warmth and love.

His style of humour was adorable. Many readers, when sad, felt upbeat and positive after reading his books. A legendary writer, his contribution to Gujarati literature will always be remembered.

Mehta who came to Mumbai to be an actor, got interested in theatre and eventually found his niche as a columnist. He always explored himself as an artist. His philosophy was that when nothing seems fine, all you need is an ultah chashma to see the brighter side!

“Taarak Mehta’s work reflects India’s unity in diversity, said Prime Minister Modi, condoling Mehta’s death. “He never left the side of satire and pen.” With the demise of Mehta, who had the unique gift of viewing the world through his `ooltah chashmah’, the curtains fell on an era of clean humour and quintessentially middle-class oriented writings, which entertained millions of readers for years. Without resorting to double-meaning jokes and below the belt humour, considered necessary in today’s times by many, Mehta managed to bring a smile on the faces of readers from different generations. And he did it day after day, year after year. A big loss indeed for Gujarati literature, but he will be always in our memories.

– A. Radhakrishnan a Pune based freelance journalist, poet and short story writer, who loves to make people laugh.)