Scribe’s Rise as Satirist

RJ Vijdan during the comic act. KO Photos by Special Arrangement.

Bereft of slapstick comedy, the radio jockey’s social media jesting is setting him apart from the crowd of comics.

HIS latest performance shows him in a quintessential koshur avatar down with heavy Iftaar meal.

In the state of trance, he delivers puns with precision. Sans sounding off-putting, he states: “I’m ok, I’m ok. It’s just that I ate too much of rice.” Before ending the act, he effortlessly delivers his best line: “Was it kabab or cocaine!”

Days before this hilarious act, the humorist was playing true to his social media jovial character. It was a wilting afternoon fasting time, and he was playing cricket in his office pathway with zest and zeal of a teenager. The office overlooked the City’s forlorn at Hyderpora area.

But while he batted and remained oblivious of his growing online cult, those in streets were laughing their hearts over his enactments. He lately created one such moment at the ghats of Dal Lake where Javed Ahmad, a middle-aged man had arrived for a recreational run on Srinagar’s cherished trail.

Just ahead of him were his ‘fitness friends’ maintaining a pretty normal speed. “You’ve to see this!” he called them out.

Wonderstruck, three of his friends halted their run and gave a collective sense of tentative confusion and an exhilarated look, before a calm but vigorous voice overtook the languorous surrounding of the British-built Boulevard.

There was a young, bearded and a handsome man dressed in a crewneck sweater, with a zip down, fur-coated jacket over it. He was sitting in a room, with a dustbin next to his ear, impersonating it as a telephone receiver. The man appeared to have no idea of what he was doing, until his alluring voice buzzed with: “Hello..Haan, Bashir Sa’eb!

Then, he knew exactly what he was doing and immediately turned into a fictional vexed Kashmiri character, who comically made wrath of an Indian Director’s “Vegetarian Wazwan” comment.

Yiha Chu aasi hui (He’s just like us),” Javid blurted laughingly while others nodded in acceptance.

The man with dustbin was RJ Vijdan, sharing a unique satirical criticism on his Instagram profile.

“After the classic characters like Aha’ed Raaz and Bashir Kotur, this young man [Vijdan] has a great promise to woo the masses by his satirical character,” said Javid, as he kept on chatting to his mates about the RJ’s funny but true self.

Back in his office where he took a break from a quick refreshing bat-ball session, Vijdan turned somber—a characteristics of a comedian who owns the stage and time—to assert that a great performance is an amalgam of satire and political awareness.

This RJ is a great believer of abatement before recording his trademark funny videos. For more than four years since he has been in show business, he has already allured his comrades by his early punch to the work.

“Vijdan is like a fighter who kicks open the dressing room door before a fight, enters in and then laughs-out unnecessarily, creating a jolly mood,” said Ibrahim Mussa, Vijdan’s close-friend.

There has always been a strong tradition in Kashmiri humour of “remaining hostile to the world”, what one may call as an underdog comedy done by a nebbish guy struggling to gain mass attention.

But Vijdan is neither nebbish nor an underdog.

He’s a harsh power confronter, who admires calmness in his act, influxed with an enormous quantity of finesse. A unique finesse, is what makes the main subject of Vijdan’s resilient performance against the hostile world.

During an act

Being born as a sole son to a privileged Bandipora family, Vijdan Saleem’s father had thought that his “chubby” son would live his life akin to a prince’s but by then the turbulent times had already shifted sands towards a tumultuous future for these 90’s generation kids—many of whom, years later, were forced to leave their “meadows” towards a new life in the busy world of Delhi and Mumbai.

In 2010, when another bloodshed was smearing the streets of Kashmir, Vijdan Saleem was enrolled as a Bachelors of Arts in Pune’s renowned Fergusson College and then in 2014, Jamia Millia was the resting stop for him.

After serving as a student for 6 years—an experience he refers to in a very cheerful manner—Vijdan wanted to be a journalist. He became a newsman and worked for many business standard newspapers operating outside the valley but by then this struggling scribe who rallied in the alleys of Delhi, had already lost his interest in this self-chosen field as the love for his home, the aroma of city alley’s and above all his intense longing for his mother with whom he terms his relationship “joined at the hips”, had already forced Vijdan to travel back to his homeland.

It was in Kashmir, Vijdan’s career really had started to take-off or as many of his tribesmen say “It was here where his life came together.”

Vijdan’s “Anti-Taboo acts”, as masses refer to it, has never been an aficionado of Kashmir’s theoretical comedy and he himself remains highly uninterested in theorizing his satire. This all has developed after his body of work maintains a “Street Smartity”.

To refer to Vijdan, as Kashmiri people always have, “a street smart guy”, won’t be perhaps a little far-fetched. When in old times, the Kashmiri comics were struggling hard to press towards a new way of making people laugh, they lacked an important ingredient for producing a legendary satire cuisine, it was “street smartness’, that years later their own tribe member introduced among the masses through his sketch-comedy.

“I’m the same guy who had used love as a tool for comedy and at the same time I’ve used Ramzan in my satire,” said Vijdan while making a log-sheet for his upcoming show.

Being street-wise isn’t rocket science, he continued. “A satirist needs to always check the people’s meter before delivering anything and should keenly observe the acceptance quotation of his act, so that his joke remains a joke without dismaying the mass.”

Vijdan’s largely anti-conservative performances aren’t just street-smart but also an amalgam of concurrent happenings and the political awareness he had developed over years.

“Everything is political in Kashmir,” he said a few seconds before recording his show. “People in Kashmir have always done satire depending on what political bent they maintained based on which they could shape their performance. I think my satire is shaped as per political ideology of majority of Kashmiris.”

During recreational times.

One late April evening, while Vijdan was requesting his colleague Nasir to have an Iftar party with him in the office, his other friends were busy watching his new upload—“Tulip-Garden Jam”, a satirical video representing a boyfriend sharing his comical ordeal with a friend.

“This guy is a genius who knows the pin-point in his acts and that’s why his viewership increases day by day because his content makes them crave for his next delight,” said a close-friend of Vijdan.

The anti-conservative Kashmiri stereotypes in which Vijdan’s satirical trades are, have unmistakably proved his comedy flawless.

“Love at first sight”, “Piles has a cure” were some of his Instagram videos that acted as a baseball bat against the old prevailing taboos.

Among many of his caricatures—the heartbroken lover, a Kashmiri craving for meat, a father declining a journalist’s relation for his daughter—that have remained antique for viewers, the caricature of Bashir Sahab has positively acquainted itself among masses.

“I was brought up playing in the alleys, sitting with friends on ‘waani paenjs’ [shop-fronts] and listening to elders discussing Kashmir,” Vijdan said while expressing his immense love for his roots.

“That’s how Bashir Sahab came to rise. He’s just another elderly Kashmiri who shares his experienced thoughts with others. In simple words, Bashir Sahab is my alter ego.”

The young RJ claims to have inherited his euphoria through the indomitable alleys of Kashmir.

“Kashmir’s alleys are the most buzzing alleys I’ve seen anywhere else,” he continued. “There’re stories in every corner of these alleys. The elders sitting outside the shops and laughing themselves out, trying their best to overcome the rampant that they had experienced during the 90’s, is enough to serve as a motivation.”

Vijdan is not one of those entertainers who resent to expect others that he’s also funny off-screen. On the contrary to this, he remains a jovial person who adjusts himself among any group.

“I’m a very moody kind of a person,” Vijdan said. “But, that’s only while I’m working. Otherwise, I try my best to laugh myself out wherever I can and maintain a friendly and jolly self, so that others would love to sit by my side.”

A portrait of the sketch-comedian.

As the young sketch-comedian’s four years of experience has catered to his satire, it has also helped him with maintaining tip-off with his viewers on a good-intention. And now, Vijdan’s comedy has turned out to be a sentimental relief for the conflict-ridden selves finding daily means of escaping the growing animosity.

“Vijdan’s comedy acts as a rest-stop for many of us, who are always waiting for some warm heartedness amidst these dreadful times,” said Uzair Farooq, a juvenile fan of Vijdan’s sketch-comedy.

Even though Vijdan tries his best to remain careful while walking on a thin line, his “love” comedy is sometimes capable of creating a frisson for few with the audacity of his anti-tabooness.

When he had uploaded a love-themed sketch comedy and hosted a show based on “Falling in Love before marriage”, some hotheads were triggered and threatened the young man of moral policing.

“For me, these caustic characters don’t matter because soon after that show my phone was filled with calls from young couples appreciating my work,” said Vijdan with a satisfactory smile on his face. “That’s what matters to me the most.”

But behind the impact of these collective procedures of producing an elegant piece of sketch-comedy, this jovial person had an emotional start before his life would become a symbol of satire in Kashmir. “Kashmir is a rollercoaster ride,” he whispered.

In 2018, when Vijdan was to host his first ever show in Kashmir, his uncle was killed in a fatal shootout outside his office in Srinagar. The fall of the veteran journalist, Shujaat Bukhari had sent down tremors for this upcoming RJ.

Soon his first programme from 98.3 FM’s Srinagar relay station was broadcasted with Vijdan speaking on “Death”. It was the main theme of his show.

“I wanted to share the agony which I was suffering through at that time,” said Vijdan while remembering his late uncle. “That’s why, my goal is to provide solace through my comedy to every single Kashmiri who is agonised one way or the other.”

Recording the show.

Back in the streets, Javid was once again laughing himself out after watching another of Vijdan’s satirical video where he was calling Bashir Sahab with a new prop, a pressure-washer gun impersonating it as a phone, next to his ear. He laughed himself out until his throat turned soar.

Before his voice would utter “Malal is not halal” a theme for his Sehri show, from a large windowpane of his studio, Vijdan stood silent looking outside at the high-rise mountains with a calm and a satisfactory smile on his face as if he could hear Javid’s cheerful laugh.

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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