Ask a writer, what's the most difficult genre to write.
Ninety nine percent will state: humour, comedy or satire.
It surely takes a special skill to nail a punch line in your writing along with a humorous illustration that will make others laugh until their bellies hurt, of course without being too offensive.
Ahsan Habib has been playing this game for the last 40 years with Unmad, the first of its kind (in Bangladesh), satirical magazine.
Habib's writing career began in his early childhood, as his father would often encourage him and his brothers to write stories, tempting them with rewards awaiting the best work.
Since then, Habib has always been engaged in writing, fusing it with his passion for drawing cartoons. The brother of late Humayun Ahmed, and Muhammad Zafar Iqbal – two leading writers of the country – Habib has achieved success in his own right; he is regarded as one of the leading and best cartoonists of Bangladesh.
Even though Ahsan Habib and Unmad have become inseparable, Habib was not the magazine's original founder. “Unmad was actually launched by two of my friends, Ishtiaq Hossain and Kazi Khaled Ashraf in 1978. The cartoon magazine was able to draw attention for its intelligent satire. Later, by the mid 1980s, I left my job as a banker and took charge of the magazine,” he says.
Leaving a secure job for a fairly new venture - many were critical of his decision. But if Habib paid heed to them and turned into just another corporate climber, we would never have had the Unmad we have now.
Relying mostly on social disparities and parodies of popular TV shows/films, Habib, along with fellow cartoonists and satire writers, soon made Unmad a household name.
“Currently in Bangladesh, we have 30 professional cartoonists, and each one of them has worked for Unmad at some point of their life.”
As a writer, Habib made his debut with 999 Ti Jokes Ekti Fao. Through his later works, he successfully experienced with satire that spoke about social issues in a humorous manner, establishing himself as a leading writer of the genre in the country. So far, Ahsan Habib has nearly 50 book titles under his name.
He prefers to be known as a feature cartoonist, though. “Most cartoons I draw tell a story. In order to do that, I have to lay out a lot of dialogues. And this is the reason why I prefer being known as a feature cartoonist,” he says.
When asked about the challenges he faced in his 40 year long journey with Unmad, Habib's face brightens up, remembering the times people could not digest the mockery.
“Once we made some spoofs of a Bangla film that sparked quite an outrage within the film industry. As a result, some of us actually got beaten up by Bangla cinema villains, but luckily, I was not one of them,” he laughs out loud.
“Another time, someone filed a defamation lawsuit of Tk. 1 crore against Unmad, as he was offended by a cartoon that we published,” he remembers. “Later, we were able to make him understand that our motive was never to offend any individual, or misuse our artistic freedom. As cartoonists, we attempt to point out the disparities and express them in a humorous, enlightened manner. As long as the message and the cartoon are not offensive, there is no harm in embracing the humour and joining in on the laughter,” believes the maestro.
Renowned artist Dave Gibson has aptly named this genius, “Dad of Cartoons in Bangladesh.” A conversation with the 58-year-old legend helps you lighten up and laugh at life in general. The spontaneity in his storytelling, the witty one-liners that he delivers with a natural flair, and the hint of a smirk on his face – now you know why Unmad is the longest running magazine in Bangladesh and the longest running satirical magazine in South Asia.