The pieces that make up this book were written by Saadat Hasan Manto between 1948 and 1954. His
nostalgia for Bombay, where he lived from 1936 until January 1948, barring a year and a half in
Delhi in the early forties, intensified with time. Till his tragic and early death at the age of
43 in Lahore in 1955, he never really overcame the sense of loss he felt about the city that he
His life in Lahore where he came to live - his wife Safia and his infant daughters were already
there—was hard. The movie industry, what there was of it before independence, now lay in ruins. In
Bombay, Manto was among the industry’s leading film writers and free of any financial pressures.
He worked with people who were his close friends, men like Ashok Kumar, S. Mukerjee and Savak
Vacha. His best friend Shyam also lived in Bombay. That was his world and he had turned his back
on it because he was deeply disturbed by the growing religious hatred which he felt was raising
its ugly head even in what was once a secular industry. He left Bombay on an impulse and kept
wondering for the rest of his days if he had taken the right decision.
In La More, except for one film which flopped badly at the box office, he did not get any work.
Most writers subsisted on their writings for radio but Manto was placed on the banned list. The
list was never officially acknowledged but was maintained all the same. What money he made was
either through token royalties from his books or newspaper and magazine writings. Almost all the
pieces which appear in this book were written for Afaq, an Urdu daily newspaper from Lahore, and
Director, a popular film monthly, edited by Chaudhri Fazle Haq. So hard up was Manto, that he was
known to sometimes walk in, ask for some paper, sit down in a corner, produce a piece in an hour
or so, ask to be paid and walk out. Even when he had no money, which was most of the time, he
would have a tonga waiting for him on the street while he did his rounds. Many of the tongawalas
of Lahore knew him and would not insist on being paid if he told them that he was a bit short of
cash that day. Whenever he came by any, he would pay them generously.
Lack of work and i1l—health not with standing, it was in Lahore during the last seven years of his
life that Manto produced some of the greatest short stories written in any language, especially
his masterpieces about the holocaust of the partition of India. One of these, ‘Thanda Ghost’, was
declared obscene by the Punjab government —and he was tried and convicted, though the judgment of
the lower court was later set aside in appeal. He recalled that period in a postscript to his book
Ganjay Frishtay where most of the pieces that make up this collection first appeared in book form:
‘I felt utterly lost. I wasn’t sure what I should do. Should I stop writing altogether, or should
I write recklessly, unconcerned with its consequences? A strange listlessness had taken hold of
me. Sometimes I wished they would give me a lucrative piece of property so that I would be free of
financial worry—and this entire business of reading and writing, for some years at least. I dreamt
of becoming a different person who would no longer think, preferring to make a living selling
contraband goods for profit, or producing illicit liquor. The last possibility I crossed out from
my list of alternative lifestyles because I was afraid I would drink half the produce myself.
Contraband goods I could not trade because it needed capital and I had none.’
While everyone with the slightest influence was busy grabbing rich properties abandoned by the
Hindus and Sikhs who had fled across the border to India, Manto got nothing because someone
reported to the authorities that he was a ‘most dangerous progressive’. Ironically, the
Progressive Writers Movement had already declared him a ‘reactionary’. Manto said in a later
account that he decided, therefore, that he should do the only thing he knew, namely write. But
the question was what theme or topic was he going to write on. After ‘much thought’ he came to the
conclusion that he would write about the actors and actresses he had known and worked with in
Bombay. His first piece published in the newspaper Afaq was on Naseem. In Manto’s words:
‘I was happy that I had found a way out and would be safe from the government’s ire and those
others who want all writing to be ‘clean’. I was wrong. The moment the piece appeared, there was
an uproar. The newspaper received scores of letters denouncing the author . . . And when ‘Murli ki
Dhun’, my piece on Shyam, was published, one woman, a Nayyar Bano from Sialkot, wrote a long
letter to the editor which made me feel very sorry for her. Here are some excerpts from it:
She felt lowered in her own eyes by merely looking at a picture, as if she had violated someone’s
privacy. I did not want her to suffer a shock; she might not survive the experience.
‘I have no doubt that Nayyar Bano is among those sick and morbid people who should be pitied. In
my view, there is only one way to bring them back to health. They should be forced to witness
thousands of bottles of liquor being opened with their corks flying all over the place, and their
contents poured into a pool. After that one should put dust in one’s hair, pull them out in big
tufts, scream every obscenity one knows—and if one can’t do it oneself men should be hired for the
purpose—read aloud every filthy advertisement for aphrodisiacs and remedies for private male and
female ailments from magazines such as Shama, Beesween Saddi and Roman, not once but repeatedly.
And if this medicine does not result in a cure, then Saadat Hasan Manto should be asked to pick up
one of Nayyar Bano’s old shoes and beat himself repeatedly on the head with it.’
Another correspondent complained that Manto had shown disrespect to the dead by writing about
their sexual peccadilloes and exposing their weaknesses instead of drawing a veil over their
failings and saying something nice about them. He also complained that Manto’s writing was so
morally depraved that no ‘lady of the house’ or children or young girls could be exposed to it.
Manto dealt with this correspondent with characteristic relish, in the process laying down his
literary manifesto. He wrote:
‘If I have committed a sin, then I have committed it consciously. I am assured by the
correspondent that in every civilized country and culture, only good words are used to remember
those who have passed on, even if they were enemies while they lived. Only their virtues are
highlighted; their faults are glossed over and ignored. If that is what indeed happens, then I
pronounce a thousand curses on that civilized country and society where every dead person’s
character and personality is carted off to a laundry so that it can come back all clean and white,
ready to be hanged with the placard saying ‘of blessed memory’.
‘In my reform house, I keep no combs, curlers or shampoos because I do not know how to apply
make—up on people. If Agha Hashr was cross-eyed, I have no device with which I can straighten his
crooked eye, nor can I make him shed flowers from his mouth instead of the abuse he always did.
Nor can I purify the deviant character of Meeraji, in the same way as I have not been able to make
my friend Shyam describe self-important women as anything but salis. Every angel who has come to
my facility has been barbered thoroughly and in style so that not a single hair was left standing
on his head.’
Manto’s great work was produced during these years of hardship and emotional uncertainty. He was
devoted to his wife and three daughters, but the thought always gnawed at his heart that he could
not keep them in comfort. He worried about the future and what would happen to them if he died.
Then there was his drinking, which, under control and well in hand in Bombay because of the
regularity of his life and a set daily work routine, became progressively worse in Lahore, as did
the company in which he drank. It was a vicious circle. A younger friend of his from Amritsar, the
Punjabi poet Ahmed Rahi, when asked about Manto’s death, replied, ‘He began to die the moment he
The happiest years of Manto’s life had been spent in the film world of Bombay and it was that time
he now re-lived in his writings. The nostalgia of these pieces is deep and what lends poignancy to
them is the unhappy and harsh circumstances under which they were written.
Manto first came to Bombay from his native Amritsar in 1936 to work for the film weekly Mussawar
owned by Nazir Ludhianwi. He was paid a monthly salary of forty rupees. In 1940, after an argument
with Ludhianwi, he resigned. When the legendary film journalist Babu Rao Patel of Film India
learnt about it, he invited Manto to take over Karwan, an Urdu journal he owned. Manto stayed
there for seven months only, but by then his career as a screenwriter had begun to take off. He
worked for many companies but his most happy and fruitful years, both creatively and in economic
terms, were spent at Bombay Talkies and Filmistan.
Manto wrote in 1950 that for the first three months after his arrival in Pakistan in January 1948,
he lived in a daze, unable to collect his thoughts or, in his words, ‘to dissociate India from
Pakistan and Pakistan from India’. In the end, he said, he stopped thinking about it. ‘All day
long I would loiter around, without aim or purpose, listen to others but say nothing myself. All
conversations appeared to me to be empty and pointless . . . but my aimless loitering did me one
good. The dust in my mind started to settle and I began to write, initially only light pieces.’
Manto’s love affair with Bombay lasted throughout his life. His powerful memoir about his friend
Shyam sums up his feelings about Bombay and the trauma of Partition. ‘I found it impossible to
decide which of the two countries was now my homeland -
India or Pakistan? In the summer of 1952, in an appendix to one of his finest collections Yazid,
he recalled his days in Bombay and wrote about the city he considered the best thing that had ever
happened to him:
‘I want to say that there is great sadness in my heart today, a strange melancholy. Four and a
half years ago when I bade farewell to my other home, Bombay, I felt the way I feel today. I was
sad at leaving a city where I had spent the hardest, the happiest and the most memorable time of
my life. That strip of land which is Bombay had taken me, a footloose young man rejected by his
family, into its vast lap and said to me, ‘You can be happy here on two pennies a day or on
hundreds of thousands of rupees. You can also be the world’s most miserable person, regardless of
what you earn. It will be entirely up to you. Here you can do what you like; no one will speak ill
of you. And no one will tell you what to do or moralize to you. No matter how difficult things
become, you will have to deal with them yourself. You and you alone will take every important
decision of your life, without interference or help. If you so choose, you may sleep on the
street; or it is possible you may find yourself living in a palace. It will be of no consequence
to me whatsoever. You may even leave if you like, or stay; but as far as I am concerned, it will
make not the least difference. I am where I am and will continue to remain where I am.
‘I stayed in Bombay for twelve years. And what I am, I am because of those years. Today I find
myself living in Pakistan. It is possible that tomorrow I may go to live elsewhere. But wherever I
go, I will remain what Bombay made me. Wherever I live, I will carry Bombay with me. When I
left Bombay, I was sad at leaving it. That was where I had formed the most lasting friendships of
my life, friendships of which I am proud. That was where I had got married, where my first child
was born, where my second child began the first day of her life. There were times in Bombay when I
did not have enough to eat; and there were times when I was making vast sums of money and living
it up. That was the city I loved. That is the city I still love.’
This collection invokes and recreates Manto’s beloved city and the friends with whom he worked and
shared his life for twelve years. The documentary value of these pieces apart, they are also
memorable literature, stamped as they are with Saadat Hasan Manto’s unique and lively genius.
Unforgettable reminiscences about the eccentric, glamorous, yet angst-ridden Hindi film world
of the 1940s
Saadat Hasan Manto, one of the greatest short story writers of the Urdu language, was also a film
journalist and story-writer for the Hindi film industry in Bombay. As an insider he was privy to
the most private moments of the men and women who have dazzled generations of audiences.
In this series of sketches, Ashok Kumar, the screen idol of yore, emerges as a shy, yet brilliant
actor, forever looking to flee the eager advances of his female fans; Nargis comes across as just
another young girl looking for companionship among her peers before she steps on the ladder that
will forever take her away from the comforts of an ordinary middle - class life; and Shyam—the ‘
dashing, handsome hero—is portrayed as a straightforward, flirtatious young man pining for the
woman he loves.
Manto also describes in detail the obsessions of Sitara Devi; the unfulfilled desires of Paro
Devi; and the intriguing twists and turns which transform Neena Devi from an ordinary housewife
into a pawn in the hands of film companies. He writes with relish about the bunglings of the
comedian V.H. Desai and the incredible dedication of Nawab Kaashmiri to the art of acting. There
are also stories about the rise of Nur Jehan as the greatest singer of her times; and the various
peccadilloes of the musician, Rafiq Ghaznavi.
With subjects ranging from film journalism to the sexual eccentricities of these stars, Manto
brings to life a generation with his characteristic verve and honesty.
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