Monthly Archives: February 2016

Why I Write – Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto – A Review

Why I write – Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto
Edited and translated by Aakar Patel

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I’ve been putting off this review for quite a while now. Not because the book was a tough one to read but because it wasn’t my kind and I am not sure how to review it.

One: This is a translation – which I’m not fond of. Language I feel, is a part of the story and that is often lost in translation.Or so I thought.

And two This was titled ‘Essays by Sadat Hasan Manto’.. essays? For me E.S.S.A.Y. spells B.O.R.I.N.G. Consider it a hangover from school.

This book served to dispel both those myths. I do continue to suspect though, that it would have read much better in the original Urdu. But then that might be because even if I do not know the language too well I remain partial to it.

The Book..

… is a collection of articles by Manto that appeared in various publications over a number of years. They have been edited and translated by Aakar Patel. I have no way of knowing how much of the original has been retained but Manto’s thoughts certainly shine through.

The amazing thing about this book is that he wrote these articles (I prefer to call them that rather than essays) over six decades ago and yet they are more relevant than ever. It makes one think that either Manto had precognitive powers or that things really haven’t changed over the years or perhaps we did make progress only to regress again.

Manto picks varied topics from something like surviving in the Indian film industry (he wrote scripts for Bollywood, none of which were very successful) bumming cigarettes from friends and eve teasing to politics, politicians and partition riots. He wrote of his struggles with poverty and his inability to support his family as also of his brush with the law – he was tried a number of times for obscenity. Not once does he sound desperate or depressed. He writes with humour and a sharp satirical voice.

The ones I loved

One of my favourites was Hindi or Urdu  where he sets up a dialogue between a Munshi Narayan Prasad and a Mirza Mohammad Iqbal each making a case for their language. The futility of the argument shines through in the dialogue. He adds: Languages are not created, they make themselves and no human effort can destroy one already made. He reduces issues like Arms Control to a hilariously simplistic level in his piece How Arms Control works. Another one I liked was What Bollywood must do. It  is amazingly applicable today. Sample this India needs entertaining movies that also educate, exercise the mind and introduces us to new ideas and new thinking.

I saved up my favourite one for the last – God is Gracious in Pakistan – a brilliant piece of satire where he professes relief that artists, poets, painters, musicians and even scientists had all been done away with for, Creation, as he says is the preserve of Allah. He is incisive in this derision of the Government that blocks out creativity.

How we need writers like him.

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I wracked my brains thinking where I had heard of Manto before till it came to me that actor Naseeruddin Shah did a reading of his famous short story Toba Tek Singh – another masterful satire. Here’s a link if you want to listen to it.

7 reasons to re-read books

The other day I planned to organise my bookshelf. As I started pulling out books it was like opening a box of memories. I found some I’d bought way back in college, some had been gifted to me, I remembered reading some on the 26-hour train journey when I was working in Bombay. And I found myself flipping pages, reading paragraphs and re-living the books. Time flew and of course the cupboard never did get organised.

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When we were kids it was perhaps born out of necessity when we had too few books and too much time. Or maybe children just do not get easily bored. However, the habit stuck on through adult-hood purely for the pleasure of it. It’s fun to revsit books not just for the memories they evoke but also for the books themselves, for the way we perceive them, understand them and enjoy them.

Here are my top 7 reasons for re-reading a book.

1. It’s like meeting an old friend

You’ve read the book. You know the good parts, the heartbreaks, the funny bits.I mean, you cannot be a Harry Potter fan and just read it once, can you? You want to meet him again and again. Like him, there are many more delightful characters you can meet only between the pages of your favourite books.

2. You get new insights

Some books need to be re-read to be fully appreciated. If you’ve been reading since when you were a child like me, you probably got to some before you could fully appreciate them. I enjoyed some books like Animal Farm, Fountainhead, To Kill a Mockingbird, Brave New World or even popular classics like Wuthering Heights much more when I read them the second or third time. As you grow and mature you enjoy the book in new ways.

3. You can open a random page and begin reading

Have a few moments between tasks? Want to pick up something entertaining while you have your cup of tea – something that wouldn’t demand much attention yet entertain you? Well a re-read is just perfect. Like TV addicts flip channels you can flip through a well-loved read. I can open and enjoy books like Bridget Jones Diary or a PG Wodehouse just about anywhere anytime.

4. You can skip the boring bits

Great isn’t it? Those lengthy explanations or descriptions – you can just skip them and get on with it.

5. Your brain isn’t clouded by ‘what happens next’ 

So you’re free to explore the book at leisure. You have the luxury of lingering over passages, enjoying the descriptions and appreciating the language. When I was reading My Family and Other Animals – I loved the bits about the ‘family’ and rushed through the bits about ‘Other Animals’. When I re-read it I found myself pausing at them – some of them had me in splits, some amazed and wowed me.
I have to add though, that frenzied reading to the finish has it’s own thrill.

6. Saves money

Well, obviously.

And lastly..

7. You might end up cleaning your book-shelf

With all this picking up and putting back books, you just might end up with an organised book cupboard. No guarantees there, though.

Do you like to re-read books? Which is your favourite one to pick-up?

Ticket to the land of dreams

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I was brought up in a city where Hindustani was spoken with pride and finesse. I also had two  very dear grand moms, with whom I spend a lot of my time, and they spoke the sweetest Awadhi. My grandfather read and wrote fluent Urdu, since that was the official language of communication back then, and my mom had a doctorate in Sanskrit.

The Queen’s English was definitely not top of the pile for me.

However my forward-thinking parents eager to give me a good start, put me in the best Convent School of the city that came with imported nuns :-). The school was situated almost on the outskirts of the city and my mom tells me she had to brave many a snide comment from busybodies. (Sending the kids away to study in the jungle!! And such small babies at that!). She listened to no one. A scholar herself, studying was/is her passion.

Amidst running a house and the scores of demands of a joint family she made time to listen and practice the language with me. However I remained far from perfect. By the time I turned 6 or 7 my problems must have been apparent.

Nobody knows that I .. was so bad at English my parents were summoned to school. I remember clearly that feeling of absolute dread while I waited with my father in the school parlour. As it turned out my teacher had a treat in store for me – I was told to read. Not school books but storybooks! Delight of delights!!

In a family where academics were highly valued, leisure reading was looked down upon as a waste of time. And there my teacher had prescribed just that for me.

I couldn’t have been happier.

The first book I remember my father getting me, was one of Shakespear’s plays adapted as short stories. It was all plain pages and heavy text with perhaps a single black and white sketch for each story. And I loved it – As You like it, Twelfth Night, King Lear, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Merchant of Venice – I read them all and I still remember some of them only from that tiny book. And so holding onto the hand of the Bard I began my reading journey.

Perhaps it was that teacher’s concern and the fact that my parents valued and followed her advice that set me off on this delightful tryst with books.

For that I shall forever be grateful.

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Linking up to Blogadda’s  Write Over the Weekend (WOW)  prompt 
‘Nobody knows that I..’

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How do you choose a book for a friend?

I was reading this post at Mel’s blog on how you should let your friends order for you at a restaurant to avoid food fatigue and I thought what it would be like to apply the same to books. Yeah I can put everything in the context of books. I’m good like that :-). I wondered what it would be like to let your friends pick out one for you.

This year I have been specially fortunate in getting perfect reads from friends – one from my no-longer-secret-santa Sanch and another one from dear blogger pal Shilpa – were as different as they were wonderful.

How they got it right remains a mystery, though.

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If you were to pick a book for a friend how would you do it? I’d probably think about what kind of a reader the friend is.

If he’s a reader..

.. you’d think it would be easy. Not so at all. Because he has probably exhausted most of the reads from classics to bestsellers. A relatively safe bet would be to pick from among the new releases and hope he hasn’t got there first.

Or

I’d choose from the relatively lesser known books that I’ve really enjoyed. Like a Tim by Colleen McCullough or The Brave New World by Aldous Huxley which are ‘safe’ for most serious/voracious readers. But it’s always s risk.

Alternatively I could try to pick something that’s a collector’s delight – a special edition is always welcome, right? They do cost a bomb though, so that’s a consideration.

Then there are the non-readers

They’re just as tough. To begin with why would I even consider gifting a book to a non-reader – to hook him of course. A book lover can never truly be convinced that a dear friend isn’t a friend of books.

I would pick nothing big, fat, heavy or the least bit daunting. I’d look for one that could be read in parts – a short story collection or non-fiction essays (that sounds boring but can actually be fun). For instance – one from the Chicken Soup series or here in India Twinkle Khanna’s Mrs Funnybones. 

Alternatively, I’d choose a pacey thriller or a breezy romance – something that would keep the reader effortlessly hooked.

So share with me:

How do you pick books for friends?

Linking to Mel’s #Microblog Mondays

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