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