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Remembering Safia Manto, the woman who stood by the writer in good times – and the many bad ones

So little is known and even less written about the women who have unflinchingly supported their celebrated men. It is true that Safia Deen would not have been known had she not married Saadat Hasan Manto and become Safia Manto. But on her centenary today, May 11, let it be known that Manto may not have been a hero had it not been for Safia, who stood by him, through the best and worst of times. The best were few and the worst, many.

Both Manto and Safia were born on May 11 (the husband in 1912, the wife in 1916), wore black-rimmed glasses, had Kashmiri origins and had first names that started with an S. But the similarities probably ended there. He was a man of fine taste – be it silver capped Sheaffer pens or gold embroidered juttis. He wanted nothing but the best, whereas Safiawas simple to a fault, needing less and less through their hardships. He was a provocateur and left no opportunity to be noticed, while she was self-evasive and shy.

What began as an arranged marriage in 1936, about which Manto writes a whole essay, titled, Meri Shaadi (My Wedding), soon turned into great fondness and camaraderie. Their best days were spent in Bombay, a city they returned to, after Manto worked in Delhi at the All India Radio. It is there that they lost their first child, Arif. It devastated them, but also brought them closer. They then went on to have three daughters.

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Video: Ayesha Jalal: Manto and The Pity of Partition

Renowned historian Ayesha Jalal discusses her new book, The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide. Jalal’s book offers the first in-depth look in English at the influential Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955). Drawing on Manto’s stories, sketches, and essays, as well as a trove of private letters, The Pity of Partition provides a intimate history of Partition and its devastating toll on the Subcontinent.


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Report: Panel discussion on “Conflict and Literature” held in India

Report by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

panel

On Thursday, 16 Oct 2014, H.E. Ambassador Feilim McLaughlin of Ireland hosted a literary soiree at his residence. It was organized to commemorate the centenary of World War I.  The event consisted of an exhibition on the Irish poet W.B. Yeats and a panel discussion on “Conflict and Literature”. The panelists were three Indian authors/journalists—Paro Anand, Samanth Subramanian and Amandeep Sandhu and the discussion was moderated by Ambassador McLaughlin. Ambassador of Ireland Feilim McLaughlin said the event was intended to explore the role of the writer in portraying or interpreting conflict, drawing parallels between the experience in Ireland and South Asia. The evening was curated by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose. Continue reading


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A Tribute to Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Shadow Lines’: The mirage of borders

There have been many moments in India’s history when it felt as if the country was coming undone. “It was deeply deranging, but you must also remember that India of the 1980s was an explosive place. It really felt like it was coming undone,” novelist Amitav Ghosh had said to mark the 25th year of the publication of his novel, The Shadow Lines.  Dr. Nazia Hasan pays a tribute to Ghosh and his seminal work of fiction in this special essay.

Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh

This day break, pockmarked- this morning, night bitten
Surely, this is not the morning we’d longed for,
In whose eager quest, all comrades
Had set out, hoping that somewhere
In the wilderness of the sky
Would emerge the ultimate destination of stars,
…somewhere will anchor the boat of heart’s grief.

(Faiz Ahmad Faiz, The morning of Freedom: August 1947)

Partition of India has been one of those turning points in the history of the subcontinent, the repercussions of which have not ended yet. It lives in memories, in monuments, in songs and stories, besides popping up now and then in various symbols, occasions and rituals. It makes the Katha and Daastaan for the coming generations for centuries perhaps, because it has everything aplenty: the joys and the sorrows (more sorrows than joys, of course for the common man) associated with it can weave sagas of its own. Amitav Ghosh in most of his novels like The Circle of Reason (1986), The Shadow Lines (1988) and The Hungry Tide (2004) takes up the theme of the Partition in its differing aspects. He looks at it from the middle class quarters in The Shadow Lines, the anonymous sufferers’ side in The Circle of Reason and the low-caste section in The Hungry Tide. Perhaps, John Berger had the same idea when he wrote; “Never again a story will be told as though it is the only one…” (Ways of Seeing: 1990). Continue reading


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Kitaab Review: This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition

This is an ambitious and innovative production but, perhaps ironically for a collection clearly based around a single theme, lacking in clarity and purpose, says Elen Turner.

this-side-that-sideThis Side, That Side: Restorying Partition (an Anthology of Graphic Narratives). Curated by Vishwajyoti Ghosh. New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2013. 327 pp. ISBN 93-82579-01-X.

This book represents an ambitious project: to tell stories of the Partition of India through graphic narratives. It contains twenty-eight short pieces on different aspects of the Partition in 1947, from various locations. Present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are all represented, and while most of the texts were originally written in English, a number have been translated from Urdu, Hindi and Bangla. The majority of entries are collaborations between a writer and an illustrator/artist, often in different locations, particularly across national borders.

A gamut of experiences of Partition are represented: life in refugee camps, the continuing difficulty of India-Pakistan cross-border travel, homelessness in both the physical and the psychological senses, the fundamental similarities between Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, despite political rhetoric. Continue reading


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Ayesha Jalal on her new book on Manto and Partition

Manto

Manto

“The pity of partition was not that the country had been divided into two, Independent India and Independent Pakistan; but it was that people had become slaves to bigotry, religious passions and barbarity,” says Ayesha Jalal, Professor of History at Tufts University, and grandniece of writer Saadat Hassan Manto. The Pakistani-American historian, who was in Mumbai last week, talks about her book, The Pity of Partition — Manto’s Life, Times and Work Across the India-Pakistan Divide, and other things in an interview with Sukhada Tatke.

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