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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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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Swati Sengupta

By Aminah Sheikh

swatisengupta

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write because I have stories to tell. Because I want to tell these stories in a particular way. Some characters, and a vague, blurry indication of their predicament just pop up inside my head and I have no idea how they got there. Together, my characters and I, we embark on this journey to find out. This entire process – unpleasant at times but mostly exciting – provides me with the rush of air that keeps me going.

Sometimes though, I meet my characters in the real world. I may have heard about them from someone, so I go and meet them and find out their stories. I am talking about my non-fiction and reportage work here.

Basically, I am quiet, introverted and a loner. There’s silence all around me. Writing helps me to survive because I can’t talk much. I like to dwell in my own world in the company of my books, very few people I can relate to, and, the only way I am able to give vent to what’s buzzing inside my head is through the written words – whether it is published or what remains in the closet.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My recent book, Out of War (non-fiction), published by Speaking Tiger Books, is about the narratives of surrendered CPI (Maoist) cadres. I spent two years travelling through different parts of India – Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. I located them, talked to them for hours, and I’ve remained in touch with many for four years now. I tried to understand their lives and stories. In my book, I look at the Maoist movement, its successes and failures, the passions and sacrifices, through the struggles of individuals – their individual needs, personal longings, sufferings and self-respect.

How do these foot-soldiers themselves view the Maoist movement? Is the movement free from hierarchies and compromise? Are the soldiers free to visit their parents, partners, children? What about those that trust the police with the promise of a safe life and opt out? I visited their homes, heard their stories – stories of abuse, poverty, suffering, hurt, deceit, joy, love…

I worked hard to get these stories. The research was also emotionally taxing for me. It wrung out all my energy. These people and their stories deeply influenced me. Now I know why people turn to the Maoists for support, I know why they become Maoist cadres.

Professionally, I’ve achieved only that much – I’ve written the book, pouring my heart into it.

But personally, I’ve achieved much more. Without expecting to. It was incidental. There was a time when I worked full-time with a reputed newspaper, earned a fairly decent salary and felt happy about certain material comforts. I quit my job to write this book, but the cravings for material things had remained. Bit by bit, in the last four years that I worked on this book, the attachment to material things has gone, and I hope for good.

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When it comes to Ismat Chughtai, there’s no way to memorialise the immortal

ishmat

If the premise of death, and certainly of its politics, is to inaugurate finality, to establish in all essentials the grandiose end of thought, then death has eluded Ismat Chughtai.

For the force of her writing, although decades since have squandered, is still to be located in the interstices of the personal and the political, and in all those realms where the two are inseparable. Of what significance, then, is the performance of remembrance; indeed, how are we to remember Ismat Chughtai? Is there a way to memorialise the immortal?

Born to a “liberal” Muslim family of comfortable affluence, Chughtai was a child of modernity, or to borrow from Minault, a “daughter” of reform.

As a discursive subject of the aforesaid reformation, born out of colonialism and the historical encounter with modernity, she began, in appreciable earnestness, to read its chimera of emancipation. Faced with the prospect of wasting away the promising years of her life in Sambhar, where her father was transferred as a judicial magistrate, young Ismat expressed her desire to study in Aligarh, going as far as to threaten her family with the prospect of running away, or even converting to Christianity. Read more


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Advancing Indian English with Regional Literature in the Background

Although it is mainly diasporic writers who have made Indian English writing global, and have translated works into many other languages, there are many others ignored by the media, the government and other establishments.

by Aju Mukhopadhyay

tagoreWhat is Indian English Literature?

Indian English Literature is the work of Indian-origin poets and writers writing in English, and living anywhere around the globe. They usually have similar mindsets, especially when writing about, or referring to India. Meenakshi Mukherjee has said that it is born out of Indian and English parentage–thus twice- born1. Another writer, Maria Tymoczko, thinks that it is born out of one culture and expressed in another2. Their opinions carry the idea of translation, but it may be said that there is exactly no question of translation as such, because when the creation is one’s own and not an independent version or expression of another’s creative production, albeit in a language not one’s own, the creative product is a trans-lingual/cultural endeavor. When an Indian writes his Indian experience in a foreign language it can be said to be a trans-cultural creative process. The history of this expanding literature has covered more than 200 years. Continue reading


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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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Indian filmmaker to make a biopic on Urdu short story master Manto

Setting out to make a film on the great Urdu writer, Nandita Das looks at his irrepressibility and his work: Scroll.in

MantoI first read Manto in English when I was in college, and then a few years later I bought the Urdu collection Dastavez in Devanagari. I was struck by his simple yet profound narratives and his insightful capturing of people, politics and the times he lived in. He wrote as he saw, as he felt, without dilution, and with a rare sensitivity and empathy for his characters. Continue reading


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Slugfests and monologues at a lit fest

On a sparring bout with Rajdeep Sardesai, session on Saadat Hasan Manto with Javed Akhtar and more at the Times LitFest: Aakar Patel in Mint

And so off to Mumbai for the Times LitFest, that annual intellectual orgy put up by friends Bachi Karkaria and Namita Devidayal in Bandra and so looked forward to by this layabout. My first scrum was with Rajeev Sethi and Sunil Sethi for a session with the delightfully vague name “The Good, The Mediocre And The Downright Ugly”. I presumed it was about why India is such a shitty place but wasn’t really sure, and had no idea what the other two combatants had made of the thing. No matter, we threw ourselves into it. Continue reading


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Audio: Manto’s Toba Tek Singh voiced by Naseeruddin Shah and Zia Mohiuddin

Famous Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto’s legendary short story, Toba Tek Sigh, has been narrated by two great artists: Pakistan’s Zia Mohiuddin (audio in English/Urdu) and India’s Naseeruddin Shah (audio in English/Urdu)


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Pearls of Regret: Suketu Mehta reviews ‘Bombay Stories,’ by Saadat Hasan Manto in the NYT

Manto

Manto

Saadat Hasan Manto has a good claim to be considered the greatest South Asian writer of the 20th century. In his work, written in Urdu, he incarnated the exuberance, the madness, the alcoholic delirium of his time, when the country he loved cleaved into two and set upon each other, brothers of all religions murdering their infant nephews and raping their sisters-in-law. Continue reading


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Review: Bombay Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto

MantoOne of the great risks in reviewing a translated work is the tendency to believe that one is reading the author in his or her original language. I forget too often how much is lost in translation and if what I am reading is the author’s voice or the translator’s (or both). This, however, is not an issue with Bombay Stories, the forthcoming, translated collection of Urdu short stories by the late Saadat Hasan Manto.

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