Manto Saheb: Friends and enemies on the great maverick

Book Title: Manto Saheb – Friends and enemies on the great maverick
Publishers: Speaking Tiger
Genre: Memoir

In the wake of acclaimed biopic on the great maverick writer ‘Manto’, I picked up this book to know about the legend behind the rebel writer – Saadat Hasan Manto. Few years back, while browsing through a pile of books in a bookstore, I came upon a translated version of Manto’s short stories. The book was in Hindi and the front cover had picture of red light area and in the back cover it had photo of Manto Saheb. I was bit intimidated to buy this book as I presumed to be too realistic and disturbing. I didn’t know anything about the writer Manto. I even forgot the name. Several years later, when I watched the short film – In defence of freedom, wisdom dawned on me. I regretted for leaving that book. Manto Saheb: Friends and enemies on the great maverick is a latest nostalgic memoir that refreshes the events happened in life of Manto. Not just friends and relatives, even his contemporaries, competitors and rivals have written an article in remembrance of the eccentric writer who dared to tell truth.

Among all the memoirs in this book, the one that stood out was the article of author Ishmat Chughtai on Manto. She recalls how they used to have a heated debate on writing. Manto was a difficult person to communicate with. Chughtai’s article gives you an intimate glimpse at Manto’s rapport with his friends and family. Even Manto’s daughter has written a memoir remembering her late father. For the world, he may be an outspoken rebellious writer, but for his children he was a doting father. His untimely death due to excessive consumption of alcohol left his family in jeopardy. Especially Manto’s wife Safia had to face lots of trials in life after Manto’s death. The financial difficulties and herculean responsibility of upbringing three daughters was too stressful for her. All the memoirs in this book show different shades of Manto. Even after reading this memoir completely, you will still keep wondering who really Manto was? – An excessive alcoholic, a rebellious writer, an outspoken person or a traveler who loved Bombay more than any other city. After partition, Manto had to leave Bombay with a heavy heart. The regret of leaving Bombay stayed in his mind till the final days of his life. It was very sad to read that in low times, he sold his writings for 25 to 30 Rs. to his publishers. Even in the downward period, he wrote masterpiece short story like ‘Toba Tek Singh which reflected his own pain on leaving his most loved city – Bombay. Leaving India during the time of partition was his biggest mistake which he regretted till the last moments of his life. The fatiguing court trials, accusations of being labeled as writer of obscene stories reduced a maverick writer to an excessive alcoholic.

The iconic pic of Saadat Hassan Manto

The one memoir that stands out in this book is the article by Manto’s rival Upendranath Ashk. In this Upendranath’s memoir, you will see some grey shades of Manto’s personality and the constant cut throat competition between Upendranath and Manto. Despite the rivalry, Upendranath held a great respect for Manto. The untimely death of Manto left even his strongest rival to tears. Every contributor’s view on Manto shows you different shades in Manto’s personality. I was spellbound by the lyrical writings in this memoir. Manto Saheb is only the beginning in understanding Manto’s books and the wealth of stories he left behind. Neither Mumbaikars nor the city knows about Manto, but Manto loved this city like anything and his observations about the city are recorded in the book – Bombay Stories. ‘Manto Saheb’ is an outstanding book on a great unsung writer who advocated truth through his realistic writings.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. sujaman says:

    Heart touching…. if your article is moving, how I may feel when I read memoirs?? I will certainly buy this. Thank you for introducing yet another masterpiece.

    1. prashantb says:

      Thanks for your encouraging words Sujaman. Do read this memoir on Manto. It is worth the read.

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