11 October 2012

Manto Phir se

Manto’s life is full of irony and questions. Both India and Pakistan charged him with obscenity and vulgarity. He lived a life of utter poverty selling his stories during his last days at bare minimum and dieing a poor insignificant death. How can he be a Pakistani or Indian, he was just a victim of the partition politics. He was compelled to make a choice and the choice was for his family, for his religion the one he was born into. I don’t blame him, the times were such, the insecurities, the fears they took better of him.
But whatever his choice he was no less Indian than me or anyone that I know of and he was no less Mumbai (Bombay) wala than me or anyone. I believe you don’t have to be born in Bombay to be a Bombay walas, you just have to love the city and you will start belonging to it. He was born in Punjab and he died in Pakistan, but the city that defined his life was Bombay. It was the city that gave him wings, the city that nurtured his thoughts, the city that refined him like gold in a refinery, bringing out the best in him. In all his stories you can see his own unique camaraderie with the city, a subtle understanding that the city knows him and he knows it. The y both knew whatever happens they both belonged to each other.

Now after 60 years of his death his name and stories are being claimed by both India and Pakistan. Translations are flooding the market by authors from both the sides of the border. I myself have read 3 translations of Manto by different authors: Selected Stories and Bitter Fruit by Khalid Hasan and  Manto Selected Works by Aatish Taseer.

As a reader I give myself the right to judge who is the best and who does justice to his job. But in this case I refuse to do so, its Manto after all. I would respect and adore anyone who becomes a medium for me to reach Manto, to read his works. I don’t understand Urdu, so without these translators Manto would have been just a name to me. Also how can I say which translator is best, its Manto I associate these stories with. None of these translators can ever take the credit or importance from Manto. Each and every story of Manto is a living testimony to his greatness, no translator can take away the author’s glory, instead they only add to it.

I keep going back to Manto’s words which he wanted to mark his grave with:

"In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie buried all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short-story writing....
Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is greater short-story writer: God or He.”

And I can only imagine Manto and God sitting side by side up there, debating who is a better short story. Although I have a hint. After all despite God giving such a quick, ironical and bitter end to Manto’s life, Manto still lives through his own Short Stories which are being told and retold.

As for me bring it on.. I will read and reread all the stories ever written by Manto hoping to discover something new but if not I know I will the journey will be beautiful.

In this latest translation by Aatish Taseer, he starts off with a detailed background to the book. How he decided to learn Urdu to read his grandfather MD Taseer’s poems ‘Aaitish Kada’. He correlates the story of his Urdu Teacher ‘Zafar Moradabadi’ who probably faces the same fate as Manto for his lifelong commitment to Urdu language. Aatish talks about the difficulty of translating Urdu writings of Manto given the difference in complexity and flow of Urdu verses English. He says Manto becomes a victim of his form, namely the short story’s dependence on trick and surprise endings and then he quotes David Coward for his introduction to similar stories by Maupassant:

For the short story, while admitted to be extremely difficult to manage successfully, has long been regarded as somehow second rate, not least because it is generally felt to suffer from Cleverness. Perhaps it requires too much control, so that the reader feels manipulated, and because many short stories depend so much on irony or sudden reversals, they may seem over contrived – like a joke which, once told, loses its tension.”

He selects 10 Short Stories of Manto and tries to be as faithful as possible to the original comparing himself to other translators. A good attempt by Aatish but I feel he could have selected more stories of Manto as there is a huge wealth out there to share. Given the language hindrances we would welcome any medium who can bring the treasures of Manto’s creations to us. I also had one issue to placement of the introduction. Though very detailed it should have been put at the end of the book. He analyses the stories in detail spoiling the reader’s interest and revealing the plots of most of them. Given that Manto’s stories have an interesting twist in the climax, it is important that author reads them before referring the summary of them.


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