Wednesday, March 12, 2014





“Mein Chaltaa Phirta Bombay Huun ”

So said Manto in 1951.Yes he was like Mumbai on wheels for  the newly  born country known as   Pakistan wherein the   new society  possibly   failed to understand him properly inspite of the fact that he kept crying loudly and truthfully. Living far away from his Bombay, Manto never forgot this city of temptations and hope .Mumbai  comes  directly or indirectly  in  his post-partition stories and  essays. It also features in some letters that he addressed to Uncle Sam ( United States Government ). About this city he once wrote this:-
 “You can be happy here on two pennies a day or on ten thousand rupees a day, if you wish. You can also spend your life here as the unhappiest man in the world. You can do what you want. No one will find fault with you. Nor will anyone subject you to moralising. You alone will have to accomplish the most difficult tasks and you alone will have to make the most difficult decision of your life. You may live on the footpath or in a magnificent palace.”

Manto  moved to Mumbai in 1935 and finally left for Lahore in January 1948.He  spent a period of more than 12 years of his life in Mumbai except a brief period of 2 years (1940 and 1941  ) in between when he joined AIR New Delhi  . As a young boy of 23 or 24 years, he joined Nazir Ludhianavi’s newspaper  "Mussawir " and simultaneously kept writing stories and radio plays . Nazir had  contacts in the film world and he introduced Manto to some  film production companies.  Soon he  became a sought-after story writer by leading  production houses . He also wrote screenplays and dialogues . Some movies that he successfully wrote  included 'Apni Nagariya' ,  Kisan Kanya, Chal Chal Re Nawjawan ,Begum ,Naukar( 1945),Aaath din ( 1946) , Shikari ( 1946)  and  'Mirza Ghalib'.  Mirza Ghalib  was released after he shifted to Pakistan and was a great success. He also worked   for Babu Rao Patel’s popular film journal  Film India. 

In Mumbai , Manto’s life was not dictated by  what is known as “ Light ! Camera !and Action ! ” only . He saw a  world of unbelievable  diversity   behind the glamour of these words. He made scores of friends in this city ; some intimate and reliable while others  just to pass time. His friends in both these categories included  Ashok Kumar , Pran ,Shyam , Noor Jahan ,Sitara , Nargis , Kuldeep Kaur ( actress who was also known as KK ), Rafiq Gaznavi , Raja Mehdi Ali Khan , Nawab Kashmiri , Neena , Babu Rao Patel ,Rajinder Singh Bedi , Krishen Chander , Sardar Jafri ,Begum Para , Padma Devi , Devika Rani , S Mukherjee ,Ismat Chugtai,Deewan Singh Maftoon, Shobana Samarth ,Gyan Mukerjee ,P N Arora , Ardeshir Irani and many more  .Anybody who was somebody in the film world became directly or indirectly  familiar to him . This was perhaps the happiest period of his life. He drank , gambled , wrote and moved carefree in this city. He also felt the life throb in  the red light district of Forres Road, the c
Chawls of Nagpara, the cigarette-Beedi sellers ,the Paanwallas  , taxi drivers, washermen,  fisher women ,Parsi landladies , Irani restaurants   ,Jewish hotel keepers, unknown writers , unknown editors of unknown Urdu  bewspapers ,hangers on , brokers of all sorts ,strugglers , exploiters , communists ,Baniyas , Seths and scores of people from all segments and areas  of the country . He brought them truthfully as  C
characters of his stories.He described his  life in Bombay  to his friend and well known Urdu poet Ahmed Nadeem Kasmi in some letters that he wrote to him . I quote :- 

“ I  have a very bad habit of buying books and wasting money on other avoidable things . If you come and stay with me , I believe I shall stop all this wasteful expenditure . I have hundreds of bad habits that are not known to you at the moment .If you come and live with me , I shall be a naked man .But then you have to live in the sun and shade of my life. May be you get no food to eat but for sure you shall get books to read . My life is like a wall.I keep removing its plaster in bits and pieces by scrubbing my nails over it. At times i feel like removing the entire plaster so as to make the inside bricks visible. Quite often,  i feel like demolishing the entire wall to enable me to build a new structure over it.”

This city also gave him his dedicated and loving wife  Safia whom he married in 1938.It was an arranged marriage to his liking  as Safiya too was from a Kashmiri family of Lahore .Safia's father ,  Khwaja Qamaruddin  was an efficient  officer  in police  who had been deputed to Zanzibar , Africa during the British rule. He had moved his family to Mumbai from Lahore. Manto's  real   elder sister  Iqbal  too stayed at Mahim, a suburb area during those days . His mother( died in 1940 ) too had shifted to Mumbai to live with her daughter . 

With Pakistan in existence, Mumbai’s peaceful atmosphere got severely communalised . Safiya left for Lahore taking  her three daughters along  .  Manto felt lonely but  believed that things would  normalise shortly. He   joined   Shahid Latif and Ashok Kumar in  reviving  Bombay Talkies. The company signed Ismat Chugtai  as story writer for a new movie.Hurt with this decision , Manto kept silent . He did not  report  for  work  but  spent his time in sleeping and drinking . And then  one day he  decided to pack up and  go to Lahore   via Karachi  travelling by ship from mumbai . His friend actor Shyam tried hard to stop him but he did not agree . Shyam came to see him off .
“ Pakistan Zindabad ” , said Shyam.
  Manto replied “ Hindustan Zindabad ”
And   Manto  ssid good-bye to his dear city now known as Mumbai .

Manto arrived in Lahore on 8th January, 1948. He saw an atmosphere of suffocation and bullying  around him. The tragedy of partition had  wounded  his soul. He  wrote an article “Mehboos Aurtein”. I quote from the article 

“The responsibility of the condition they find themselves in now lies squarely upon the wrangling within the political arena and the religious frenzy of which we find no parallel in the past history of mankind. If nothing else, at least we should protect these women and cover them as our own sins. If nothing is done immediately then these women’s plight is going to turn into a huge calamity. Hundreds, nay, thousands of brothels are ready to welcome them in their cavernous mouths. Even the thought should make us tremble.”

In  Lahore , he started  feeling  choked and dashed three letters to Ismat Chugtai seeking her help for moving  back to Mumbai. Some time before his death, he wrote a series of letters  to UNCLE  SAM ( American government ) .  In one such letter  dated 21st Feb, 1954 , Manto indirectly praised  Mumbai ‘s film industry  . I quote:-

“ Your  actors and film producers are taking keen interest in Bombay's film industry . We can not tolerate this .I have heard that when Gregory Peck visited India ,he praised Suraiya and got himself photographed with her .I have also heard that a film producer or director put his arm around Nargis and  kissed her .This is too much . I ask you a question, “Have all   actresses in our Pakistan died ? ” We have Gulshan Ara .It may be a separate story that her face is as black as a Tawa ( hot plate for making Chapatis ). May be  when some people look at her they utter  that an Ara ( Saw ) has rubbed  on Gulshan ( glower garden ). But she is also an actress .We have Sabeeha as well. May be she is  a little squint but with a little attention   this defect can be set right .
I have heard that you are giving some financial aid to Indian film industry .This is not done dear Unle Sam. You start giving aid to every Tom Dick and Harry .Kindly dispatch two three actresses to us as our lone actor Santosh Kumar is a worried man.”

Manto’s nephew Hamid Jalal has written how Manto  hallucinated about Bombay even during his last days in  Lahore’s Mayo Hospital. I quote :-

“Most of the time, he imagined himself to be in Bombay, where he spent the happiest period of his life. Every day, I would tell him he was in Lahore, but he found that hard to believe”

I conclude this post ,'Manto And Bombay'  with lines from a Gazal of noted Urdu poet Zubair Rizvi

Hai dhoop kabhi saaya, shola  hai kabhi shabanam
Lagtaa hai mujhe tum sa dil ka to har ek mausam
Beetay huve lamhon ki khushboo hai mere ghar mein,
Book rack pe rakhein hain yaadon ke kayee album.

( Avtar Mota)

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