David Sasoon Library’s backyard, nestled in the quaint Kala Ghoda neighbourhood of Mumbai became the centre stage for the Urduwallahs performance. That evening of 2nd February, that splendid evening when the dusk was drawing closer, the Urduwallahs were packing, arranging, co coordinating, fixing and tying all the loose ends at the onset of the show. The idea was to create the perfect setting for the audience so that they could enjoy and absorb the life and works of one of India’s most prolific Urdu short story writers – Saadat Hasan Manto.
The evening commenced with people trickling into the venue, and strolling through the various counters that displayed products, which were made especially for the event. There were bookmarks which had ‘ Sadaat Hasan Manto’ written in Urdu on one side and also a short story on the other, these bookmarks were incased in in a little folder which had a brief biography on the life and works of Manto.
Other products included coasters printed in black white and red, which had the words ‘water’,’ tea’, ‘coffee’ and ‘alcohol’ written in English and Urdu. There was a live counter, which had an artist –Ashraf who could create an artistic rendition to your name in Urdu Calligraphy with his dexterous fingers.
These counters, which were, dressed with candles and cane baskets lured the audience to amble through these goods before taking a place in the audience.
As the clock crawled towards 7 pm, the lights dimed and the actors took their places on stage. The performance organized, was a script reading in which the Urduwallahs had incorporated letters, essays, personal sketches and short stories written by Manto. The idea was to capture the Manto magic in two hours and to give the audience a potent experience.
The evening commenced with the Urduwallahs introducing themselves and giving a brief introduction of the writer Manto. They mentioned his fluid style of writing, and the pungent emotions he creates through his masterpieces.
Urduwallahs along with Asad Husain, Suhail Warsi and Rakesh Chaturvedi (Om) read selected Manto’s works, which were interspersed with Urdu and English reaching out to the bilingual South Mumbai audience.
The Urduwallahs collaborated with their friends in Pakistan ‘Zambeel Dramatic Readings’ who sent a video clip with the narration of one of Manto’s story titled “Khol do”(Open it) which brought out the elements of partition and obscenity. The strength of the narration mesmerized the captive audience and at the culmination of the story there was a reverberating round of applause.
Suhail Warsi went on to read a controversial story called “ Bu” (Odour), which highlighted Manto’s take on the downtrodden of Mumbai and the women who he depicted with such finesse and grace.
Manto wrote several stories that unbridle the underbelly of Bombay such as Kaali Shalwar, Mozail, Khushiya and many others. These stories are a living documentation of a time and period of Bombay’s history in the 1940s.
One such story, titled Mammad Bhai, was brilliantly performed by Om and Asad Husain.
We played an audio clip of Manto’s masterpiece “Toba Tek Singh” which emerged from the social climate and his own financial struggles and contained satire that verged on dark comedy. It not only showed the influence of his own demons, but also that of the collective madness that he saw in the ensuing decade of his life. The story came alive through the speakers in a voice rendered by Pakistani actor Zia Moyiddin.
These short stories were interlaced with excerpts of texts that Manto wrote about his own life and experiences , creating a window not only into Manto’s short yet fruitful life but also into Manto mind where his wit, sarcasm and humour play effortlessly hand in hand.
As the stories sailed through the evening two hours floated away fluidly. The evening ended (and aptly so will this retrospective), with Manto’s epitaph that he wrote himself.
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 the greater short-story writer: God or he.
Saadat Hasan Manto.
18 August, 1954.