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Saadat Hasan Manto – the name stirs up eclectic emotions. When we discovered Manto, it was like opening a window, which overlooked an eccentric yet desirable world. We decided to dive into this universe created by Manto. A universe, which is potent in humour, wit and pathos. A universe that has encapsulated emotions and enveloped them in short crisp stories. At Mehfil@Prithvi we were attempting to discover Manto – the man through his stories and we chose his birth centenary to pay tribute to his work and his contribution to Urdu literature.

Writer Saadat Hasan Manto

Writer Saadat Hasan Manto

The evening started with Javed Saab giving a brief background on Manto, his childhood and his early life. He laid emphasis on Manto’s work related to the partition period. He explained that when it comes to chronicling the collective madness that prevailed, during and after the Partition of India in 1947, no other writer comes close to the oeuvre of Saadat Hassan Manto. A brief summary of two short stories including “Toba Tek Singh” and “Titwal ka kutta” were given. We played an audio excerpt of Zia Mohyeddin who has lyrically read out the short story of Toba Tek Singh (this is easily available on you tube) and Actor Ayesha Raza read an excerpt from “ Titwal ka kutta”. This helped the audience to get a flavor of his writing style.

Bookmarks distributed at the mehfil.
Top : example of a Sia Hashi story.
Bottom: Saadat Hasan Manto in Urdu

The conversation drifted from Manto’s short stories to his shorter stories called “ Siyah Hashiye” (means black borders). Javed Saab explained that Manto has written stories, which explain an idea in one sentence. Theatre Actor Sayed Saif Ahmed read some of these “Siyah Hashiye’s” so that the audience could get acquainted with it.

Manto’s canvas is huge, so we decided to touch upon all the aspects of his work in brief. Fellow Urduwallah Suhail Warsi read Ismat Chughtai Apa’s piece on Manto and also enriched the audience with what Poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz said about Manto.

The first half of the Mehfil ended and the fifteen minute interval was also action packed. Firstly we had made bookmarks to celebrate Manto’s centenary which we distributed, secondly Manto books were being sold and thirdly hot chai was pouring out of kettles. All this while Ayesha Jalal’s (Manto’s grand niece) voice wafted through the speakers. We played a podcast where she talks about Manto and his work in a contemporary context.

We commenced the second session of the Mehfil With Shama Zaidi Apa talking about Manto’s connection to Bombay – its film industry and its underbelly. Actor Sadiya Siddiqui read out an excerpt on Ashok Kumar that Manto had written which explained Manto’s lithe style of writing in Bombay in the 1940’s very explicitly. Through Shama Apa and Aslam Parvez’s (a connoisseur on Manto) talk it become clear that Manto loved the city of Bombay and could never remove it from his system or his writings. We played a clip from the film Kaali Salwar that is based on Manto’s short story with the same title directed by Fareeda Metha.

Naseeruddin Shah Saab attends Mehfil@Prithvi

A special mention about a star from our own sky, Naseeruddin Shah Saab who graced our Mehfil uplifting the Manto experience a notch higher. We have partly discovered Manto through his prolific work and hence having him with us was a privilege.

We ended the evening with a song from the film “Mirza Ghalib” directed by Sohrab Modi and starring Bharat Bhushan and Suraiya, which was written by Manto.

Mantoism is an addiction much like a drug. You can never have enough of it. Whether it Manto’s letters, short stories, the fact that he was in an asylum thrice or tried in court for obscenity he grips you so intently that you immerse yourself completely in his world and almost lose yourself in it. Manto’s stories stand the test of time and once you discover him, you might get one step closer to understanding the world we live in.

• Read:
1. Mottled Dawn (Fifty sketches and stories of partition written by Manto) – translated by Khalid Hasan
2. Bitter Fruit (wider collection of his short stories, letters, portraits of famous personalities)– translated by Khalid Hasan
3. Stars from another Sky (The Bombay film industry in the 1940’s) – translated by Khalid Hasan
• Listen:
1. Zia Mohyeddin – Audio clip – His book reading on “ Toba Tek Singh”
2. Ayesha Jalal (grand niece of Manto) podcast –
• Watch:
1. Kaali Salwar by Fareeda Metha (some scenes based on Manto’s stories)
2. Toba Tek Singh by Afia (based on Manto’s short story with the same name)
3. Mirza Ghalib by Sohrab Modi (Manto has written the story for the film)

We tried to find any footage on Manto himself but his films “ Aath din” in which he plays a cameo and “ Chal Chal re Naujawan” which he has written were difficult to trace.

Mehfil@Prithvi (Topic Saadat Hasan Manto)

Urduwallahs celebrate One Hundred Years of Saadat Hasan Manto