For Manto, Bombay was the city that “asked no questions”. After leaving the city, he yearned for Bombay until his dying day.From Uma Mahdevan-Dasgupta's evocative piece - Manto's Bombay: a city that asked no questions - on the subcontinent's finest short-story writer: Saadat Hasan Manto.
Manto’s essays about the Bombay film world of the 1940s are infinitely moving; but it is his fiction about the city that brings us to tears. The paradoxical spirit of Bombay pervades his fiction, just as in one of his short sketches, even in the middle of riots and looting, a man sings: Jab tum hi gaye pardes laga kar thais, O pritam piyara duniya me kaun hamara.
[. . .] Bombay gave him not only a means of living, but also meaning in life. It was the city where he met the stars, wrote film scripts, went drinking, got married, borrowed money to get a haircut, earned money lavishly and spent it just as lavishly. It was the city from where he set out to be tried for the alleged obscenity in three of his stories. It was where he wrote Ghalib, the greatest of his films and the one that influenced his creative growth the most; the film whose completion he could not see because he had already left for Pakistan.
I came across Manto's writings quite late -- while I was studying for my masters. Manto was one of the writers we covered as a part of our Indian Literatures in Translation paper. We were reading from Kingdom's End and Other Stories. Though the book was a prescribed text, it was not easily available -- in fact we couldn't even find a copy in the (Mumbai) university library - it had been "misplaced". A friend of mine (not a university student then, he enrolled an year later), to whom I had mentioned this problem, finally found it at one of the pavement book dealers who dotted the area around Flora Fountain in happier times. So impressed was he with Manto's writings that he refused to part with the book. Finally after much pleading and coaxing he allowed me to photocopy the book. The rest of the class (and even our professor) then photocopied from my copy.
It takes a lot to keep students inside a class. But our Professor never had any problems when he was talking about Manto. Virtually every class used to be full. . .and students would not only discuss Manto's writings in class, but would also find time to read out from the book. And ask me to thank my friend.
About an year after that I came across Mottled Dawn; Fifty Sketches and Stories of Partition by Manto. And though I would have loved to keep the book for myself, my friend's birthday was just around the corner. It made a lovely gift.
After all, I could always borrow it from him.