'Saadat Hasan Manto Finest Chronicler of Mumbai'

Sourav Roy Barman/New Delhi
'Saadat Hasan Manto Finest Chronicler of Mumbai'
'Saadat Hasan Manto Finest Chronicler of Mumbai'

Almost every great city in modern world has had a chronicler of its own who negotiates with characteristic ease untold stories of people and places.

"In Saadat Hasan Manto, Bombay has its finest chronicler," says Aakar Patel who has edited and translated Manto's writings from Urdu into a new book Why I Write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto."

The book contains stories about Mumbai by Manto, who is better known for his writing about Partition. Although Manto never compiled all his stories based on Mumbai in a single volume, his angst-ridden pieces form part of the recently launched collection of non-fiction writings.

"Migrating from Amritsar, Bombay is where Manto came into his own and developed a style which he held on to," says Patel.

"Living and working in Bombay was the happiest phase of Manto's life. He was one of the very few writers who recognised the powerful hold of popular culture in people's imagination, including the hindi film industry," says Patel.

The rationale, says the author could be that "Manto led a very ordinary life. He was not a man of great culture or high art." Mantos' style, says Patel was in ideal journalistic fashion - spare, descriptive and attentive.

The viciousness of Partition, in many ways, transformed him as a writer and Manto's pieces gradually became darker, leaving behind the playfulness of his Bombay days.

"He was one of the very few writers who could see through the fallacy in founding a state on the pillars of religion," says Patel. 

At the book's launch here recently senior Congress leader, Mani Shankar Aiyar complimented Patel for "retaining the authenticity" of the pieces, which were originally written in Urdu.

Interestingly, after moving to Lahore, Manto stayed in a flat in Laxmi Mansions, where Aiyar was born. Lahore, to which Manto moved, was a radical departure from the free-spirited, cosmopolitan Bombay.

"After partition, the mercantile communities fled in large numbers, leaving behind a largely peasant population," says Aakar and that subtly altered the way he wrote.

"The story of why he didn't return to Bombay remains a mystery," points out Patel. The city's adopted moniker may be Mumbai but immortalised in Manto's writings, 'Bombay' continues to live on.

One of the greatest raconteurs of the 20th century, Manto declares that he was forced to write when his wife routinely demanded that he put bread on the table for the family.

He doesn't attribute any genius to his skills as a writer and convinces his readers that the stories flowed even as he minded his daughters or tossed a salad.

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