Saadat Hassan Manto-A writer of fierce candour

Remembering Saadat Hassan Manto

Saadat Hassan Manto: A language is not made, it makes itself, and no amount of human effort can kill a language.

Saadat Hassan Manto: A language is not made, it makes itself, and no amount of human effort can kill a language.

MAY 11th was the centenary of the birth of Saadat Hassan Manto—storyteller, Urdu scribe, and a refugee of India‘s bloody partition. A handful of newspapers have paid tribute. Writers and playwrights, in India and Pakistan, marked the date in their own way.

Born in colonial India in the lush western state of Punjab, Manto translated Russian and French novels into Urdu, wrote radio plays and Bollywood films, and produced one of the subcontinent’s most potent collections of 20th-century fiction. But few seem to recall him in India. Is it because he was a Muslim who left Bombay for Lahore after partition? Or is it because he wrote in Urdu, one of India’s many languages and the national language of Pakistan?

Although Manto is remembered as a writer of short fiction, Ayesha Jalal, his grandniece and a historian, described him as a “terrific writer of memoir”. His punchy stories are a mix of experience, imagination and fierce candour. For example, “Khol Do” (or “Open It”), considered to be one his best works, is a horrifying tale about cross-border violence among refugees. It considers the fate of a father who has been desperately searching for his daughter. When he ultimately finds her on a hospital bed inside a refugee camp, he assumes she is dead. But when the doctor enters and asks him to open the windows (“Khol do” he says), the “body” moves. Responding to the doctor, the girl’s “lifeless” hands untie the cord that holds her shalwar (pajamas) up and she “weakly” pushes it down her legs. Her father is jubilant: “My daughter is alive” he exclaims. The doctor, aware of the misunderstanding (and its implications for what she has suffered), breaks out in a cold sweat.

Manto’s work made many people uncomfortable, including fellow Urdu authors within the Progressive Writers Association, who used their work to advocate for social justice. He was frequently charged with obscenity. If my stories are intolerable, he told college students in Bombay in the early 1940s, it is because the world that I write about is intolerable.

His stories about the partition were particularly distressing. In “Thanda Gosht” (“Cold Flesh” or “Cold Meat“), a rioter recounts the story of how he abducted a “beautiful” woman only to discover later that she had been dead for sometime. The story, like his harrowed memory, is fractured: it’s up to the reader to conclude when the man realised he had abducted a dead body.

Manto left Bombay, where he was a popular scriptwriter, for Lahore in 1948. Like his character in “A Tale of 1947″—the young, troubled Mumtaz—he did not choose to leave. He left, like many at the time, because of a deep sense of loss and insecurity. He has since made a comeback in India via translations, mostly in English. But aficionados of Urdu lament that the language he wrote in is no longer courted with the reverence it once enjoyed. After Independence Urdu, the preferred language of Muslim royalty and the mother-tongue of many Muslims in India, was targeted by right-wing Indian nationalists. Hindi, India’s official language, was “revived”, scrubbing it of Urdu with which it had shared an indistinguishable vocabulary (if not script) for centuries.

Yet this doesn’t seem to have worried Manto. “A language is not made, it makes itself,” he wrote. “And no amount of human effort can kill a language.”

A heavy drinker, he died in Lahore of liver cirrhosis in 1955. (courtesy: A.A. & The Economist)

Promised Delivered – Mamata’s Achievments in 168 pages( 4 of which are ‘ulta’)


The answer was blowin’ in the wind and rolling off the presses while the chief minister was insisting

“you (a section of the media) only see the negative, you don’t see anything positive“.

A 168-page paperback, titled Promises Delivered and printed in glazed paper, is available for anyone willing to fork out Rs 100 and eager to read about the achievements of the new government which feels its good work is not being given enough recognition.

Advance copies have already started reaching the tables of senior officials who were caught by surprise because they were already working on such a list for the big day round the corner: the Mamata Banerjee government’s first anniversary next month.

“Very few people in Writers’ actually knew that it was getting published…. Everyone is now working on the oneyear commemoration book, scheduled to be published next month,“ said a senior state government official.

Others were marvelling at the production quality and size of the tom-tom tome. “This is the first time that I have seen such a voluminous publication about the government’s achievements,“ said an official who got the book free yesterday after the chief minister’s office started distributing it.

Some officials suggested the chief minister’s office wanted the publication “as soon as possible“ to counter what Mamata has described as “slander and conspiracy“ in the foreword of the book. (See excerpts in chart) If such a word did indeed go out, those who printed the book appear to have spared no effort:

such was the haste that Pages 41-44 in at least one copy have been printed upside down.

But that should not take anything away from the effort to highlight the achievements the government has managed over the past 11 months.

After explaining the problems -mainly financial constraints -that she has faced in her attempt to deliver on development, the chief minister has highlighted some of the major achievements in her four-page foreword, which have been explained later in detail under different department heads.

“Some are publicly criticising us without mentioning our good performances. This is unmixed conspiracy….False statements are issued forth and facts and statistical data are being ignored,“

she has written in the foreword.

The past few weeks have been a public relations disaster for the government and the chief minister, culminating in the arrest of the Jadavpur University professor for emailing a cartoon.

Against such a backdrop, the book presumably hopes to set the record straight and bring those who strayed back to the straight and the narrow.

Sources in the state secretariat said that around 10,000 copies of the book -a majority of them in English and the remaining in Urdu and Santhali -have been printed from government-owned Saraswaty Press. Unlike most government publications, quality paper has been used for Promises Delivered, which has several colour pictures of Mamata, some of them reliving the happiest moments of her chief ministerial career. Among them are a November 10, 2011, picture with Sharmila Tagore and Shah Rukh Khan at the film festival inauguration and another a week later with Sachin Tendulkar at the Eden.

A senior official of the state information and cultural affairs department, which has published the book, said that the main objective of the book was to make people aware of what the government has done. “It is nothing new. The book is basically a translation in English, Urdu and Santhali from the book published in Bengali to mark the new government’s 200 days in power,“ he said.

The government had brought out a Bengali book -Kichu Kotha, Kichu Kaj (Some words, some work) -in January as Mamata had promised in her manifesto that she would give the people of the state the chance to evaluate her. “We could not distribute the book to all the departments that time and that’s why we have brought out the English version now,“ said the official.

Such a publication would not have drawn much attention but for the fact that government of Trinamul spokespersons have been repeatedly speaking of negative publicity .

Last evening, the chief minister herself had complained of negative news and said in response to a question on development:

“Had you seen the positive side too, you would notice that this government’s performance is 100 out of 100.“

The only problem is if the paperback becomes a bestseller, the state may end up losing money , although for a good cause. Off the record, some officials put the cost of producing the book between Rs 150 and Rs 200 a piece, which means if more and more readers buy it at the official price tag of Rs 100, the state will be adding to its losses.

The Telegraph does not intend to add to the burden of the state exchequer but it is sticking to the cardinal paperback code of not letting out the suspense-filled contents of Promises Delivered.

Instead, the newspaper has done the next best positive thing to plug the book by unabashedly offering a sneak preview of the foreword and highlighting the outlet (see chart) from where you can buy it.

Happy reading! Courtesy: The Telegraph

Journalists’ fraternity appeal for Kazmi’s release

It’s been over a month since Urdu journalist Syed Mohammed Ahmad Kazmi’s, who was arrested by Delhi police special cell for allegedly facilitating the Israel embassy car blast, family and members of the journalist fraternity continue to run a campaign demanding his release.

Under the banner of Kazmi Solidarity Committee, activists and journalists held a press conference demanding his immediate release on Wednesday at the Delhi Press Club. “Kazmi was detained outside the India Islamic Centre. They searched his house. What was legal in all this? Why haven’t they filed a chargesheet yet?” asked senior journalist Seema Mustafa. “Initially, Indian government had categorically said that it does not believe Iran was responsible for the bombing. Israel is playing a geo-political game. India’s position changed and Kazmi’s arrest showed that… Kazmi is a decent human being. He’s an Urdu journalist and has written and contributed to Iranian news agencies. It is a clear conspiracy,” she added.

John Cherian, associate editor of Frontline, said that Kazmi was being victimised. “Kazmi sahab was the easiest scapegoat. A lot of us, including Syed Kazmi and Seema, went to Iraq in 2002 to cover the war… That was the first time I met him. We had met in Syria again last year,” said Cherian. He is not from the mainstream media and happens to be an Urdu journalist with strong views on Israel… Kazmi has always been proud of the work he’s done having covered wars. He is also very proud of his family. I hope he comes out unscathed. We will demand heavy reparation after his release for the wrongful arrest,” added Cherian.

Kazmi’s wife Jahan Ara made an appeal to journalists to stand up to one of their tribe. “If America and Israel are angry at whatever Kazmi has written, I apologise to them on his behalf. We have never lived on what Iran or Israel or America has provided us. Kazmisahab has always been an honest man… I just hope we he’s freed,” said a teary eyed Jahan.

Lawyer Colin Gonsalves rubbished Delhi police claims that there was a strong case. He opined that Kazmi could, in fact, seek legal action against Delhi police for his wrongful arrest. Shabnam Hashmi of ANHAD and Manisha Sethi, President of Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA) also spoke at the conference. The committee also released an appeal signed by eminent journalists, film-makers and activists.


Musalman: @75p, the last “handwritten” newspaper in world !!!

The earliest forms of newspaper were handwritten and now ‘The Musalman‘ probably is the last handwritten newspaper in the world. This Urdu language newspaper was established in 1927 by Chenab Syed Asmadullah Sahi and has been published daily in the Chennai city of India ever since.

With the recent technological advances, where paper newspapers are going extinct because people read them online, this personable touch is rare to find. The price of this paper is 75 Paise

It is presently run by Syed Asmadullah’s grand son Syed Arifullah and six skilled calligraphers work on this four pages newspaper everyday. With a circulation of approximately 23,000 the paper covers news in Urdu language across a wide spectrum including politics, culture and sports.

The ‘Musalman‘ is probably the last handwritten newspaper in the world. It has been published and read every day in South India’s Chennai since 1927 in almost the same form. In the shadow of the Wallajah Mosque in Chennai, a team of six die hard workers still put out this hand-penned paper. Four of them are katibs — writers dedicated to the ancient art of Urdu calligraphy. It’s tough for the die-hard artists of Urdu calligraphy. But the story we tell here is not just of their desperation and despair. The fact is, at the office of ‘The Musalman’, the oldest Urdu daily in India, no one has ever quit. They work till they pass on.

Check out this video directed by Ishani K. Dutta and produced and uploaded to YouTube by the Public Diplomacy Division of India’s Ministry of External Affairs:

Preparation of its every page takes about three hours. After the news is received in English from its part time reporters, it is translated into Urdu and Katibs – writers, dedicated to the ancient art of Urdu calligraphy, pen – down the whole story on paper. After that negative copy of the entire hand –written paper is prepared and pressed on printing plates.

Presently it is edited by Mr. Syed Arifullah. He took over the charge after his father died. His father ran this paper for 40 years. It was founded by his grandfather in 1927. This paper has maintained its original look and had not compromised with the Urdu computer font.

Urdu type setting was very difficult; also, typeset work looked ugly in comparison to handwritten work. Therefore, Urdu resorted to lithography while other languages adopted typeset.

With the advent of computer, Urdu writing got great boost. It allowed calligraphic writing without the problems of lithography. Yet, a book or newspaper written by a good katib and properly lithographed is very pleasing and beautiful; computer written Urdu is no match.

Kashmir’s print media marches on!

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

Talking Point: Dr Javid Iqbal

Shujaat Bukhari in his article ‘A successes story amid all odds’ while relating the ‘Rising Kashmir’ tale lays down a matter of fact…starting a newspaper in Kashmir is not an easy job.  Multiple publications in the print media belie his claim. However an assessment of how many sustained to stay afloat indicates what he is trying to make out.  The pulls, the pressures of any conflict zone could be forbidding. Kashmir is no exception.

The journalists could get into the crossfire…literally, proverbially too! It has never been easy in Kashmir, even before militancy. Militancy made it tougher. Added to over-ground contenders were the underground militants engaging security forces. Post 1989 scenario stands painted by Shujaat Bukhari with the desired shades; a time phase in which he was one of the media actors. We may assess the growth of media in Indian subcontinent, and thence J&K State, so that a holistic picture emerges.
British Raj in India allowed a measure of press freedom, as ‘Times of India’ of ‘Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd’ came-up in 1838 AD in Bombay, and ‘Statesman’ in Calcutta. These English language newspapers reflected the day to day life of Britishers in India, and later on Congress party initiated by British liberals like Lord Hume and Annie Beasent. Those were the days when Congress was asking for favours, rather than rights. And favours only for people of British Indian territory, Indian States were a category apart with despotic autocratic rule.
Jammu and Kashmir State like other Indian States had not even the small measure of freedom which British India enjoyed. In late 20’s of 20th century ‘Ranbir’ was published in Jammu. Kashmir valley didn’t have media publication worth the name even though the movement for political rights was on from 1931. In late 30’s and early 40’s that papers like ‘Hamdard’ and Khidmat’ came-up, with phases of intense censorship varying with relative freedom, which however had a limited extent. Moreover there was bitter rivalry between the publishers.
Khidmat-Hamdard rivalry had a political rather than a journalistic basis. Khidmat was National Conference’s media face, whileas Hamdard edited by Prem Nath Bazaz was NC contender. Bazaz initially Sheikh Abdullah supporter turned into a bitter rival espousing any anti-Abdullah voice, be it the one of Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah or Ram Chand Kak—JK Premier 1946/47. Bazaz had a political party of sorts representing the peasant [Kisan] and labour [Mazdoor] though it didn’t make much headway, as Abdullah dominated the scene. With Kak, he also had a hand in organising ‘State Peoples Conference’ an anti-Abdullah front. For any student of growth of Kashmir journalism, any research scholar, this could form a part of study. ‘Khidmat’ archives are a good source, where I got a chance to study the events and happenings of those early days of Kashmir journalism.
Whileas in the wider avenues of subcontinent, English press made an early appearance, there were some Hindi publications too in the later half of 19th century. ‘Kavi Vachan Sudha’ of Harish Chandar and ‘Brahmin’ of Narain Mishra were publication meant to undercut the Persian influence of Mughal era, and its offshoot ‘Urdu’. Though Gandhi propagated Hindustani as an assimilative linguistic process, Hindi media was vociferously propagating Hindi. ‘Al-Balag’ and ‘Al-Hilal’ of Maulana Azad made a huge impact on survival and growth of Urdu journalism in the subcontinent. Urdu was the predominant linguistic form of Kashmir journalism, until as Shujaat Bukhari makes out the spreading literacy with English as the predominant medium, being the international link language necessitated initiation of English press. Of that later, first the post-1947 scenario in Kashmir, an assessment of how it affected the media in Kashmir, which could be a prelude to post-1989 scenario painted by Shujaat Bukhari.
1947! Kashmir became bone of contention between two of South Asia’s most powerful states-India and Pakistan. The political dispensing in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, two-third of which became the ‘Indian Administered Kashmir’ had soon contenders of various hues, and of varying intensity. The print media felt the pressure and hardly anything that the ruling regime of the day would not relish got printed. The print media insignificant though in those days, mostly vernacular felt the pressure and self-censorship became the rule before the state would get into the act. Khidmat continued to project NC viewpoint, Hamdard continued though under differing ownership and editorship. A welcome addition was ‘Aftab’ Urdu daily edited by Kh. Sonaullah Aftab—an old hand in journalism, who had tried his hand across the line in ‘Pakistan Administered Kashmir’ only to face challenges. Switching back to vale, the challenges did not cease. His satire ‘Khazar Suchta Hai Wular Kay Kinaray’ conveyed what he could not say directly, given the constraints that press was experiencing.
As 50’s turned to 60’s ‘Srinagar Times’ came-up with its trademark cartoon—Bashir Ahmad Bashir [BAB] made many a morning. His cartoons were as telling as Kh. Sonaullah’s ‘Khazar Suchta Hai Wular Kay Kinaray’. A serious attempt to convey the views behind news was initiated by Shamim Ahmad Shamim’s [SAS]’s ‘Aina’ a landmark in Kashmir journalism. SAS had linguistic as well as oratorical fluidity in Urdu and he used it with telling effect. However he too had to take a measure of political cover, before he could say what he wanted to. The political cover was provided by the political skills that he acquired by his acumen. SAS combined journalistic and political roles, changing garbs with effortless ease. He departed as quickly as he came within approximately a decade and a half, succumbing to dreadful cancer in 1980 AD, aged just 43 years. It was a tragic loss.
Post 1989! There is hardly any aspect of post-1989 which Shujaat Bukhari has left unexplored right from the days when Al-Safa made a mark. The tale and trail continued in vernacular press, though the role of English medium ‘Kashmir Times’ cannot be ignored. Jammu based initially, with a fair readership in the valley, for the bi-lingual lot, it remained an evening read after a morning look at the vernacular. In nineties with ‘Greater Kashmir’ taking on the daily garb from a weekly one, valley had a Standard English daily every morning. With the advent of 21st century and a continuing militancy confronting the state, media was working under all the strains imaginable in conflict zone. State, as Shujaat Bukhari makes out has enough in hand to squeeze the media, though censorship is unacceptable, understandably useless with ever widening panorama of information technology. The state squeeze is visible for conscious and knowledgeable readership. Hence the ones who desire to stay afloat with a readership to boost of need to remain vigilant not to succumb to squeeze. With ‘RK’ coming to fore in 2008, ‘KT’ hitting stands early morning in the valley for the last few years and ‘GK’ looming large, increasing and avid readers have a variety to pick from. There is a healthy competition, no acrimony. I could vouch for it, being privileged to work with all. Never ever have I heard a bitter word or seen an undesirable gesture against each other by the main players in Kashmir media. Instead there is realisation that they need to take care of each other, stand by and for each other!
When the going gets tough, the tough get going…heavier the odds stronger the march!
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival] Feedback on:  

(courtesy: Rising Kashmir & Dr Javid Iqbal)