Manto’s women

Manto stands more or less alone in the position he takes on women, contends Raza Rumi, in an exploration of Manto’s relationship with his female protagonists


Manto2Saadat Hasan Manto

Perhaps the most well-known and also controversial Urdu writer of the twentieth century happens to be Saadat Hasan Manto. He left us with a stupendous literary output, which continues to remain relevant decades after his death. Manto, not unlike other ‘greats’ died young and lived through the greatest upheaval in the Indian subcontinent i.e. the Partition. As a sensitive writer, he was influenced and traumatized by political turmoil during 1947 and beyond. His stories reflect his repeated attempts to come to terms with this cataclysmic event especially for millions in North India. For Manto, partition remained a mystery but he did not keep himself in a state of denial about it. He always used the word ‘batwara’, never partition.i Manto felt that it was the ripping apart of one whole and would lead to greater divisions among the people of the subcontinent. This coming to terms with the ‘batwara’, is experienced in his works by unusual characters driven by plain ambitions, mixed emotions and above all sheer humanity.

Like Nazeer AkabarAbadi, Manto’s characters are universal and often it is difficult to condemn or dislike them since their humanity remains overarching. Manto raised the slogan of humanism at a time when the subcontinent presented the picture of a boiling cauldron of religious riots and protests, of acts of misogyny committed in the name of communal honour and ‘nationalism’. For example, in the story Sahai, Manto writes, “Don’t say that one lakh Hindus and one lakh Muslims have died. Say that two lakh human beings have perished.” Manto uses his characters as metaphors to highlight the prevalent abuse of humanity in those times.

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Dalrymple’s “The Last Mughal”

The Last Mughal book by william Dalrymple

I was introduced to William Dalrymple when I read the City of Djinns a decade ago. What struck me was the fluid style of writing and more importantly that the book mirrored the complexity and multi-facetedness of Delhi and to some extent India. Dalrymple painted an entertaining and yet profound picture of contemporary Delhi in a non-linear narrative. It also reflected a scholar’s incisiveness, a researcher’s accuracy and a writer’s imagination. Not an ordinary feat! And, as opposed to a structured history text or a skin-deep travel guide, this was original. His other books and articles re-invent the same magic. The most recent, “White Mughals” raised the bar even higher. His forthcoming book, “The Last Mughal”, part of the Mughal Quartet, will be published by Bloomsbuy in October 2006.

William has been kind in letting me post his article on “The Last Mughal” on this blog.

In June 1858 the Times correspondent, William Howard Russell- a man now famous as the father of war journalism- arrived in the ruins of Delhi, recently recaptured by the British from the rebels after one of the bloodiest sieges in Indian history.

The invisibility of the Mughal princesses

Impressions – White Mughals by William Dalrymple

Sultana Begum, the great grand daughter-in law of last Mughal emperor


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