I was getting anxious as the time of my departure from Mumbai was approaching. I vividly remember it was the last week of September 2016 and I wanted to spend my last week; eating, drinking, and visiting my favorite spots. I still remember every last day I spent in Mumbai except the day of my departure. Sadly, the thought of leaving Mumbai captivated me the whole day. This resolute desire, for a place, people, and especially fond memories, puts Sadat Hasan Manto and Me in a similar plain; for him, it was an unconditional desire to return to India (in his later days) and for me it is Mumbai. However, this is not the only reason that I picked up his anthology of the short story Naked Voices; Stories and Sketches 2008, complied and translated by Rakshananda Jalil. This is also an attempt to plaster my fragile memory with a concrete structure and Manto’s universe in this anthology provides the raw material for that. Nevertheless, it was more than just that, I felt it was an altogether different experience. In short, it was the recollection of memories; disturbing oral histories of the pogrom from my childhood, and my visit to different places in Mumbai during my fieldwork days that compelled me to review this collection of short stories. Manto shifted to Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1935 and had done various odd jobs before turning into writing. The red-light district of Forres road, the chawls of Nagpara, the paanwallas, taxi driver, washermen, Parsi landlady, Parsi hotels’ keepers and editors of Urdu newspaper became rich source of his inspiration. He was a prolific writer who wrote twenty-two collections of short stories, one novel, five (some say seven) collections of radio plays, three collections of essays and two collections of essays of some personalities.

“People say I write with a black pen, but I never write on blackboard with a black chalk. I always use a white chalk so that the blackness of the board is clearly visible.”

~ Sadat Hasan Manto

This is precisely what Sadat Hasan Manto had done in Naked Voices, an illuminating anthology of short stories. Manto’s oeuvre in this collection narrates grappling accounts of human exploitation, greed, lust and corruption. In Sharifan and Comfort, Manto had carefully illustrated the hostility of human nature. The horror of partition is a central theme in By God and Yazid. These stories are the troubling tale of mass suffering. The recurrent theme of communal divide in Naked Voices and Sahay portrayed pictures that was otherwise colored by mainstream media. The struggle of mother in By the Road sideBy God, and The Rat of Shahdole is captured in great detail. In The candle’s Tears, Manto forced you to travel inside the damped and cramped room of a sex worker from little Lajo’s point of view, a daughter of the protagonist. The Makers of Martyrs is an un-fairytale of formal fallacy of a Gujarati Bania shifted to Pakistan. His pursuit for the redemption ended up killing hundreds of innocent lives thereby making them martyrs. Loser All the way is startling in many ways; the protagonist’s rhythmic impulse of losing, Gangubai’s sheer compassion and his unsolicited broken bond strikes the desolation within the reader. Then, there are stories with silver linings, Hundred Candle Watt bulbs where the protagonist is a woman despite all adversity fought back with the eminent force and in Yazid, protagonist’s father fought against communal forces to save people.

Naked VoicesThe Manto’s canon produced in the anthology is not limited to the inference made above. The stories intertwined the structure and style, complex characters, atmosphere and themes so gracefully and compassionately that stories leave you in awe. The structure in almost all the stories is captivating. In By God, a mother’s stubborn refusal to accept that her daughter is dead and finding peace in death after spotting her so abruptly, is crafted nuancedly. In Slivers and Silvereens, Manto used prose to satirically comment on politics and politicians were astonishingly powerful yet relevant.

Vivid and thick descriptions of the physical and social atmosphere in each story breathe life into the characters. I couldn’t help but to share the description from The Candle’s Tears “Wax had fallen on the damp floor, scattering like milky frozen droplets. Little Lajo had been crying for a pearl Necklace. Her mother strung the candle’s waxen tears on a string and made necklace for her. Lajo placed the string of wax pearls around her neck gleefully and went out, clapping her hands with joy.”

Short stories having an inherent limitation of not having many characters, there lies Manto’s craftsmanship, a real genius of his era, has wisely sketch characters to bring out the rawness of human emotion; mother’s unconditional love in By The RoadsideThe Rat of Shahdole and By God, assertive and ferocious woman in Hundred Candle Watt Bulbs, moral bankruptcy of Gujarai Bania in The making of Martyr and lust in Bismillah. Besides, The craftmanship of Manto manifests from the careful employment of characters in each story.

The narration of the stories progresses like a river flowing in the countryside; some in linear fashion (Loser All The Way) and the other in non-linear fashion (By the Roadside). Revealing narration in Bismillah provoked voyagers inside all of us. Narration like rhyme in Slivers and Slivereens is a profound commentary on social and political milieu and, relation people of India and Pakistan share in Sahay. Manto’s solicitude for Hindu Muslim riot and partition of India and Pakistan narrated in depth from point of view of those whose lives were suppressed and degraded. In stories in which women were protagonist and deuteragonist, Manto gets under the skin of women and describes the very physical changes inside the woman’s body as it prepares to nurture life in the womb.

Naked Voices; Stories and Sketches has some of the most fascinating stories which make Sadat Hasan Manto a great storyteller and social commentator of all time. The collection has sixteen short stories and three sketches, intriguing and engaging, propelled my untapped desire to consume literature of writes alike Manto.

 Divyesh Murabiya – I am Researcher and Writer. I spare my timing reading short stories and writing on films. You can reach the author for comment and/or clarification on murabiyadivyesh@gmail.com.


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