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91 2 FromCinemaCityto ConqueringAirWaves During his all-­ too-­ brief life of forty-­ two years spanning Amritsar , Bombay, Delhi, and Lahore, Manto came into contact with many people and forged some extraordinary friendships that withstood the strains of arbitrary frontiers between India and Pakistan. His cosmopolitanism can be gleaned at one level from his keen interest in Russian, French, and Chinese literature and, on another, from his firm refusal to allow distinctions of religion to interfere with his choice of friends. His extensive galaxy of friends and acquaintances, to name just a few, included the giants of progressive Urdu and Hindi literature , Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chander, Ismat Chughtai , Ali Sardar Jafri, and Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi; editors of literary journals Baburao Patel and Diwan Singh Maftoon; journalist-­poets like Agha Khalash Kashmiri; acclaimed artist M. A. Rahman Chughtai; icons of the Bombay film industry like actors Ashok Kumar and Shyam; producers S. ­Mukherjee and V. Shantaram; directors K. Asif and Shaukat Hussain Rizvi; lyricist Raja Mehdi Ali Khan; music directors Rafique Ghaznavi and Khurshid Anwar—­not to mention the peerless 92 II Memories nightingale of united India and Melody Queen of Pakistan, Madam Noor Jahan. In his brutally candid sketches in Bald Angels on celebrities he came to know well, Manto made creative uses of his personal memory to give glimpses into the subcontinent’s collective social and cultural history that have been obscured in the mayhem and dislocations of partition or swept aside by the torrent of selective nationalist reconstructions of the past. He was also a diligent archivist who preserved letters written to him by literary associates, as well as by admirers and critics. This correspondence was the one treasure he took the trouble of bringing with him to Lahore. Most of Manto’s own letters are not available, but his sketches and essays fill some key gaps. The individuals and events he wrote about, with his powers of keen and candid observation, were temporally, if not spatially, immediate to him. As a result, his writings evince a more effective coincidence of personal memory and collective history than do narrations of the past relying on the retrieval of memories several decades down the line. Manto’s days are immortalized in his own and other people ’s writings. The rhythms of Bombay, its electric cars, breathtaking ocean views, exotic eateries, foul-­ smelling alleyways, and curious dialects struck intimate and enduring chords within him. Trying to make a living by working in the film industry, however, where art for art’s sake had no value, was frustrating and demoralizing. After entering the glitzy and competitive world of Bombay cinema, Manto had no qualms about trying to find employment for struggling fellow writers like Rajinder Singh Bedi (1915–­ 1984), Krishan Chander (1914–­1977), and Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi (1916–­2006), even before he had found his own feet. As partial compensation for 93 From Cinema to Air Waves his indulgence, Manto solicited their opinions regularly on his film scripts. In letter after letter he urged Qasimi to move to Bombay. Desperately poor, Manto had the generosity of heart to offer to pay Qasimi’s rail fare from Lahore and put him up in Bombay. He admitted to being a rash spender but promised to ensure that there would be books to read even if there was no food to eat.5 Manto’s altruism is all the more remarkable as the two had never met. On being urged to come to Bombay to try his luck in the film industry, Bedi was tempted. He had never seen the ocean. But he could not bring himself to leave his modest job as a clerk at the Lahore Post Office for the uncertain risks of India’s most glamorous city. He was content to just communicate with Manto, whom he greatly admired and sought to emulate. “You were the first to set this ball of progressivism in our literature rolling,” Bedi wrote, and “I am glad you have still your shoulders to the wheel.”6 “Your transgressions of the frontiers of ethics have been extremely enjoyable,” and in the “shariat of literature they are extremely heartwarming.”7 Responding to Manto’s criticism about his prose being unduly convoluted and dense, Bedi conceded that soon after he started writing, someone questioned his command over the Urdu language, and he responded by using more difficult Urdu. “Don’t think I did not like your criticism,” he assured Manto. “In fact I am prepared to go so far...


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MARC Record
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