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111 3 LivingandWalkingBombay Manto returned to Bombay on 7 August 1942, still mourning his son’s death the previous year and as uncertain as ever as to how to make ends meet. The film industry held obvious attractions. “Serve literature and earn money through films,” he once told Krishan Chander, who had been taken aback by his willingness—­ at the behest of a half-­ literate producer—­ to change a script they had jointly worked on.50 Bombay was bristling with the energy of the Quit India movement. Anticolonial sentiments were being fuled by economic distress caused by the shortage of essential commodities and galloping wartime inflation. The brutality of state repression during the first month of popular protests against the raj signaled the British determination to stamp out any form of political dissent in India for the duration of the war. With the top Congress leadership locked up in jail for refusing to cooperate in the war effort, the forties saw the fortuitous rise of the All-­ India Muslim League (AIML) and its demand for “Pakistan.” First articulated in a resolution by the AIML at its Lahore session in March 1940, the call for “independent 112 II Memories Muslim states” aimed at winning Muslims an equitable share of power in independent India, based on their religious majorities in the northwestern provinces of Punjab, NWFP (the North-­ West Frontier Province), Sindh, and Baluchistan, and Bengal and Assam in the northeast.51 Widely interpreted in India as a “separatist” demand, the Muslim League’s policy of cooperation with the colonial government and insistence on “Pakistan” intensified Hindu-­ Muslim tensions. Relations between the two communities became especially strained after the Muslim League asked its supporters to stay away from the Quit India movement. Detached but not indifferent to the politics of the Congress and the Muslim League, Manto observed their fallout on everyday social relations. In 1942 he wrote an essay, “Hindustan ko Lidroon say Bachao” (Save India from Leaders), placing the blame for the stresses and strains in relations between India’s two main communities on the insincerity of political leaders. After giving heated speeches slamming capitalism at public meetings, they went home to sleep in their comfortable beds. Not even a fraction of their nights was spent figuring out what ailed India collectively, as they were too busy diagnosing their own particular diseases. It was distasteful to hear politicians , who could not keep their own homes in order, talking about rectifying the affairs of the homeland and giving people lessons in ethics. Politicians talked incessantly of religion, claiming it was in danger when they had never followed its basic tenets. “Religion is what it was and will always stay that way,” Manto wrote; “the spirit of religion is a concrete reality that will never change.” “Religion is like a rock unaffected by the waves of the sea” and could not be in danger. If a danger existed, it was from leaders who endangered religion for their 113 Living and Walking Bombay own personal ends. These so-­ called leaders, who “carried the corpse of politics and religion on their shoulders” and told gullible people they could make the dead come alive again, were interested only in lining their own pockets with goods stolen from the poor. India’s young men, with their torn shirts, needed to overthrow such a leadership from the heights they had wrongly come to occupy. Poverty was not a curse. The poor man rowing his own boat was far better off than the rich. India’s deprived and dispossessed millions needed to determine their own best interests and just sit back and watch the spectacle of would-­ be leaders trying to navigate their weighty ships on the vast ocean of life.52 Manto’s negative view of politicians who peddle religion for self-­ glorification drew on a philosophy of life that firmly rejected deception and hypocrisy. Compared to the shopkeepers of religion, whose hearts are dark and filled with hatred , his prostitutes, pimps, and criminals are truer to their humanity. He had seen through the politically motivated nature of the Hindu-­ Muslim problem as early as 1936 and was prompted to compose an appeal for the residents of Bombay.53 His passion for Bombay and warm memories of the days he spent there were based on the city’s unique ability to bring talented people from various class and regional backgrounds together without the imposition of the religious and ideological barriers that were being invoked in the political...


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MARC Record
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