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Mumbaiwale: Walking down Manto’s memory lanes

Saw the movie? Read the books? Wondering how much of Saadat Hasan Manto’s Bombay still stands? Take a look

mumbai Updated: Sep 29, 2018 17:26 IST
Rachel Lopez
Rachel Lopez
Hindustan Times
Manto,Nawazuddin Siddiqui,Saadat Hasan Manto
“If you haven’t been to Bombay, you might not believe that no-one takes an interest in anyone else,” Manto says in Bombay Stories.

If you’ve watched Manto and come away awed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Dugal and Rajshri Deshpande, who can blame you? But if the film left you yearning for the Bombay that Manto so effortlessly painted in his stories, things can get tricky.

Saadat Hasan Manto, the Urdu-language short-story master died at 42, but produced 22 short-story collections, five radio-plays, three books of essays, personal sketches and a novel. Many believe he did his best work during his time in Bombay. The Amritsar-born writer moved here in 1936, and fast fell in love with the city. Trade between Bombay and the world had resumed after World War I. The city was bustling and cosmopolitan: Hindus, Muslims, Baghdadi Jews, Armenians, Christians, Parsis and Anglo-Indians. The bars were full. The idea of Independence was in the air. For intellectuals, there was opportunity and adventure.

And there was cinema! Manto edited a film magazine and wrote screenplays, befriending filmmakers, studio owners and actors who’d become the most famous names of their time. His descriptions of Sitara, Nargis and Ashok Kumar show a writer at home with language, willing to see the flaws in his famous friends and fascinated by the moral codes of a changing Bombay and India.

Arab Galli, Grant Road

This is where the writer made his first home in Bombay. He settled into a chawl, in 1936, paying nine rupees and eight annas a month “for a room that didn’t have water or electricity”. It was colourful – his writings include descriptions of insects, and rats so big, they scared the cats. Manto lived here for five years, editing a film magazine called Mussawar. “If you haven’t been to Bombay, you might not believe that no-one takes an interest in anyone else,” he says in Bombay Stories. “But the truth is that if you are busy dying in your room, no one will interfere. Even if one of your neighbours is murdered, be assured you won’t hear about it.”

Falkland and Foras Road, Grant Road

Kamathipura used to be the city’s largest and most vibrant red-light district and Manto visited often, for the bars and for material for his work. There are no mujras or dance houses today. Fewer theatres or playhouses. Much of the sex-trade is now conducted online but the area still bustles well into the night.

Ismalia Society, Clare Road, Byculla

Manto moved to better lodgings in Adelphi Chambers (now part of Ismalia) after he married. Typical of the era, it had a long wraparound verandah and a grand staircase. Nargis visited, chaperoned by her mother, curious to meet Manto’s wife and her sisters.

Bombay Talkies Studio Compound, Malad

What’s now a ruin was once a studio where Manto briefly worked. He also wrote for the Imperial Film Company, Saroj Movietone and Filmistan, before he moved to Pakistan. He even acted in a film, Eight Days, about a World War II soldier, in 1946.

Sarvi, Dimtimkar Road, Nagpada

The restaurant still serves the same kebabs that Manto and his friends would stop for in the 1940s, though they are now made of mutton. The building is also where the actor Nadira lived.

Congress House, near Grant Road Station

In Manto’s story, Three Simple Statements, it gets a telling mention. “Both Congress House and Jinnah Hall were under the control of the government, but the mootri (urinal) was free, free to spread its stink far and wide, free to receive the garbage of the local community at its doorstep.”

Jyoti Studio Compound, Nana Chowk

At the junction, towards Kennedy Bridge is where the office of Jyoti Studios once stood. Manto worked here, writing for filmmaker Ardeshir Irani, who directed Alam Ara, the first Indian film with sound, and Kisan Kanya for Irani, the first colour film processed in India. He also wrote the 1943 film Naukar, and Chal Chal Re Navjavan the following year.

Read: Bitter Fruit, Khalid Hasan’s English translations of Manto’s works. Stars From Another Sky, his writings on the film industry of the 1940s. Bombay Stories, translated by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad.

First Published: Sep 29, 2018 17:24 IST