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Dr. Brij Premi's Momentous Work

“Saadat Hassan Manto-Hayat Aur Karnamay”

By Upender Ambardar

Dr. Brij Premi, a noted Urdu scholar and a writer is a name familiar to a wide circle of Urdu readers. The wealth of written material he has left behind in the form of books, research articles, shot stories, essays, literary criticism, allegories besides translations and travelogues is a veritable treasure trove in the world of creative Urdu literature. His wider canvas and literary genius has resulted in remarkable and well-recognised literary works. Infact, his works have contributed immensely to the growth, development and enrichment of the Urdu literature.

"Sadat Hassan Mantoo-Hayat Aur Karnamay" (Life and Works) is one such highly acclaimed literary work of Dr. Brij Premi.

This master piece, which is based on incisive and in-depth research work, has won him the paeans of praise from all shades of the Urdu scholars all over the country. The said book of 375 pages thoughtfully structured in various sections and chapters reveals and shares various startling facts and facets of Mantoo's life and literary works. The author at the very beginning enlightens the reader about Mantoo's Kashmiri descent and his excessive  emotional affinity with Kashmir. This fact Mantoo himself proclaims time and again in his writings with a profound sense of pride : "I am a Kashmiri. Long back my ancestors migrated from Kashmir to Punjab, where they embraced Islam".

Mantoo's admiration and adoration for Kashmir is inherent and sentimental, which is collaborated by his revelation in an article: "I am also a Kashmiri...and I have endless love for fellow Kashmiris".

The reader also comes to know that Krishan Chander, the legendary Urdu writer and Mantoo's literary companion also endorses it by his assertions: "Mantoo like Nehru and Iqbal is a Kashmiri Pandit....By his disposition, temperament, features and spirits, Mantoo even today is a Kashmiri Pandit." Mantoo's Saraswat Brahman pedigree is also affirmed by his wife Safia Begum in one of her letters to the author. As investigated by the author Dr. Premi, the surname 'Mantoo' owes its origin to a Kashmiri word 'Manut', meaning one and a half seer (a Kashmiri weight measurement). Mantoo's ancestors would take this weight of the produce as levy from the public as a part of the tax collection. As detailed in the book, one of the ancestors of Mantoo namely Khawaja Rehmat Ullah, who dealt in Pashmina and Shawl business is believed to have migrated from Kashmir to Lahore (Punjab) in the beginning of nineteenth century and thereafter to Amritsar where he finally settled down.

It was at Samrala, a place in district Ludhiana where Mantoo was born on 11th May 1912 and also had his initial education. His father Moulvi Ghulam Hassan had twelve issues by his two wives. During his student days,  Mantoo envisaged little interest in the studies but somehow managed to pass his matriculation examination from Amritsar. Influenced by progressive literary movement and the ideology of Marx and Lenin, Bari Aleeg, Mantoo's mentor and preceptor was instrumental in moulding his thinking and character. It resulted in the stock piling of a large number of books on Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Gorky, Pushkin, Chekov, October Russian Revolution, Oscar Wilde, Maupassant and Victor Hugo in Mantoo's room, named 'Darul-Hamar'. The author further mentions that Mantoo's youthful imagination was also fired by the revolutionary conviction of Bhagat Singh, whose photograph adorned Mantoo's room shelf joined by his communist friends, Mantoo's said room was the hub of animated discussions about the great October Russian Revolution and Marxist Ideology.

Though after matriculation, Mantoo enrolled himself for F.A. Studies at Aligarh Muslim University but impending economic constraints and failing health coerced him to discontinue his studies. After having been diagnosed to be suffering from T.B. disease, Mantoo decided to go to Batote (J&K State) sanatorium for convalescence, where he stayed for three months.

Batote's spell binding natural grandeur, picturesque surroundings and Mantoo's infatuation with a native shepherdess named, 'Bego' find their reflections in Mantoo's well-known short stories entitled "Ek khat", "Bego", "Misri Ki Dali", "Mausam Ki Shararat" and "Lalteen" etc.

Mantoo's association with a progressive daily newspaper of Amritsar "Masawat" heralded his journalistic career. Subsequently due to the financial stringencies resulting from the death of his father and also out of his flawed relationships with some of his close relatives, forced young Mantoo to move to Lahore, where he joined Lala Karam Chand's newspaper "Paras" on monthly wages of Rs forty.

It was during this time that besides compiling translated short stories of Gorky, Mantoo himself translated certain Russian short stories for a special number of 'Alamgheer' magazine.

Compelled by his economic constraints and indifferent health, the author Dr. Brij Premi lucidly traces Mantoo's journey from Lahore to Bombay at the young age of twenty years. In order to satiate his literary hunger, Mantoo with renewed will and vigour associated himself with different cine periodicals and film companies of Bombay. In January 1936, he started as a columnist-cum-editor in Nazeer Ludhianavis' cine weekly "Musavir", on monthly wages of Rs forty only and later-on shifted to "Karwan", another periodical at Bombay.

His subsequent association as a dialogue writer, with Bombay's 'Imperial Film Company' and later on with 'Film City' and 'Hindustan Cine Tune' is also covered by the author.

During this period, Mantoo wrote the screen play of his first feature film 'Apni Nagariya', which was based on his own short story 'Keechad'. The film turned out to be a box office hit.

Mantoo's marriage in 1939 with Safya Begum who belonged to an old Kashmiri family of Lahore but settled in Africa, the birth of his first child Arif in 1940 and his mother's demise in 1940 itself are well documented by the author, Dr. Brij Premi.

Manto’s disillusionment with life because of his mother's death and his deteriorating health forced him to say good-bye to Bombay and seek employment as a script writer in the Drama section of All India Radio in 1941 on a salary of Rs 150 per month. Urdu legendaries like Krishna Chander, Upender Nath Ashq, Noom Meem Rashid, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Rajander Singh Bedi and Behnaz Lucknawi were his associates there. During his one and a half year's stint at All India Radio Delhi, Manto wrote more than one hundred and fifty radio plays and features, the notable among them being "Jaeb Katra", Neeli Ragen", "Journalist", besides "Intezar Ka Doosra Rukh". All these details have been revealed with graphic description by the author.

The hurt caused by indifference of his colleagues due to professional jealousy and the death of his lone son Arif in July 1942 compelled Mantoo to quit the job at All India Radio and to shift to Bombay once again on 7th August 1942, where he subsequently joined 'Filmistan', the film company on a salary of Rs 300 per month. It was at the Filmistan that he scripted his first film under its banner by the name of 'Chal Chal Rae Naujawan'. It was followed by the release of his two more films 'Ghumand' and 'Mirza Ghalib'. As clearly indicated by the author, Mantoo was greatly influenced by the poetry of Ghalib, the fact which is collaborated by the frequent use of Ghalib's poetry by Mantoo in his various writings.

His uneasy equation with the management of Filmistan and the rosy picture of better professional prospectus at Lahore (Pakistan) persuaded Mantoo to migrate to Pakistan in January 1948, where his family had already migrated after the partition of the country. There, he again associated himself with the film industry and his first film in Pakistan was 'Beli', which was followed by his another film 'Doosri Kothi'.

As per the author Dr. Brij Premi, the enormous devastation, violence and bloodshed inflicted on the people of the subcontinent in the aftermath of the partition in 1947 forced Mantoo to pour-out his crying soul in his short stories. As reflected in them, he outrightly rejected the narrow minded religious and communal approach of the fundamentalist forces in both the countries. His daringly written post partition literary work in Pakistan is indicative of the view that Mantoo was deeply saddened by the events that followed the partition of the country.

The dreadful realities of the partition of the country are vividly reflected in Mantoo's writings, in which the hard hitting denunciation of the communal forces is quite evident. Mantoo's unorthodox look, coupled with  his pragmatic and rational approach is reflected in his short stories like 'Kali Shalvar', 'Boo', 'Dhuvan', 'Thanda Goshat', 'Khol Doh' and 'Oopur Neechay Darmiyan' etc. These creative writings infuriated and antagonized both the colonial English rulers before independence and the Pakistani authorities after partition.

Further, Mantoo's short stories also have a word of sympathy for the downtrodden oppressed and those leading a life of squalor and misery. Mantoo examines the issues related with the common man with sentimental compassion and fearless assertion. His humanistic approach, championing of the cause of the proletariat and his socialist and leftist leanings are quite evident in his writings. Even after his migration to Pakistan, Mantoo did not discard and surrender his secular and progressive credentials. He remained committed to them to the last. As revealed by the author, a combination of successive setbacks, indifference of his close associates at Bombay, uncertainties and insecurities of life and fickleness of the 'Dame Luck' to favour him forced Mantoo to migrate to Lahore (Pakistan).

Undeniably, the book "Sadat Hassan Mantoo—Hayat Aur Karmay", is an outstanding work of Dr. Brij Premi. It has rightly been acclaimed by the critics as a magnificent, comprehensive and in-depth research work on the life and works of Mantoo. The book is a valuable addition to the Urdu literature.

*(The author is a Keen student of Kashmir’s Culture and Tradition. His pioneering work on KASHMIRI PANDIT DIASPORA IN HIMACHAL PRADESH has been widely acclaimed. He has also translated many Kashmiri and Urdu writers into English.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

 
 

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