The Story of Aath Din

Upendranath Ashk

Prashansa Taneja is currently working on a translation of Upendranath Ashk’s memoir of his supposed enmity with Manto, “Manto: Mera Dushman”. Below is an excerpt which chronicles Manto and Ashk’s time together working at Filmistan in the early forties. The two first worked together in AIR Delhi along with Krishan Chander and other Hindi/Urdu writers. But after Ashk cruelly vetted the manuscript of a play he’d submitted, Manto quarreled with with the station director, quit his job and returned to Bombay to write for films. A year later, he made his peace with Ashk and invited him to work in Filmistan.

This excerpt describes how Manto got Ashok Kumar to film his story Aath Din instead of one written by Ashk. To take his revenge, Ashk, who played the comic role of Pundit Totaram in the film, created confusion on the set. Manto appeared in the film in a cameo role as a shell-shocked soldier. Aath Din, released in 1946, was also S.D. Burman’s first film.

From Upendranath Ashk’s Manto: Mera Dushman (“My Enemy, Manto”) published in 1956. Excerpted and translated from the Hindi by Prashansa Taneja.

The Story of Aath Din
My first film, which Nitin (Bose) Babu directed, was Mazdoor; the second was Safar, which was directed by Bibhuti Mitra. I wrote the dialogues for both the films and, in this way, the first one-and-a-half years of working in Filmistan passed relatively quietly. Manto regretted that I had derailed his plans [After coming to Bombay, Ashk realized that Manto had invited him to Filmistan to get back at him for tearing apart his play at All India Radio, Delhi, which had led to a quarrel between Manto and the station director N.M. Rashid. Because of this, Manto quit his job there–trans.], but I thought it would be better to make sure as far as I could that I stayed away from him instead of arguing daily.

But despite my caution, Manto was at last successful in wounding me. Continue reading “The Story of Aath Din”

Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

Ayesha Jalal, The Pity of Partition: Manto's Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013).
Ayesha Jalal, The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013).

Since my review of Ayesha Jalal’s new biography of her great uncle Saadat Hasan Manto came out in Caravan Magazine, I’ve received loads of praise for my courage. But the fact of the matter is it doesn’t take a lot of courage to write a critical review of a senior scholar if you’ve got nothing left to lose academically. I didn’t tremble with fear at the prospect of having to write a critical review when I realized that was going to be necessary, and I’m not anxious now about whether or not Jalal will read it. Really the sad thing of it is that it should be considered a matter of courage to simply write a review with due diligence. Is truthful critique possible in an academia so defined by rigid hierarchy?

From the sloppy editing to the grandiose claims within the book and on its dust jacket, The Pity of Partition spoke to me more than anything of the condescending attitude of US academic publishing toward ‘third world’ ‘vernacular’ literature, and who knows, maybe just all things relating to the lesser places. There was no need to bother with getting Urdu words and names spell-checked, there was no apparent solicitation of feedback from scholars of Urdu literature (and if feedback was sought it was obviously ignored). I strongly doubt Princeton University Press (PUP!) would handle a publication on American or European literature with the same disdain (or perhaps I’m wrong? Maybe this is part of the destruction of the academic publishing industry? If so, may such publications hasten its demise).

Here’s an excerpt of my (oddly named) review (and no, I didn’t make the art):

In her new biography of her great uncle (The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide, HarperCollins India, 265 pages, Rs. 599), historian Ayesha Jalal does little to dispel the notion that Manto should be lionised as a unique writer who need not be considered in the context of a literary milieu. Though she does nod at his many contemporaries, this is only to showcase Manto’s place as a combative genius among lesser figures. This tendency is particularly noticeable when she discusses his relationship with the Progressive Writers’ Association, which blacklisted him in 1948 for being a ‘reactionary’ writer. Relying mainly on Manto’s own narrative of events, she depicts a scenario in which Manto the iconoclast stands apart from the lockstep of the PWA, ignoring the fact that there were many writers who fought and made up with the organisation in those days and that Manto was one of them. It is not clear whether Jalal’s portrayal of Manto is owing to the fact that she is not familiar enough with the literary history of the time (she states repeatedly that she has not set out to write about Manto from a literary standpoint) or because she has relied too heavily on Manto’s own recounting of his life. In either case, the end result is a biography that seems curiously thin and borders on the hagiographical.

Read the rest here. For a previous discussion of Manto by me that includes some papier mâché cats I made of another reductive discussion of Manto that I disliked (an attempt at constructive criticism!) go here. Interestingly, the gentleman who wrote the essay I repurposed into papier mâché cats has a blurb on the back of Jalal’s biography. Hmmmm.

Zabardast Ashk

Hats and Doctors

About seventeen years ago, I started a project translating a collection of the Hindi author Upendranath Ashk’s short stories. The project has had a checkered career but is finally coming to fruition in March 2013 from Penguin India. The collection will be called Hats and Doctors, and two excerpts are now available online, one from Caravan, and one from Pratilipi. (the image is a brilliant illustration for the short story “Hats and Doctors,” published in Caravan

Call for Papers on Aesthetics and Partition

Tentative title:
The sentimental and the melodramatic: exploring Partition aesthetics

We seek essays for a volume (Routledge) looking at the sentimental and melodramatic aesthetics
of images, art, gossip, and writings that remind us of the unspeakable acts of 1947 and their
political and cultural aftershocks in Punjab and Bengal. Critics
who have variously written about the scale of sexual violence and disruption of everyday life, the
many kinds of injustices meted out to the homeless refugees, economic meltdowns, and many
other social and political issues, have somehow found it vexing that the stories of the displaced
are inchoate and unrelentingly sentimental, often bordering on fantasy. Instead of exploring these
sentimental kaleidoscopes, they dismiss them as sounds of silence, amnesia, cultural aphasia,
life in a social vacuum, and so on. The present volume breaks new ground by emphasizing the
sentimental and the melodramatic as a tremendous place to think about affects, subjectivities,
ethics, and recognition of life during and after the notorious event.

We welcome close readings of stories, memoirs and other texts, and ethnographies of any kind,
particularly those that explore biases, affects, desires, and subjectivities.

In a similar vein, we welcome essays that share the photographic memories of peoples, places,
and events not merely to represent the graphic nature of pathological violence, displacement and
so on, but to look closely at frozen moments and gestures that seem to have produced defining
features of our mental worlds as critics and interlocutors.

We particularly welcome essays emphasizing the inventions of popular and art house cinematic
genres and mythologies from the 1940s to the present in which memories of underdevelopment,
critiques of communist and post-nationalist dystopias, and a profound sense of the ennui of
political processes are evident.

We welcome essays on narratives written partially or entirely in dialects in cosmopolitan and
semi-urban places in the subcontinent as well as the diaspora.

We are excited to learn about the transit routes that made possible complex decisions such as
moving one’s home in 1948 as well as during the Bangladesh War of 1971.

We welcome essays on any other ideas not covered by these outlines as long as they theoretically
engage culture as an inclusive category and are focused on the geocultural politics of the Partition.

Affective readings will not be turned away and non-traditional approaches to essay writing are particularly encouraged.

Please send 500 word paper abstracts to the editors: Daisy Rockwell and
Abhijeet Paul by March 1, 2013. Final papers are due in October 2013
when the proposal is formally accepted by Routledge. Essays should not be more than 8000-
10,000 words (20-25 pages including footnotes). If your essay is more than the desired length,
please send us an email first. Essays should be original and not previously published.

The 2012 Dirty Dozen

For your reading pleasure, a list of our favorite books from 2012–books that we read in 2012 that is, because we reject the Cult of the New and don’t care when they were published.

Sepoy’s Six:

Herein no particular order are some books that caught attention and didn’t let go. They may or may not have been published in 2012, but were read.

Best (rather rambling) Anti Imperial travelogue of Australia: Sven Lindqvist’s Terra Nullius – Strangely, the first thing I read upon locating myself in NY and it managed to make me angry for a while. It is a hit-or-miss on certain aspects but a must-read on issues dear to all of us.

Best Book I Left Unfinished For Six Months: Mohammed Hanif’s Our Lady of Alice Bhatti – I couldn’t take it after a while, and I gave up. The nihilism was too much. It sat on my desk and I forgot about it. One day, after reading Hans Fallada’s Drei Jahr Kein Mensch, I went back to Bhatti and had my much-delayed pay-off. Read it and laugh.

Best Book I read from my Best Friend: Sarnath Bannerjee’s The Harappa Files – Yes, I love him. Okay? Go deal.

Best Historical Fiction that made me cringe-love historical fiction: Amin Maalouf’s Samarkand – I read this on a plane. And at some point, I forgot that I was flying, and that I generally do not like historical fiction.

Best Academic Book That Really Was Bad News For My Own Academic Book: Carlo Ginzburg’s Threads and Traces: True False Fictive – A collection of essays which clearly and devastatingly proved my incompetence as a historian.

Best Book That I Called (in Public) The NEXT ORIENTALISM (Said’s Book, i.e.): David Graeber’s Debt: The First Five Thousand Years – Truth.


Lapata’s Half Dozen:

I don’t really like that many books, so it was exciting to be able to come up with this many that I did actually enjoy. These are also not in any particular order. P.S. I probably would have put Sarnath Bannerjee’s The Harappa Files on here if I had ever received it.

1. Anjum Hasan’s Difficult Pleasures is not at all difficult to like. This collection of short stories is witty and urbane and totally off the beaten IWE track. I wonder how I can get my hands on all her other books.

2. Alif the Unseen is fun, but I got even more into G. Willow Wilson’s graphic novel series Air. Probably the most realistic portrayal of modern life I have come across.

3. Bhimayana is an awesome graphic novel about the life of Ambedkar, with drawings done by Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam. Many reviews are gaga about how revolutionary it is that the artists DEFIED the graphic novel tradition and didn’t put their drawings in little square boxes, but it all seemed very logical to me. Also to be enjoyed is the fiery activist text describing the life of Ambedkar and how violence and prejudice against untouchability persists in contemporary India.

4. Speaking of those little squares in graphic novels, who did it better than Ernie Bushmiller, the cartoonist who brought us Nancy from 1938 until his death in 1982? Fantagraphics has released two volumes of continuous strips from 1943-1948. The rationing and WWII humor is really not that funny, but boy could the man design a series of square panels!

5. The title story in Lysley Tenorio’s collection of short stories Monstress is narrated by a woman who plays monstresses in Filipino B or maybe C horror films. Do you need to know any more before you run out and buy it?

6. The dark satirical novel about village India for people who feel slightly green about the gills when forced to read Premchand with great reverence: my favorite book of the year and maybe the decade is Shrilal Shukla’s Raag Darbari. The English translation has its problems (Yorkshire dialect for Avadhi dialogue, for example), but will do in a pinch if you don’t read Hindi. I’ll be writing more on this in the future.